The science and sociopathy of social media celebri-hating

Anne Hathaway Hatred

It’s no secret that social media has boosted our desire to make known our every opinion, because these networks give us a voice to broadcast what we love, and what we hate. Or as the case may more often be, who we hate. And celebrities have become the target of so much of our online ire. 

But is “celebrihating” really okay? Does that fact that stars have put themselves in the public eye mean it’s acceptable for us to tear them new ones on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook?

At the center of recent celebrihating is Anne Hathaway. The collective eye rolls we’re sending her way even has earned itself a name: Hathahate. There is no shortage of insults being tossed her way, and whether or not she deserves any of the Internet’s grumbling is beside the point – what deserves discussion is how a handful of social platforms are turning us into digital mean girls. Turns out, it’s not just that we’re terrible: Our brains and constantly-tuned in culture are only aiding the situation.

I hate your stupid face, your body of work sucks, and other reasons to celebrihate

bad pic beyonceDo you even remember why Nickelback got on the Internet’s hate radar?  Doesn’t matter – they will forever be known as one of the most hated bands of all time … and the endless memes celebrating this aren’t going anywhere. Of course, they aren’t alone: The nearly-universally beloved Beyonce got plenty of flack for some unflattering photos her publicist tried to keep from public eye following the Super Bowl. The examples are unending: Renee Zellweger’s face has earned plenty of mocking, Selena Gomez was on every teenage girl’s hit list for formerly dating Justin Bieber, and Kanye West still hasn’t recovered from hated-celeb status after interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the Grammy’s. 

joke pic renee zellwegerAnd the ire shot Taylor Swift’s way would take us down a whole other rabbit hole … 

So what about the flip side? Just like you and I, celebrities are not perfect, and just like you and I, they put a lot of their lives out there online. The difference is that no one is going to make a Tumblrblog devoted to making fun of us. 

“The negativity is very uncomfortable,” Selena once told Bliss magazine in an interview addressing her then relationship with Justin Bieber, and the hatred felt for her by his fans. “Everybody goes through it if they’re in high school. Someone might bully you or say mean things – it’s just a part of growing up – but when the whole world has an opinion on you and says things when they don’t even know you, it’s harsh. It gets to me sometimes.”

But what about when it’s deserved – like when Chris Brown received the world’s hate for beating up Rihanna? Or when Tiger Woods was revealed as the worst husband ever? Is it okay to publicly devour these stars?

Whether they deserve it or not isn’t really the question, though, it’s what our motivation is – and it’s likely the very public nature of all things media now. Reality television, live-blogging, and tweeting mean we are constantly consuming and creating content, and many, many people are interested in celebrities. And it just so happens that celebrities are putting more of their information out on social networks. It’s a symbiotic relationship: Celebrity does something we see on TV, or they tweet something. And since we are able to constantly stay in the loop, we not only see it, we see the conversation around it. Then, of course, we react – and the reactions that get the most attention tend to be that of the mean-spirited variety. 

It’s created Twitter turf wars between celeb-lovers and haters. Believe it or not, the aforementioned Brown has an incredibly strong following on Twitter that will defend him to haters. Once the viciousness gets started, it can be hard to see through all the mud-slinging. 

Your brain on hate

Is the human brain wired to process the emotion of hate? The answer is yes, according to a study conducted in 2008 by Neurobiologist Semir Zeki of University College London’s Laboratory of Neurobiology. The experiment – which involved 17 test subjects exposed to photographs of people they extremely loathed while their brains were being mapped via an MRI scanner – indicated that during the exercise, the putamen and the insular cortex showed heightened activity, the same brain regions that are activated when exposed to love

If that is true, then we have as much capacity to show hatred (or other similar feelings like envy) for a celebrity we despise as we are capable of feeling admiration for one that we idolize. And as it seems to be turning out, hating on someone gets more coverage than loving them. Strong emotional reactions are strong emotional reactions. 

There’s always a reason why we see more bad, negative stories on the nightly news: They sell. We’re drawn to these types of stories, so combine our potent obsession with the Internet, celebrity culture, and our brains’ reaction to negativity, and you have a deadly mix for viral celebrihating. 

It’s also the Internet’s fault

How are we supposed to resist the temptation to act like a mean girl online when we’re awarded anonymity by the Web? The main reasons why we think it’s okay to post bad stuff about famous people on the Internet are pretty much the same reasons why we thought it was okay to spread gossip about the popular girl in eighth grade without her knowing – everybody was doing it, she would never find out, our true identities will never get back to the subject of our bashing.

But what if she did find out? What if that caused her real problems? In middle school, we were horrified when rumors we helped start reached the person it’s about.  But if you’re picking on Beyonce, it’s okay, because she probably won’t know or care who you are … or even hear about the rumor in question. Plus, the Internet makes you anonymous, and we’re all much braver behind the safety of a screen and keyboard (just look at the comments section of any site for proof). 

How are we supposed to resist the appeal of tearing down people in power when sites like Celebrity Punchout and CelebrityHateList exist in cyberworld?  

Perez Hilton (real name, Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr.)  is one of the most popular go-to sites for celebrity-centered gossip, and back when he was just a regular guy with a blog, he probably had no idea just how big he would become thanks to the art of criticizing celebrities, complete with nasty nicknames and inappropriate doodles.  A lot of people got hooked, but there were those who weren’t as happy to hear cruelly worded slurs and see drawings of penises on celebs’ faces.  In 2009, Perez got into an altercation in front of a Toronto club when he dished out a homophobic insult against Will.i.am.  Back in 2010, Hilton vowed to put a stop to bullying on his own website and start changing his ways, but the victims of his blog posts and those that are disgusted by them are calling shenanigans.  The general theory was that once Hilton became a celebrity in his own right, any hating coming his way didn’t feel so great – and thus, he decided to curb the attacks. Despite any good will on Hilton’s part, there was ample skepticism from those he’d mocked for years. Check out reality TV star Khloe Kardashian’s response to Perez’s request that she participate in a campaign for teens in crisis:

The ethics of socialcasting hate

What can celebrities do with the negative attention they’re constantly attracting?  According to Huffington Post’s interview with Michael Zammuto, president of Reputation Changer, they should “acknowledge that they’ve become a target and do something about it proactively” Bottom line, it’s important to keep in mind that social media plays a major role in forming celebrity culture, especially now that more and more media outlets are embracing its power to shape the minds of information consumers. 

H8R was a show on the CW network that hoped to address the rampant spread of celebrity hate on the Internet by affording haters a chance to come face-to-face with the object of their dislike.  “Haters are hiders,” stated show co-creator Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, in an interview with the New York Times.  “It’s easier to trash talk when you don’t have to look people in the eye. We wanted to see if these people would continue to rage if they had the chance to look celebs in the face and hear how hurtful this stuff can be.” 

There’s also the extremely popular “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” Jimmy Kimmel segment, where stars read some of what angry Twitter users have to say about them. It’s funny and saddening at the same time – but it shows that while the Internet can mask you, the world is an increasingly smaller place thanks to social media. 

People are of course entitled to their own opinion, and freely commenting on a wide range of celebrity-related topics is by all means encouraged, but perhaps we as a social media society need to reign in our anger and think before we reblog that latest Hathahate animated GIF. Reality TV and constant consumption have simultaneously made us feel like we can attack these strangers while also giving us more information about them than ever. But choose what you do with this fodder wisely: If you ever get your 15 minutes of fame, every Tweet or status update could come back to haunt you, too. 

And we should all remember … 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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