Kristen Stewart and the New World of Internet Hatred

Kristen StewartKristen Stewart has had a hard few weeks. Not only has she been forced to cope with constant tabloid scrutiny following her cheating scandal with married Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, but she also has to deal with something far more difficult to stomach: absolute, unfettered hatred. Of course, brutal detractors have been around as long as the famous people they hate (let’s face it: there were probably thousands who thought Betsy Ross was awful and couldn’t sew), but Stewart is living during the age of the Internet, when hatred flows as rapidly as misspellings.

Case in point: This new shirt — sold online — which is causing scandal for reading, “Kristen Stewart Is a Trampire.” It’s a message that’s working up Stewart loyalists for being undeniably mean-spirited — but it’s hardly the only message on the Web that calls out the young star for entering a moral gray zone that many her own age enter. Just search for Stewart’s name on Twitter, every tween’s favorite over-sharing tool (that’s not Tumblr), and you’ll find detractors lining up like it’s the opening of the final Twilight movie. “Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattinson. They’re both ugly.” “I’m not surprised that Kristen Stewart cheated on Whatshisface. I’m just surprised she did it with a guy.” “Me and my family discussing how much we hate Kristen Stewart.” “I really just hate Kristen Stewart so much.” And, my personal favorite, “Kristen Stewart’s acting teacher was blatantly Plank from Ed Edd & Eddy.”

Cartoon Network-inspired digs aside, it’s Twitter, Facebook, and other avenues of self-expression that are making it harder to be a celebrity these days., the site with the offending K-Shirt (which is a Kristen Stewart T-Shirt, of course), allows for users to click on a few buttons to create a garment with a horrible message and make it available for public consumption. Even if no one buys a shirt, it’s still far too easy to be cruel — in a pre-Internet era, you would need a steam press, felt letters, and a trip to the mall to create and buy the garment. Now, all the vitriol is free – and virtual.

Which, of course, makes it easier for stars to realize just how hated they are, even if the emotions are completely irrational. Twitter, which brings sentiment to the masses and stars, can not only influence public opinion, but also the celebrities themselves. That’s turned some away from the swarm of negativity that builds up online. Take One Direction boy bander Zayn Malik, a musician who owes a great deal of his band’s success to its teenage, tweeting fans… who eventually drove him off Twitter. His last tweet (with Twitter’s standard grammatical laxity preserved) said, “The reason i don’t tweet as much as i use to, is because I’m sick of all the useless opinions and hate that I get daily.”

You can’t blame him — especially when the hatred has gotten so intense, Twitter requires a police presence. After placing a very respectable third in the men’s 10m diving competition at the London Olympics, young British diver Tom Daley started receiving death threats through on the social media site: “I’m going to find you and I’m going to drown you in the pool,” a UK teen said to Daley. The teen was arrested for harassment before being let go with a warning. 

But should Internet negativity deserve more than mere warnings? Everyone can agree that death threats, no matter how they are delivered, are over the line, but how about the garden variety expressions of dislike? What about the lashings Kristen Stewart or Selena Gomez face just for dating boys that are the objects of other girls’ affection (Robert Pattinson and Twitter’s supreme god Justin Bieber, respectively)? What do they say about us as a culture? The sentiments behind these outbursts probably aren’t very different from what girls felt toward anyone who would dare to date David Cassidy or the disdain faced by New Kids on the Block by some teenage males. But now the hatred is out in the open, making it acceptable for all young pop culture fans to adopt a dangerous mean girl attitude towards the latest teen sensation, be it Stewart, Miley Cyrus, or the troubled Demi Lovato. If one user was allowed to publicly embarrass and attack a celebrity, why couldn’t another? Why not use the Internet as society’s giant burn book? But there is a big difference between telling your friends that you hate NKOTB in third period and persistently and senselessly attacking Lovato for her weight where millions can see it. We are becoming accustomed to living in a culture of disdain and forcing those who want to work in it grow impossibly thick skins. 

No matter how well-paid these public whipping posts are, it seems evident they’re not going to be able to take the vitriol forever. Lovato, for one, has talked about how bullying contributed to her issues with cutting and eating disorders, and though she’s undoubtedly overcome her insecurities, it’s almost cruel to imagine what awaits her on the Internet while she judges The X Factor. Certainly celebrities are closer to us than ever before, but if we continue to anonymously abuse them with the help of technology, they may be forced to withdraw to a place where we won’t be allowed even the slightest access ever again. And, for Twilight fans, that‘s more cruel than a “Trampire” shirt.

Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan

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