Toxic. Synonymous with terms such as hazardous or poisonous. My mom always used to warn me about what she called toxic people: individuals who make your life worse consistently without ever doing anything positive in your relationship. I’ve had to cut my share of toxic people out of my life over the years.
You’ve probably heard the term frequently if you have even a passing knowledge of fandoms. You hear about the toxic side of fandoms, the toxic opinions, and the toxic people behind them. They’re the ones who leave long, flaming reviews on your fanfictions. They’re the ones who harass you over what ships you have or don’t have. They’re the ones who are so quick to tell you to kill yourself because of one opinion dares to oppose theirs.
Why do such people exist? Fandoms are supposed to be safe havens for those who want to obsess over characters, plots, theories, and ships. Why do some people feel that it’s their ultimate goal to ruin a fellow fan’s day?
The first answer is simple: Cowardice. It’s the same thing that fuels all internet trolls. They have the freedom to hide behind a veil of usernames and avatars, and use that freedom to get into fights and harass people in a way they know they can get away with.
The second answer is a little more complicated: Ignorance. Yes, it’s possible for a person to be toxic without realizing it. With the anonymity granted by the internet, one can forget that it is all too easy to hurt someone or start an argument just by typing the wrong thing.
Here are a few of the common toxic people you’ll find in a fandom, and how to avoid becoming one.
-The Harasser: This is probably the most common toxic person you will run into. This is the person who will target anyone and anything that they don’t agree with. This is the person who will send multiple messages to someone with the sole purpose of making them feel bad. In other words, a Harasser is a basic bully who will put special effort into putting an individual or idea down.
I remember an incident not too long ago when a member of the Steven Universe fandom attempted suicide due to people on Tumblr ganging up on her for simply drawing a few plus-sized characters in a skinnier style. They sent her angry messages and told her to kill herself and said how horrible of a person she was. You get the idea. Thankfully, her attempt was not successful.
Not becoming a Harasser is easy. Okay, let’s imagine that you see a post by someone that says something you disagree with. Here’s what you do: Read the post and, if you feel the need, leave a reply that calmly and concisely states your opinion and why you feel that way. Respectfully disagree. If the person responds in a similarly-cordial manner, congrats! You are now engaged in a conversation with someone of a differing opinion. One or both of you may learn something! If the person doesn’t respond, that’s the end of your encounter with the post in question. Don’t keep coming back and leaving more comments. Don’t send angry messages.
To put it simply: Don’t be a dick!
-The Idiot: This is a stupider version of the Harasser. You know those people who leave angry, nonsensical comments that have little to no correct grammar or spelling? You know those comments that make you feel as if your brain is melting as you read them? Hell, some of them seem to have been written in a strange, foreign tongue that no sane person on the planet has ever heard of.
A good example I can give is a personal experience I had with some anti-furries. For those who don’t know, furries are people who like anthropomorphic animals. We get frequently bashed by other fandoms, largely because of a false belief that the furry fandom is overrun by perverts. Anyway, I left a positive comment on a furry music video and mentioned that I’m a dragon furry. Within a day, I was flooded with comments calling for me to get shot and telling me to kill myself. None of them had proper spelling or grammar. Youtube moderators deleted these comments since then, which is encouraging.
Another case involved an Animal AU RWBY fic I wrote. I mentioned being a furry in the Authors Notes, and the first review I got read: “Another fandom sullied by furry filth. UGH I hate your kind more than ISIS. Put warning to description so we could avoid your perversity. Seriously I’ve never been this disgusted in years.”
Okay, first of all, the fact that this was called an Animal AU in the description should have been enough “warning to description” for this moron. Also, we see another key sign of an Idiot: comparing people to terrorist groups or Hitler. Did you feel your brain melt a little reading that review? I know I did when I first got it.
Not being an Idiot is also incredibly easy. Follow the rules that apply for not becoming a Harasser. Also, CHECK YOUR FREAKING GRAMMAR AND SPELLING! Seriously, it takes a minute at most to make your post at least somewhat resemble a coherent thought written in an actual language.
-The Ship War General: Ugh… Ship wars… These are the bane of any fandom. There is no escape. One group of people thinks Character A should be romantically involved with Character B. Another group thinks that Character A should be with Character C. Cue the anarchy! There will be bodies!
A Ship War General is someone who instigates such battles. This is the person who makes forum posts that are meant to draw in angry people to yell at them, which draws in more angry people on the opposing side. Before long, the web page is rapidly filling with neatly-typed carnage in the form of one-sided interpretations of canon events, declarations that Character B is a whore and Character C is the devil incarnate, and personal attacks on anyone who dares wield an alternate viewpoint.
If you don’t want to become a Ship War General (and you’d better have no wish to become one, unless you want to be a black stain on whatever fandom you claim to be a part of), all you need to do is take a chill pill.
Remember, you’re a fan of a work of fiction written by someone who likely doesn’t give a damn what your OTP is. Canon events are going to unfold in the way the author wants them to, whether or not you waste hours of your life verbally lynching a poor, innocent Zutarra fan.
The solution? Make works featuring your favorite ships. Write fanfics. That’s what they’re for. Draw fanarts. If you’re not good at writing or drawing, come up with headcanons and commission someone to write or draw them. Or practice becoming a better writer/artist. No one starts out perfect, after all.
Most importantly, respect that other people have different opinions. Respect those opinions. Enjoy your ships while letting other people enjoy theirs. And don’t ship-bash. Ship-bashing is for jerks.
-The Ship-Basher: Coming off of that point, let’s talk about a lesser version of the Ship War General. A Ship-Basher is anyone who feels the need to make it known at every possible opportunity that they don’t like a certain ship. They comment on fan works, complaining because the ships featured were not their ships.
Here’s a fun fact: It’s possible to be a Ship-Basher without realizing it. One of my favorite RWBY artists, who temporarily had to leave the fandom due to Ship-Bashers, is constantly dealing with people saying things along the lines of “Your art is so good, but why aren’t you drawing Bumblebee?” or “Too bad you don’t draw this and that pairing.”
Yes, that counts as bashing! If you see a piece of work you like that is of a ship you don’t normally like, don’t make a big deal out of it! Tell the person how much you enjoy their piece. Instead of talking about how you don’t ship the pairing shown in their work, tell them how their piece made you like the ship in question in a way you normally wouldn’t. There are positive ways to word things.
Instead of saying “I love your art. I wish you drew this and that pairing,” say “I love your work! You drew this pairing so well. Are you planning on drawing anything for that pairing?” See the difference?
-The Flamer: If you’ve read my glossary, you know that a flame is an overly-negative review that doesn’t offer any constructive criticism, and is just there to insult the creator of a work. A Flamer is someone who relishes in leaving such comments, whether they are insults toward a person’s ship, overblown complaints about a few minor grammar errors, or an overall statement that a person’s AU is stupid.
To keep from being a Flamer, be kind when you comment on people’s works. Tell them what you like. If you have a criticism, state it in a concise way and offer suggestions on ways for them to improve. Don’t just leave a page-long review talking about how a certain plot-point ruined the entire story. I’ve gotten a few of those on my stories in the past. It sucks.
-The Bigot: This is what would happen if the Harasser and the Idiot had a lovechild who was then subjected to a Westboro Baptist Church upbringing. These toxic people love commenting on works featuring characters of different races, different sexualities, different gender identities… You get the idea.
A good example of a bigoted review came to me recently. In honor of Pride Month, I decided to put out an LGBT-related RWBY fanfic a week. The first one I wrote was a fic featuring one of the characters, Jaune, as a transman. Besides a page-long review preaching about Jesus, I got this little beauty that I have since deleted: “Wow you’re brainwashed by liberals. I honestly pity you. Trans faggots have done nothing for the world other than lawsuits and ruin lives. Besides Canada has the c-16 Bill passed, which basically confirms that gender is a social construct and you retards and it’s supporters just love genital mutilation. You disgust me because of your naive mind.”
As you can see, this carries hints of both the Harasser, through the pointless attack on me personally, and the Idiot, through the horrible grammar and nonsensical statements.
Now, let me tell you something very important: Bigots aren’t limited to cisgender, hetero, white people. Being active on Tumblr has taught me that bigotry can go in any direction. People are hated for being white, straight, cis, skinny, or male, and that is every bit as wrong as people being hated for being black, gay, trans, plus-sized, or female. Think about that before you rant about someone’s hetero ship, okay?
In conclusion, everyone should remember that, at the end of the day, it is just a fandom. No matter how all-encompassing your love for a work of fiction can seem, a work of fiction is all it is. It was made by a writer or group of writers who wanted their stories to be heard by others. It was made to inspire creativity and emotions in the minds of those who enjoy it. Try to keep that in mind, and don’t ruin it for people who simply want to have fun. On the other hand, avoid toxic people when possible, report them if you can, and don’t let them mess with your good time.