Free! Fandom vs Me: A Story of Fandom Harassment

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I’ve recently been suffering from minor insomnia since living on my own. My tossing and turning kept me up until ungodly hours, and so, feeling particularly restless one night, I decided to crack open my laptop on a mission to be productive. I was high on the lack of sleep, and I figured I could reach for the stars since I couldn’t find any rest under them.

Unfortunately, my brain was completely blocked. Nothing was coming to me, so instead I started watching YouTube videos for an hour until finally something clicked. I had been watching a video about two Free! characters, Makoto Tachibana and Haruka Nanase, that outlined their relationship across the show’s two seasons. Free! is a popular anime about competitive swimming and friendship. I could feel minor inspiration creeping in, and I decided to go on my blog and type out some quick and messy free writing to help refocus my head again. It doesn’t always work, but it had worked before so what was the harm?

I wrote about the different relationships characters Rin, Haru, Makoto, and Sousuke had within the context of Free! as I interpreted them after watching the show nearly a year ago. It was hardly coherent and certainly not my best work, but it did help refocus my thoughts. I had written one previous free write about Free!, specifically about my personal dissatisfaction with the dub, and the response I received was surprising, but overall very welcoming. This made me less wary of sharing my thoughts once again with the fandom at large.

So, I finished the free write, which became something resembling Free! meta about the show’s inner narrative. I tagged, posted it, and defeated writer’s block!

I don’t have a lot of followers on my blog. I use it mostly as a singular spot to free write, talk about things I am working on, and to promote my own published work. Sometimes I reblog things relevant to my interests that mostly fall under the sphere of comic books, social justice, politics, and feminism. Therefore, I didn’t think my silly little post would get many notes, if any. The point of writing freely—as I do often in my writer’s tag—is to help me get into a productive mindset. It worked; I finally finished the comic review I’d been working on earlier, shut down my computer, and last I checked, the post in question had about nine notes, meaning nine people liked or reblogged it on their blog.

Hm, I thought, “That’s pretty good,” and I went to bed.  

The next morning I had eight messages in my inbox all accusing me of attacking the fictional relationship that was RinHaru, of discrediting said relationship, of downplaying Rin’s part as a character, and uplifting another characters—Makoto’s—importance.  

I did what I probably shouldn’t have, and I engaged them.  

On Tumblr you have an option to allow people to message you anonymously. I liked having this on, because in the rare chance I would get messages, I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable communicating with me. Unfortunately, this option is a double-edged sword as people will often take advantage of it. Hate mail is a prime example of this.

The messages weren’t that bad, but they were large in number and grew increasingly more rude as time went on. The more I replied, the more the fan ire against me seemed to grow. I couldn’t defend myself, because then I was seen as going on the defensive and attacking. No matter what I felt—even when I felt the need to defend the fact that I’m a journalist after one fan called my integrity into question—it was ultimately a losing battle.  

And it grew worse.

A friend of mine sent me a text with a link to a blog with the question, “Is this about you?” The post in question was passive-aggressive, defensive, and attacking me as a person. The blogger went on to make another post that essentially put words in my mouth. But if my friend hadn’t linked me, I wouldn’t have been able to see it. It was on their personal blog, and it didn’t call me out by name, so I didn’t feel I could be rightfully bothered by their posts. I can’t say that I wasn’t, not when they were clearly angry with me and what I had written, but it’s in their right to be able to say whatever they want on their own personal safe space.

free-wank11

News at 11! I’m not a journalist for things I never did!

This is when things began to feel unsafe for me, however. While scrolling through various Free! tags on Tumblr—to truly see if I had upset the entire fandom, as one person suggested—I spotted more personal attacks against me filled with aggressive language.

free-wank13

I do know who I am; I know I never wanted a fight, but you clearly wanted one.

This was the second day, and that night, I shut off the option to send me messages anonymously.  

The third day of this entire debacle, I woke up to six new messages and was extremely reluctant to open them. The messages from the day before weren’t that bad, and since no one could anonymously send me messages anymore, today’s messages couldn’t be any worse, right?

Surprisingly, I was right. The next batch of messages I received were actually mostly in support, apologizing for the actions of the previous day’s fans, supportive of what I had written, and concerned for my own well being. It was a pretty touching moment that I didn’t allow to be soured by what happened next.

A group of five people, of the RinHaru subset of fandom, got together to put together a rebuttal post to my own. They specifically @ mentioned my username in their “open letter,” so I would see it on my notifications. Their post was well researched, thorough in a way my twenty minute free write was most certainly not, and while I didn’t agree with everything, I could respect the passion that was put in. It wouldn’t have bothered me that much if it didn’t directly link to my own blog, opening me up for more attacks if my anon messaging had been enabled. It seemed so passive aggressive in tone and design and contributed in creating an unsafe space for me within the Free! fandom. 

That welcome feeling I had scrolling happily through the tags of a show I liked was gone. The welcoming feeling I got from a fandom that was open and constructive of my personal critique of the dub was muted. But I had also received support, so I didn’t feel completely shut out by the fandom. I didn’t want to make myself into a victim or exacerbate the situation more, so I simply attempted to move on.

When I didn’t respond to the post, another post by another group of seven people was created and published in order to refute my original posting. Both these posts were in places where I could openly see and the fandom could openly see. It felt like I had a target on my back for something so seemingly small. I couldn’t get away unless I completely removed myself from even mindlessly scrolling through the Tumblr tags on my phone.

When I still didn’t respond, I received messages asking me to respond or if I had seen the error of my ways. I tried politely responding that yes I had seen the post, and no I was not going to further respond or comment on the subject.

Never-Stop-Flying

Finally, on the third day, I woke to another batch of messages, the majority supportive. Some demanded that I either take down the original post or put a disclaimer at the top stating that I was wrong.

wank-history_free

Am I being scolded by my middle teacher right now?

I deleted these messages without responding.

On the fourth day I was breathing a sigh of relief at the lack of more messages and thinking deeply about what had occurred. I found after talking with a friend that I was baffled by the experience more than anything. The continued harassment I endured—which I hesitate to call harassment compared to what others have faced—was only for a mere three days, and it wasn’t overly inflammatory or offensive. What I experienced seems like a small drop of water in a much larger ocean of the online harassment and bullying others have experienced in various fandoms.

I asked if being on the receiving end of such behavior was common within the Free! fandom and the response I received was essentially, yes, but everyone does it. Which is true, isn’t it? Fandoms I’ve been in, and observed—such as Free!—all have or have had their bad apples.

There’s plenty of “wank” history to be found on the Internet. Infamous stories of people upset by one fan’s actions, or the epic meltdowns of groups of fans over something happening with a creator, or an actor, and oh, we can’t forget the ship wars.

In recent years, there’s been more discussion about in-house fandom harassment. In 2014, #YesAllGeeks held a panel at New York Comic Con specifically about fandom harassment and bullying. And there’s been lots of discussion about physical harassment in fandom spaces, namely conventions. There’s been discussion, both personal and outside of the direct sphere, about online harassment. And it’s been thoroughly discussed here on this very site.

Yet fandom seems outside of the sphere of discussion. Multimedia fandoms used to be a very closed off and near secretive place, hidden in the early days of small conventions and zines, but eventually finding their way onto the Internet behind webrings, Angelfire groups, fan sites, and Yahoo groups. Multimedia fandoms have grown not only in size, but also in notable outside prominence. Anyone with or without a Tumblr blog can search the Free! tags and see what I said or what others said about me. Anyone can make a Twitter account and harass an actor or celebrity they dislike, because the show they’re on doesn’t cater to their wants and desires. Anyone can go on a fan or celebrity’s personal Instagram page and post rude and offensive comments. General Facebook pages about a show or movie turn into huge war grounds where fans openly attack each other.

Fans fighting other fans isn’t anything new, and it isn’t anything that is ever going to go away. But it isn’t simple fighting about which ship is better that’s the problem. It’s the telling people to kill themselves, the calling of derogatory names, the racially motivated harassment, and the continued messages down putting other users that’s the problem. It’s not just what’s being said; it’s the sheer amount of it that seemingly exists everywhere you turn.

Online harassment is a very real thing, and fandom spaces contribute to the continued experience of it. What should be a safe space turns into a nightmare for some fans. Fandom spaces can be fantastic experiences. Getting to talk about your favorite show, share differing opinions, write fanfic about your favorite couples, and experience the show with other like-minded fans can be a fantastic experience.

I’ve made great friends through fandoms I’ve been in, but I’ve had great experiences, and I’ve had terrible ones. My story isn’t that different from many others, and if anything, it’s probably pretty tame. Many others have experienced much worse, and I hope with time, and discussion, they can feel comfortable enough to tell their stories in more open spaces.

I’m taking a bit of a risk telling this story, and I know a friend of mine who I told about the incident was concerned I’d get more harassment from the same subset of the Free! fandom who harassed me before. But I wanted to talk about how I felt and what I went through. I don’t feel like a victim, and I’m not trying to play the part of one, though I do fear after this piece is published—after I put this out in public circles to be seen and read—I will be called one, that I will be called self-righteous, overly pious, or attempting to white knight the fandom of Free!

Even with these concerns, I still wanted to share my experience. It may be a selfish desire on my part, but I’ve learned through other experiences dealing with verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of a family member that it’s better to talk about these things. Not only because it can give you strength, but because it can give strength to others. I’ve gotten a lot of strength from reading experiences from fellow writers on abuse and harassment. I don’t feel this overall experience is anything inspirational, but I wanted to share it anyway. Because it’s worth telling, it’s worth sharing, and I hope others know their own stories are also worth sharing and telling as well.

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About Author

Desiree Rodriguez is currently majoring in Converged Communications. She's a writer, geek girl, and proud queer mestiza woman. Desiree is an entertainment writer for The Tempest, and contributor for Nerds of Color. Desiree has written for The Young Folks, The Feminist Wire, and Geeked Out Nation.

41 Comments

  1. Wow. Just…. wow. This makes me happy that I’ve never participated in a fandom outside my group of friends. The only one I’ve participated in is the Steven Universe one, and while some people didn’t agree with me on one interpretation of fusion, they didn’t attack me for it. I had no idea it could be this bad.
    It feels so…. so PETTY. These people organized and got super salt over someone elses interpretation. Like, come on people.
    I’m glad you made it out, hopefully you don’t have to deal with this again. And I’ve learned to continue to stay out of fandoms.

    • I was so scared of fandom before and still don’t venture too far into it because of situations like these. It’s one thing to love a property, but to completely go off on someone for having an opinion that differs from yours? So what if you like x/y and I like x/w. We can still be friends :-/

    • The thing that really got me about the entire incident was the way they organized themselves, kinda against me? That makes it sound like some sort of conspiracy which it wasn’t, but yeah, they got two big groups of people to “call me out” essentially. It was wild, I couldn’t believe it honestly, it did seem very, very petty. As I said, it was something so seemingly small so I couldn’t believe that some people felt that need to come after me like that. But I’m fine, what I experienced isn’t anything compared to what others experience which is a shame because fandom can be so much fun.

  2. Tonya Sahriha on

    Reminds me of my first experience in the Free fandom. 🙁 I liked Haru and Rin’s relationship best, but every time I went to look at their ship tag it was an unpleasant experience. During season 1 there was a lot of hate for Rin and Rin/Haru in the tag and a lot of shaming towards people who liked it (calling us abuse apologists, blind, etc) from the people who shipped Makoto and Haru. So I distanced myself from the fandom. I still mildly like Free, but those vicious fans made it impossible to properly enjoy my ship.

    • Yeah it seems like there’s a lot of that going on on both sides. Which is pretty typical fandom behavior going back all the way to fandoms like Harry Potter. Like I said fans fighting fans is nothing new, and it’s nothing that’s going to go away, but the overall antagonistic behavior and the purposeful stalking and harassing of people for things like different interpretations of characters, or ships, or relationships in general is to much. Especially given the power of technology anymore. It’s a really sad thing. Fandom should be fun for everyone, but more importantly a safe space for everyone as well.

  3. As someone who is part of the Free! fandom, I am so sorry for what you went through and you are definitely not alone. I made a post a few months back regarding cheating that was occurring in an Twitter anime magazine cover contest (people were buying retweets from third party sites to ensure magazine covers featuring certain characters together won). Once people outside of my “ship” saw my Tumblr post, it was scary. A few individuals who are considered “popular” in the other ship posted some very mean things about my post and me and things spiraled in a bad direction for a few days. My situation was not nearly as bad as yours, but I also turned off all anon comments so I feel I prevented making it worse for myself. You have a lot of support anddefinitely keep writing!

  4. Anna Tachibana on

    Personally, I think your text about Free! was spot-on. Lots of Rin fans hate Makoto because of his close relationship with Haru and so, when you made a post talking about his importance to the series and, more importantly, to Haru (and how Sousuke’s relationship with Rin is also so important) they had to whine and whine, because how daaaaaaare you say Makoto is more important than the all-perfectioness that is Matsuoka Rin…. pft please…. bunch of ignorant bully babies. No wonder Rin is their favorite…. I hope they realise how pathetic they are being and how they have hurt another person just because you went against their imaginary bias….

  5. In my honest opinion, your meta was perfectly right, unbiased and fine. I couldn’t agree more. Your Makoto meta was great, so did your dub meta. I’m in neutral position and I’ve heard so many things about Free! fandom. From my perception though, RinHaru shippers were typically agressive and rude, even though not everyone in the ship were like that. But they were so many of them :/ There were some aggresive MakoHarus too but the shippers usually calmer. I followed both tags in tumblr, and these are just my opinion. I must admit RinHarus are…. scary :/ Poor you. You mean no harm but they felt attacked. Just ignore them, okay? You did nothing wrong. You are free to have opinion(s). If they were not agree with you, that was their problem.

    • “From my perception though, RinHaru shippers were typically agressive and rude, even though not everyone in the ship were like that.”

      Let’s not do this.

  6. I like how everyone is using this as a platform to attack RH fans. MHs get so much stuff, they get a lot of official art and side material, yet whenever RH gets something official you can be sure that we’ll never get to have fun with it because as soon as it comes out we get people who feel the need to knock us down over it. The post in the tags about why its somehow inferior than the MH stuff or bring back the abuse wank out of nowhere – what a coincidence right? And we can’t search on twitter for RinHaru because there’s always sure to be quite a few posts a day about how the ship is disgusting (whereas if you look at the MH search, it’s relatively clean.) We couldn’t even search for “RH mook” because the MH shippers were using that as a place to bash it – I would have liked to see pics of people posting their mooks but it got to be too much.

    Some RH fans are bad of course and the ones who messaged you were wrong to be so rude (though I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the two rebuttals you linked to – one was a little snarky but that’s about it.) but if this comment section is going to turn into an “lol our crap don’t stink” circle jerk then that’s a bit ridiculous.

    • There was nothing inherently wrong with the rebuttals posts, just the fact that 1. two separate groups of people rather large in number felt the need to pick apart and “call me out” essentially within a place that I and others could openly see made me uncomfortable and 2. in the first rebuttal post I linked, they linked my blog in their post. They specifically *wanted* me to see it. The second one wasn’t as bad – though again the amount of people that banded together to refute a simple post of mine of which were some of the ones openly attacking me – but the first didn’t need to link me in their post. Which got a thousand plus notes – way more than my tiny post – by linking my blog they not only wanted me specifically to see it as if to say “see! you’re wrong! admit it!” adding to the rather unwelcomed feelings and harassment I had already gotten from this specific subset of the fandom, but also opening me up to other attacks. The post, like I said, got a 1000+ notes. That’s a lot of people who saw the link to my blog and had opportunity to send me more messages, hadn’t I turned and kept anon off. It’s not so much the one incident, as the near overwhelming amount of it all. All of it together is what made it such a big deal. If it was one reblog, or one message (which I’ve gotten before) it wouldn’t have mattered as much and we wouldn’t be here right now, but as such, it was NOT one simple message, but a slew of far reaching and wide spread controversy in the fandom. For something that was rather silly.
      That being said, you’re absolutely right it’s not just one ship, and I feel that the comments are reflecting that. A few people above have opened up about their own Free! fandom experience, and they’re RH shippers I believe. No one shipper base in a fandom is completely innocent, on that I can fully agree.

  7. NOTE TO FURTHER COMMENTERS:

    This is a report on events with some evaluation of their effect on the accidental instigator. It is not an opportunity for fandom warfare or point scoring. This comments section is not somewhere that squabbling about which character or which ship or which faction is right, wrong, maligned or under appreciated: it is not a fandom post, but an article about fandom. Please try to respond appropriately, or not at all.

    • Additional note: check your comment for victim blaming before attempting to post it, please. Ask yourself: COULD THIS EASILY BE READ AS VICTIM BLAMING? If if might well, then it is, and it’s not welcome here. Cheers.

      • THIRD NOTE:

        Comments that basically just agree with my moderation stance aren’t needed here either. Whilst it’s always nice to be agreed with, and I appreciate support when it’s intended, I’d like to avoid everything that looks like point scoring. Fandom territory struggles are soul death. Thanks for understanding!

  8. Thank you for being brave and speaking up about this. I’ve been in fandom a long time, and I love fandom, but when I hear stories like this, it just breaks my heart. When a community brought together by their shared love for something becomes a battleground for “right” vs “wrong” interpretations of canon, all over a particular ship, something’s gone wrong. I’ve seen it happen in Supernatural fandom and it’s awful. everything–no matter how minor–is turned into ammunition for or against that ship, usually at someone’s expense, and I’m sorry it happened to you. No ship is more important than someone else’s well-being, and your screencaps show the line that gets crossed between disagreement and harassment–and it IS harassment. All the love and support for you.

  9. I’m curious about something, if you would indulge me for a second.
    I’ve been watching this whole thing go down from multiple angles, and there’s something I don’t understand, which I’m hoping you’ll address.
    From what it looked like in the eyes of an outsider, it was a little baffling. Let me try to explain.
    – You posted an “analysis”, which was completely subjective, and you acknowledged it to be so multiple times. You rather unfortunately tagged it with pairing tags, which immediately drew the attention that would otherwise be water under the bridge.
    – Several responses to this post were made. Some good and factual, backed up with research. Others full of anger and hateful words, nobody is denying that. This is kind of how fandoms are, there’s always ‘bad eggs’, not that I’m excusing them.
    – You began receiving messages from people either supporting your post, or telling you you’re wrong and attacking you.
    – First thing that baffled me: the few replies you did make – were mostly to the people who supported you. And you did not include any of your replies in the screenshots of the messages that are above in this article- thus presenting only one side. I was especially confused when you said, in one of those replies, that you were planning to use the legitimate distress of this fandom to, in your words, “turn this into a pitch”, on an outside website that generally doesn’t deal with this kind of content. Which you now did, here.
    – You continued to engage only with the positive feedback, while making (objectively speaking – passive aggressive) commentary in those replies about “the other posts”, the ‘rebuttals’ to yours.
    – You did not in any way approach the people who went out of their way to tag you and try to draw your attention. You only acknowledged them via backhanded comments.
    – Now this article exists. But rather than exploring the fandom side of this and the (admittedly somewhat disproportionately negative) response, you continue to only approach this from your own point of view – as the person being attacked for posting an opinion on the internet.
    And that’s… the thing, isn’t it? You posted something and it drew attention. Isn’t that kind of the point of writing to begin with? For readers to engage with it and form their own opinions? However what you did – only continued to perpetuate the imagery you created with your post, reinforcing your blog readers to think that you were right and the people replying were wrong.
    This is where I am truly confused. Because the way this looks is… well I have no other words to describe it, so please picture this:
    You looked to the left and talked for a while to the left side. That side stirred, some people agreed, some people started throwing tomatoes at you, but some people stepped forward and said “no, we don’t think you’re right, this is why we think so” and presented you with a list of reasons.
    However, instead of engaging with that, you turned to the right side, and started going “did you hear what the people on the left side had to say about the thing I wrote?”.
    You say this article is about fandom involvement and how interacting with this fandom made you feel like you had no place in it. But… how was what you did interacting with the fandom /at all/? You essentially turned your back on the people who wanted to discuss with you, and “took your toys to another playground”, because they disagreed with you.
    I also don’t think the posters wanted to target you or attack you. At least that’s not the gist I got from reading their replies, I think they tried to approach the points you made and criticise them. I think they legitimately wanted to discuss this with you on a public platform and draw light to the discussion in a non-ship based manner, especially since I believe their posts did not have pairing-specific tags. And even without those the interest in their post was twice as large as yours. Also, Tumblr IS a public platform, and criticism should be expected. Did you truly think you would only get positive feedback?
    I think you may have stopped a little too soon to call this a ‘fandom interaction’.
    And yet you still say, after this negative experience, that you will keep writing Free! things?
    That is my final bafflement in all of this.
    Why?
    I am legitimately curious why you would want to continue writing Free!-related things after such a bad experience.
    I am hoping you can answer at least this question.
    -Amopi
    P.S. I won’t rest easy if I don’t say this… You feel harrassed by this fandom’s response, sure, it’s your right to feel bad. And I agree, the hateful messages you got were not okay by a longshot. But I feel YOUR response in this article was absolutely disproportionate to the “crime” as well.
    I’m not going to lie when I say that, as a survivor of such instances, I felt somewhat insulted by you saying you drew strength from the experiences of people suffering from legitimate abuse and violence.
    I don’t think being disagreed with on the internet compares.
    Not one bit.

    • Desiree expresses several times that her experience does not compare to what some people have suffered in terms of online harassment. She also several times expressed that for the most part, the responses she received (even the negative ones) were not that bad in comparison to harassment seen around the internet. But that does not remove the fact that she shared her opinion and was personally attacked for it by people who disagree. Demanding that she remove her posts and/or admit she is “wrong” is not engagement for the sake of discussion. Who she subsequently chooses to engage with is her business as is how she chooses to express her concerns and experience.

    • Are you actually serious right now? Asking her why she would continue writing about a fandom she enjoys is absolutely out of line.

      She likes free!. She likes writing. No one is going to bully her out of doing what she likes.

      She responded to positive comments because anyone with common sense knows not to engage rude/violent/threatening comments. You respond to positive ones trying to encourage a dialogue by showing that respectful comments will be replied too.

      This post is specifically about the harassment. It wouldn’t make sense to include the positive posts as they seemed to have the common theme of expressing support and apologies.

      It’s absolutely absurd that people are this bent out of shape because an educated woman who makes a career out of writing wrote in her own journal about something she was interested in. Writers always interact with readers, especially journalists. That’s how you build a reader-base.

      These questions of yours basically amount to “well, if people are gonna harass you, you should probably just leave and hide.”

    • I’ve thought very long, and very hard on how – or even if I should – respond to this. I still don’t feel fully comfortable responding to this, but I don’t feel fully comfortable sitting in silence either. This sort of feels like a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation, but I knew writing about this was a risk and feel I have a responsibility to this for as long as I’m at least somewhat comfortable.

      – As Katherine stated, I had no desire in responding to the more negative comments or replies I had gotten, or seen. I posted on my blog that I wouldn’t be publishing anymore messages that felt negative, inflammatory, or otherwise harassing. Therefore the majority of what was published after that first batch was the supportive comments, or even the respectful ones, such as the messages asking me to read the rebuttal posts in question.
      – I don’t see how they were backhanded comments, I acknowledged they made the post, I respected the time and effort that went into it. Which I stated in this article specifically. That I didn’t fully agree with what either response had written, but still respected the time, effort, and passion the fans who wrote it put into their two separate posts. But no, I didn’t approach the two groups who made those posts, one of which I knew had been making personal attacks about me in the tags. I didn’t feel comfortable approaching them, and what would I say? Why would I approach them? They had every right to write what they did. They said their piece, as is there right as fans, what more did I have to add? That I didn’t agree but acknowledged what they wrote and respected it? After the response I had received, and continued to receive (specifically the messages demanding I admit fault or delete my original post in question) I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to this group of people, because honestly, what else was left to be said?
      – This article isn’t about painting the Free! fandom specifically in a negative light. It’s about fandom harassment across the board. This is the sharing of MY experience, the only one I can openly talk about, because while I’ve researched and seen other instances of fandom harassment, I can’t tell those stories for those people. I can only tell my own and speak of my own experiences. This was MY personal experience with this specific fandom. As I stated in the article, many others have had similar experiences of lesser or worse degree, but yes I “continue to only approach this from your own point of view” because this is my own personal experience, thus my own point of view. That being said, I can understand why some fans of the particular shipping base that attacked me did behavior as they did. Because of the history within the fandom itself. However, whatever history may exist, that doesn’t excuse the actions at hand, it only makes them understandable in design, it does not absolve those who behaved in negative and harassing ways of responsibility.
      – I’m confused, I know their post was twice as large, does that mean my post was invalid? I believe both interpretations are valid, as they are ultimately opinions based within the canon of the show.
      – I don’t mind engagement, however it was the type of engagement I received that turned me off from further engaging. As I previously stated, I didn’t feel comfortable engaging with the people who posted the rebuttal. I would have been more open to public discussion if I felt that discussion wasn’t going to be negative in design, which I felt it wouldn’t be. As I previously stated, one of the people who worked on both those posts had been making personal attacks against me in the tags.
      – I openly stated that I felt the rebuttal posts were posts of value and had my respect. I don’t see how this is my reinforcing imagery that I was right, and anyone who said anything else was wrong. I simply didn’t want further engagement with this subset of the fandom.
      – “An outside website that generally doesn’t deal with this kind of content” you’re making a huge assumption here, that is, in fact, incorrect. WWAC has covered fandom related things many times, as well as posts on harassment. I linked to a fandom related post when I mentioned ship wars in the article. I linked to two separate articles on harassment in the article as well. This article does cover content such as this, otherwise my Editors wouldn’t have approved of it.
      – I didn’t assume I would only get positive feedback. As I stated in the article, I had posted a previous Free! related post and gotten good feedback. Not all of it was in agreement, in fact many people took the time to politely reblog with corrections or message me corrections. Which I happily posted and discussed. It wasn’t about being disagreed with, it was about the fact I felt unwelcomed, and targeted within the fandom, so yes, I essentially “left” because I wanted to remove myself from a potentially worse environment.
      – Why wouldn’t I continue to write about Free! I love the show, I love the characters, and as I told CC, this wasn’t the piece about Free! I originally wanted to pitch. I wanted to talk about the overall appeal of the show, why fans loved it so much outside of just the shipping aspect. I would love to write that piece, and for it to be published here, because Free! is a great show, no matter what fandom drama – to this and beyond – occurs. Furthermore I don’t like the implication that because of one negative experience I should not write anymore. You’re saying that my negative experience with the RH shipper base doesn’t excuse me of not engaging and approaching the groups of people who wrote the rebuttal posts, etc, but this overall experience should prevent me from further writing about Free! in general? Bad experiences shouldn’t prevent people from talking about them if they want to. I wanted to talk about my experience on a platform I worked hard to get onto. It was cathartic for me, personally, to discuss it. As I stated in my article, it was a selfish desire on my part, but one I wanted to pursue anyway.
      – This last part is actually the main reason I was so reluctant to comment. I absolutely find it deplorable the assumption here that I know nothing of abuse. Please don’t make those types of assumptions about people. You don’t get to assume I haven’t suffered “legitimate” abuse and violence in my life simply because I chose not to speak of it. Especially when I stated in my article I suffered verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of a family member. So I find this assumption you’re making here really upsetting. More upsetting than perhaps anything else that’s occurred as of yet. I suffer from extreme anxiety because of things I’ve experienced, and I wasn’t lying when I stated I’ve drawn a lot of strength from fellow WWAC writers who have opened up about their abuse and survivor history in a way I never have because I don’t feel comfortable doing so. Furthermore, as Wendy stated in her comment, I also stated several times in my article that this incident didn’t and still doesn’t compare to what others have faced in terms of online harassment alone. I fully acknowledged a few times in the above article that what happened to me didn’t compare to what others have faced and continue to face. That, however, doesn’t negate that my experience is still a valid one that is worth sharing. Because through this incident, others have come forward to me on my blog to share their own stories, and I hope they continue to do so because no matter how seemingly small, it’s the fact that this behavior continues and goes unchecked and undiscussed that is a major problem.
      – Thank you for your time and response.

  10. how about you? on

    I hope you’re not opening up thegirlonfandom and free-at-last up for harassment by linking to them here. You seemed to have an objection to them linking to you, but yet here you are linking to them for all your readers.

  11. Why are you guys deleting completely fine comments but are keeping the inappropriate ones…? WENDY BROWNE’s comment makes no sense without knowing what she replied to.

  12. Like other commenters said, the situation in Free fandom has been volatile for a long time.

    The director of Free herself, Utsumi Hiroko, has received a lot of hatred because of Rin being her favorite character (she doesn’t bother to hide it), and occasionally what looks like a preference for the RinHaru ship (whether that’s true or not). For one time in fandom, there were mean-spirited jokes from some shippers about her sleeping with the male writer to “get her way” in the script, as well as her being called a b**** and a “dirty fujoshi” in various ways. Or that if anyone says anything positive about Rin, it’s because she must have forced them to or else they would get fired. Some would post this in the main Free twitter tag as if to hope she would see it. I’ve seen some Japanese fans on twitter angry at her when she disagreed with a popular idea even lately.

    Though she might never see those comments, maybe it’s relevant to the idea of harassment here, or partly explains the situation in Free fandom. Or at least why Free and shipping is very difficult territory. You can probably imagine how this attitude towards the director can reflect against each other in the fandom.

  13. I really don’t want to jump into this discussion too much – I honestly think everyone here is being a little “wanky” and I certainly agree with you that fandom harassment is a problem.

    I just wanted to reply to your remarks about the rebuttal posts because I think you’ve misunderstood a common way in which people respond to posts on tumblr and other places on the internet. Linking to an original post and writing a response is a common way in which people engage with content. It’s less common on tumblr because of the reblog feature but still is done 1. when people don’t want to call attention to the original post directly or encourage reblogs of it and 2. when the original post and/or reply is heavy on text (which is hard to read and scroll through on the tumblr dashboard).

    My guess is that both of these applied to this interaction. Though you took the linking as a “call out”, I would say that they were actually trying to minimize the amount of attention you got while still making clear what they were replying to; people are much less likely to click a link in a post than they are to go to the original blog in a reblog. Replying to your post without linking to it would be another type of faux pas: it would lead to their readers being confused about what the post was about, it would be a type of vagueblogging/subtweeting not to make it clear what they were responding to and they wanted to give you a chance to respond by tagging you. (You’re free to choose not to respond, of course!)

    As for people writing responses in groups, collaborative effort into single posts or works is extremely common in fandom. I assume these writers were friends who all wanted to write responses to your post but instead they pooled their efforts into two, most likely because they didn’t want to look like they were ganging up on you with 12 different posts covering the same material. Again, an attempt to minimize attention directed at your post and your blog. My impression is that people were mad both about the content of your post and about how people (namely, people who were more vocal about the shipping aspects than you were) were reblogging it uncritically, so these responses attempted to minimize people reblogging the original.

    I think the anons you got were rude and it’s frightening to have to deal with so many messages and so fierce a response. But I think the rebuttals you got were well-researched and thoughtful attempts to engage you that, in the maelstrom of the other responses, somehow misfired for you.

    I don’t want to try to convince you that your interpretation of these posts as harassment was wrong. I do want to ask you to consider that maybe you misinterpreted some aspects of fandom etiquette. In working as both a journalist on fandom and a fan, you have a particular responsibility to understand the codes of etiquette/communication the fan community works within when you’re engaging with them in a way that straddles the line between these two roles. It’s troubling to me that you made a comment about pitching these events as a story (as this story!) in a response to one of the messages you got while the events were happening; many of your responses asserted your status as a professional reporter and that sort of repeated assertion suggests to fans both that you’re an outsider to their community and that you believe you have the authority to make judgments on their community. Fans don’t respond well to this type of power hierarchy being placed upon them by an outsider — even if this isn’t what you intended, it’s a risk whenever professional commentators engage with fans. (I also write on fandom in a very different context, so I think about this a lot!) You felt powerless and harassed by all the messages, but fans felt powerless and harassed by a published, professional writer coming in to tell them how to interpret their favorite show — so some of them lashed out (rudely) and some of them spoke up (in the ways their community believes to be correct and polite).

    I hope this doesn’t come off as victim blaming, because I definitely see where you are coming from and think fandom absolutely has problems with harassment. I just wanted to try to offer you an interpretation of how I saw events which might help you in your future writing/engagement with fandom. Sorry to write such a long comment!

    • No, I’d like to thank you for the very thorough response I hadn’t known that about fandom. Specifically the collaboration on specific posts, or the tagging/linking people in separate posts. It’s been my personal fandom experience that those things are frowned down upon, because it opens up more direct contact and the feeling as though you’re “attacking” someone via your blog through a separate post. But I’m a bit rusty on my fandom skills so I appreciate the upset.

      This entire experience has been a learning one, and I speak for myself on that. Truthfully I am reluctant to further engage in the conversation here because I don’t want the “wank” to continue, but sitting in silence doesn’t feel right to me either.

      I’d like to point out two things that seem to be a point of contention. 1. The problem I had with the rebuttals weren’t that they were refuting my post, simply that it added to the feeling of being targeted given the other posts I had seen and messages I received. I stated on my blog, and here in the article that I thought the rebuttal post was very well done, well researched, and while I didn’t agree with everything said, I respected the passion and effort that went into it. I simply didn’t want to engage because I wanted to move on from the situation all together and not further engage with a group I felt was seeking something from me I couldn’t give them. 2. I never intended for THIS to be the piece I’d pitch to my Editors about Free! When speaking on my blog about pitching a piece about Free! I discussed wanting to write something about the show itself, but wasn’t sure how to work it into something that suited our site. I actually had written an entirely separate piece talking about why fans love Free outside of the shipping aspects, about how wonderfully done the show was, and why it inspired such fan passion. It’s unfortunate that this is the piece I wrote instead really because this isn’t the Free! piece I wanted nor talked about pitching, but the piece that felt – to me personally – more prevalent since WWAC has discussed online harassment many times previously – which are linked in the article – but I can certainly see where the confusion comes from, and why fans/readers would believe THIS is the piece I was talking about pitching/writing about originally.

      I had partially assumed some fans felt a bit threatened because of my profession, which is unfortunate. I understand fandom is still a very close-knit and secretive place but we as fans have to be careful of gatekeeping as well. I’m more familiar with gatekeeping when it comes to comic book fans so I’m not fully sure if it’s comparable to fandom (in a multimedia type fandom) such as this. I’d have to do more observation and research.

      I will certainly endeavor to be more careful with how I engage with fandom on a large platform such as tumblr. So I thank you for providing such thorough insight into the matter.

      • Thanks for your response and I’m glad to hear you thought mine was helpful! It can be really difficult to respond in these sorts of situations and I’m not sure how I would have reacted in your position at all.

        Your other idea for a piece on Free! sounds nice. I’ve been a big advocate for the show being good outside the fan service & shipping, haha, I think it’s very well done. I also always like to talk up the director, Utsumi Hiroko, as a talented creator — there aren’t many woman directors in the anime industry and none who have achieved “auteur” status a la Miyazaki and Anno, so even though all animation is a team effort, I like to point out when a work is directed by a woman. (KyoAni’s earlier hit K-On was as well! Though the original mangaka was a man, both the director and writer of the anime were women.)

        • I completely agree. There is a lot of appeal behind Free! outside of the obvious shipping appeal. Though that’s certainly part of it, and shouldn’t be discounted, it’s simply not the ONLY reason for it’s mass appeal. I don’t love all of KyoAni’s shows, but the one thing that can be said is they put out an extremely quality product. All their anime that I have seen are rendered beautifully. There’s a few things I don’t love about their narratives (tend to rush the endings to much, basically pacing problems) but the animation is some of the best I’ve seen in a very long time. Plus there’s a lot to admire in women taking leading roles in an industry that is still disproportionately skewed towards men.

  14. Feel free to visit our comment policy: http://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/commenting-policy/.

    This article is a commentary about fandom in general through the filter of a specific experience. As such, we welcome commentary that addresses the issue of fandom’s negative and harmful reactions (as opposed to repeatedly proving and justifying its existence) and perhaps discussing how fandom can do better by recognizing that everyone is entitled to their opinion and disagreement does not need to come with disrespect and harassment.

    This is not the place to continue fandom warfare over who is right or wrong over an expressed opinion.

  15. Hi, I posted the second rebuttal that you linked in this article so I’d like to add my two cents to gain another perspective on all this.

    We as a group saw your post gain a lot of popularity, even though we thought very strongly that a lot of the information was misleading (and at some points, flat-out incorrect). We didn’t have any sort of problem with the fact that you wanted to contribute a meta to the fandom. Our problem was that we felt a lot of misinformation was being spread.

    So, we got together and went paragraph-by-paragraph addressing our issues in a very calm and formal manner, supporting ourselves with evidence from canon. We did not intend for this to seem like we were attacking in any way (although there might have been a slight sarcastic comment here and there).
    When it was posted, we did not link to your original post, we only took direct quotes from you. In fact, we didn’t even mention your name, blog, or even gender.

    The point of our post was to set straight some of the misinformation we didn’t want to spread further in the fandom. We even addressed EVERYTHING you said, we didn’t just cherry-pick some points like the other rebuttal did. Also notice we didn’t tag the post with anything that would make sure you would see it, or any ship tags.

    I think what we did was completely acceptable and we went about it in a very professional manner. You have every right to feel “uncomfortable” about it as you said, but keep in mind that was not our intention.

    Thanks for allowing me to add my perspective into the mix.

    • I’m not looking for a reply here; let me ask you to consider this. Why is it appropriate to aim for “professional” on a fandom tumblr post? What does that mean, in a hobbyist space?

      Why do you consider a detailed addressing of every single point of somebody’s casual output reasonable, or expect it to be received without, at very least, surprise? I know it’s hard to remove your perspective from the rules of the game, but the game is being played in public space and your balls are going through everybody’s windows. Tone it down.

    • I read your rebuttal and it was really good, I liked it a lot. I hope in the future you’ll continue to make well thought out fandom posts! And I hope this situation won’t cause you to be afraid to speak your mind if you disagree with something.

    • So, I read your rebuttal post, and as someone who isn’t involved in the free! fandom, I feel like I have a different perspective than some do, and I feel that your rebuttal sounded a bit angry at places, like you took the original post personally. The original post that you responded to was a meta post, and meta is based on opinion (with some canon facts put in here or there). So essentially, your response post was telling her that her opinion was wrong and, that as the asks she later got proved, she needed to outright state that she was wrong. She in no way had to state she was wrong. It was her opinion, and I would have felt attacked if I was in her exact same place, where a group of people felt it necessary to gather together to write a post to tell me “how wrong my opinion on these characters” was.

  16. I’m sorry you had to go through that, Desiree. I understand being passionate where fictional characters are involved (have you SEEN what our site is built on???) but I don’t understand the next step that some people take it in. Your ship will always be your ship and someone else writing against it won’t erase that ship or make it any less right. We take what we can from fiction and we all have different interpretations but I refuse to allow abuse in a space where fans should be able to feel safe about discussing how they engage with the text in whatever form it comes in.

  17. I’m very sorry you had to deal with this, but frankly, there’s nothing unusual about your experience of the Free! fandom. It’s been this way — especially on that topic — from the beginning.

    I find the tone and the language used in the comments against you to be quite telling. You’re “incorrect” and “wrong” and “stupid” and you “need to shut the fuck up.” You’re “making up bullshit lies”. Your credentials are called into question in an attempt to discredit you. Your motives for writing are assessed and commented upon as though these people were privy to your very thoughts and intentions as you sat down to write.

    I also find it disturbing that so many responses here are doing precisely what your hate anons did — trying to police how you engage with and participate in fandom to fit with their ideals and opinions. It isn’t anyone’s “responsibility” to censor themselves just to fit in; you have a responsibility to honesty and to being true to your beliefs, not to cater to fandom at large (which implies there’s one, monolithic Fandom whose conventions apply across the board, which is ridiculous). If responsibility is such a big deal, to those people I’d ask where’s the personal responsibility to treat people with respect, the responsibility not to resort to pettiness and personal attacks when someone disagrees with them? Why is the burden of responsibility so unyielding when it comes to your meta, but lax when it comes to the hate that resulted? Is their argument then that a simple meta deserves hatred? That it’s an acceptable way to react to disagreement? You’re told — by people who very clearly can’t deal with dissent — that if you can’t deal with dissent then you should stop writing altogether. Those that speak of “etiquette” and positing that you simply don’t understand the conventions of Tumblr are trying to silence you, pure and simple. And they’re trying to silence you for the same reason any hateful, insecure person tries to silence anyone — you’re making damn good points and you’re threatening their status quo.

    These people hate you and your opinion because they are afraid. Afraid of being wrong. Afraid of losing the status within their social pecking order that being on the right side of a ridiculous ship war affords. Afraid that the public tide of fannish opinion will turn on them. Fear and insecurity drives a great deal of fandom these days, it seems.

    No one likes being reminded of things they’re trying painfully hard to ignore, do they? Which is what you did, and why your post got the reaction it did. Nothing you said was a lie, or wrong in any factual way; what it was, was going against what a subsection of the fandom want to believe is true. And that threatens them and the basis of their own opinions, which speaks of something rather tenuous and group-thinky about how we interpret media in the first place. Surely if one had faith in their own interpretation, they wouldn’t feel the need to tear down anything else that merely suggests a different way of looking at things?

    On a much wider scale than Free!, the fact that such insecure hatred of a fictional character leads them to behave in desperate, deluded and hateful ways towards real live people is both fascinating and frightening. That it was you as a person they felt the need to tear down, rather than a subjective opinion (with nothing more than a subjective opinion of their own, let’s not forget!). That they need to point out, en masse and at length how YOU as as person are WRONG for having a different interpretation to them, and that if you were a decent human being then you could have viewed the show “correctly” — i.e. their way, and then you wouldn’t have these silly contrary views.

    I’ve been in fandom for a long time. This personal level of viciousness towards those who hold differing views of media — by, in most cases, people who would rightly be up in arms about any “real life” bigotry or prejudice — feels new. Harassment has always existed within fandom at some level, but in recent years it’s become much more pervasive. And much more personal.

    You need to be told you’re wrong. You need your wrongness pointed out, repeatedly. You need to be corrected, put in your place, demeaned, disgraced and discredited, disarmed through mockery and patronizing passive-aggressiveness. You need to be silenced so that your words — and the possibility that those words may be true, may prove them wrong — don’t threaten them.

    That’s not discourse. That’s bullying, plain and simple. And it seems to be a perfectly acceptable way of interacting/engaging with fandom, on Tumblr in particular (no doubt thanks to the ability to send anonymous asks reducing inhibitions in terms of an acceptable way of behaving — how many of these people would truly stand behind their opinions and behaviors if they had to be held accountable for them?).

    It may be that the platforms have changed; Tumblr for example is not a place conducive to discourse purely by its format. Do you reply, do you reblog? Do you post something entirely new, and if so how do you tag? Misinformation runs rampant, edits don’t carry through to reblogs, and conversation is unwieldy at best. It may also be the demographic; fandom on Tumblr skews young, passionate and opinionated, and that adds another layer onto the issue. While it doesn’t make the knee-jerk defensiveness and the desire to be Seen To Be Right acceptable, it does perhaps explain it.

    That same lack of awareness of consequences might explain why the person who needed you to see how your “meta was incorrect” and wanted to put forth information “confirmed by producers” later admitted on their blog that they hadn’t actually read one of the show’s director’s (rather well-known) interviews that supported your analysis. I appreciate that unlike you, they aren’t a professional journalist, however one would think they’d make sure they had all their facts and sources straight before writing a rebuttal against anybody. If you want an argument taken seriously — especially one where you claim facts are of the utmost importance — you can’t then pick and choose the facts for your own argument. That’s hypocrisy at its finest. Younger fans might have a great deal of enthusiasm for their subject, but tend not to think such things through, be it the substance of their argument or the consequences of their behavior — e.g. it’s harder to fully appreciate that the person on the other side of the screen is a real person just like them, rather than some conceptual, abstract ‘wrong’ to attack.

    Whatever the reason, fandom is no longer a safe or supportive space for many. And that’s sad.