The Anti-Fan Phenomenon
Inside the online communities where people love to hate
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For every fandom, there’s an equal and opposite anti-fandom.
To her fans, Mimi Ikonn is wealthy, well-travelled, and winning at life. She’s lived out a rags-to-riches hero arc, from Azerbaijani immigrant to well-monied entrepreneur, residing in London with her husband, Alex, and their daughter, Alexa. Ikonn is the quintessential image of an online influencer—renewing her wedding vows in Positano, writing about the power of a growth mindset, welcoming subscribers to take a peek into her life. She occasionally lets her audience know that “living the dream” is not reality; she’s shared the marriage troubles that arose after the birth of her child and the debilitating anxiety she faced in her 20s. Ikonn’s 3.5M followers on Instagram and 1M subscribers on YouTube are evidence that her story resonates.
But on Guru Gossip, an online message board where users gather to discuss influencers, none of this is true.
To her haters, Mimi Ikonn is really “MeMe,” a narcissist days away from bankruptcy. She’s desperately clinging to her fading youth and a husband who doesn’t love her. The Ikonns are actually the “Icunts” or “The Dumb Fuck & The Tool”; their daughter is “The Ballet Brat.” A scroll through Ikonn’s Instagram reveals little that might be immediately objectionable; her content is the regular influencer fare—travel moments, couple snapshots, and fashion photos. Yet, haters gathering on Guru Gossip have generated over 12,000 posts following Mimi’s every move since at least 2016—critiquing every YouTube video, analyzing every Instagram post, and dissecting every action she makes. On the message board, everything she does is cause for condemnation: from her pictures (“ This post highlights her superiority complex, looking down upon others, acting oversmart, while being a dumb fuck”) to her parenting (“Alexa's legs are arched and she has a lisp but Meme will never admit it.”) to her partner (“Let's see in three years what she's left with and how her enabler husband copes with a wife spending most of her time shopping for frufru dresses and not even relevant as an influencer anymore.”)
This hate is anything but casual—Guru Gossipers aren’t just observers, they’re investigators. They’ve poured over public business filings and government documents, searching far and wide for anything that feeds the conspiracy: Mimi and her husband are scam artists projecting a false image online to siphon money from anyone stupid enough to buy into their shtick.
The tagline of Guru Gossip is “Discussions on YouTube Beauty Gurus, Influencers, Vloggers and Personalities.” The direction of these discussions is self-evident: a dedicated section for “RAVE ABOUT A GURU” has generated 10,799 posts, while “TRASH A GURU” has generated 1,006,706. Mimi Ikonn is just one of hundreds of influencers generating conversation on Guru Gossip each day. While her detractors are dedicated, they’re a much smaller group than those that gather to discuss influencers closer to household names. But if you read through Guru Gossip, sifting through the hundreds of thousands of posts on various influencers, you’ll see that though the details are different, the conspiratorial thinking surrounding each creator is the same: they’re a fake, they’re a fraud, they’re a phony.
Accusations of fraud are not reserved for influencers’ financial ventures, but extend into deeply personal claims of duplicity. Yes, their lifestyle businesses are secretly hemorrhaging money; their success is a front. But their relationships are also fake; the romantic affection is only for the ‘gram. Their looks are a deception and their workouts are for show; the only “work” is that of a plastic surgeon. Their charity contributions are insincere; a ploy to appear unselfish, which is, of course, the most selfish thing of all.
Guru Gossip itself is just one of countless online spaces where people come together to hate as a hobby—critiquing influencers, belittling beauty gurus, and vilifying creators. When infighting among the mods on Guru Gossip led to a temporary shut-down of the forum, members split into various communities including Gossip Gate, a Discord 26,000+ strong and dedicated channels to disparage influencers like Alex Centomo, Niki and Gabi, and Olivia Jade. The team behind Gossip Gate is also behind Family Vlogger Gate, a dedicated Discord for ranting about family channels. Other similar online spaces include Gossip Bakery, YTMD, Tattle Life, and Lipstick Alley.
But Guru Gossip has garnered a reputation as one of the most abrasive. In Lipstick Alley, users describe how the two forums, while ultimately serving the same purpose, are different:
“I don't think I've ever seen a site more toxic than GG...it's one thing to spill tea but to obsessively hate on a random influencer for whatever reason and make up rumors about them is very psychotic...Every time an influencer gets married they lose their minds and refuse to be happy for them plus the delusions they possess is insane.”
If you squint, you might mistake the dedicated haters on Guru Gossip, and online spaces like it, as devoted fans. They exhibit the same kind of devotional awareness of an influencer's every move that a true fan does, and imbue every post with an impossible level of meaning, as a true fan must. Like someone who might run a fan site or stan account, they closely track an influencer’s online footprint. They watch every video. They get post notifications across the influencer’s channels and can recall the details of an obscure clip dating back five years. They have a folder full of receipts at the ready. The level of vigilance displayed by Guru Gossip users is identical to that of true fans; the only difference is hate instead of love. They’re anti-fans.
In Paul Graham’s 2020 essay, “Haters,” penned to describe the detractors garnered by startup founders, he describes his own observation of the apparent mirror image phenomenon between fans and haters, providing a succinct summary: “haters are just fanboys with the sign switched.”
This hater-fan mirror is at the heart of understanding anti-fandom or “hatedom.” Anti-fans are possessed with the same passion as fans: they follow, they discuss, they obsess. But rather than blind worship, they’re immersed in blind hatred. Instead of a positive bond characterized by affection for a creator, it’s a negative one characterized by obsession for an online influencer.
In the book Anti-Fandom: Dislike and Hate in the Digital Age, a collection of essays edited by Melissa A. Click, the titular behavior is described in contrast to fandom:
“What is the opposite of fandom? Disinterest. Dislike. Disgust. Hate. Anti-fandom. It is visible in many of the same spaces where you see fandom: in the long lines at Comic-Con, at sporting events, in numerous online forums like Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Reddit (never read the comments sections), and in our politics. This is where fans and fandoms debate and discipline. This is where we love to hate.”
As Click notes, though hate toward public figures is not novel, the internet and online platforms, like Discord, have only exacerbated the anti-fan phenomenon:
“While the study of dislike, hate, and anti-fandom may not be new, it is even more important in the digital age, where the growth of online communication tools facilitate and increase the scope and speed of the participatory cultures that develop around media texts.”
Fellow anti-fans can now more easily find one another, building a community that centers around contempt. For instance, while Gossip Gate is a macro community that discusses multiple influencers, within each channel is a micro community centered around a single influencer, whose members bond by picking apart a creator’s latest photo, ridiculing their most recent video, and deriding their last tweet. Being a part of these online spaces, connected through a collective interest, can provide a sense of camaraderie and identity that members reinforce through even more heightened anti-fandom behavior: rants, tear-downs, and even harassment.
“The hated object, then, is crucial to the formation of the collective, and the expulsion or incorporation of the hated other is needed to maintain the collective identity.”
The mirror phenomenon—fandom and anti-fandom—share many similarities because they’re largely driven by the same thing: parasocial relationships. In the 1956 paper “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction,” where Donald Horton and Richard Wohl define these one-sided relationships formed between a “spectator and performer,” they describe the sentiment that fans hold toward the performer:
“This bond is symbolized by allusions that lack meaning for the casual observer and appear occult to the outsider. In time, the devotee—the ‘fan’—comes to believe that he ‘knows’ the persona more intimately and profoundly than others do; that he ‘understands’ his character and appreciates his values and motives.”
In the same way as hyperfans form bonds that don’t make sense to the average person, the obsession that haters develop with influencers, too, feels aberrant: spending an inordinate amount of time compulsively consuming the content of a creator they abhor to express their categorized and specific distaste. Horton and Wright describe how these one-sided relationships can proceed to “extreme para-sociability”:
“It is only when the para-social relationship becomes a substitute for autonomous social participation, when it proceeds in absolute defiance of objective reality, that it can be regarded as pathological.”
While many users on platforms like Guru Gossip spend countless hours engaged in anti-fandom, it’s hard to say whether this has become a substitute for “real life” interactions. However, the “defiance of objective reality” is a common pattern observed in these hate spaces. Nothing is ever as it appears. To anti-fans, a seemingly innocuous photo is the sign of deep insecurity and self-hatred; a cute couple snapshot is the signal that a relationship is barely hanging by a thread. Conversations are quick to devolve into shared conspiracy theories that emphasize “putting together the pieces.” But to any casual viewer, it’s clear these pieces have been manipulated or simply don’t exist.
And yet, pulled from the conspiratorial mass, separated from the looped obsessive online ranting, individual anti-fans are seemingly regular people—with jobs, houses, families, and reputations of their own—who have opted to hate as a hobby.
During the course of reaching out to Gossip Gate members, I evidently went a step too far in curiously contacting the Discord’s moderators and was summarily banned, ejected from the server. But not before getting to chat with some of the community's most active members. Several told me that they spend a few hours each day in the Discord, and all of them saw their online hate as a form of entertainment. One, using the pseudonym ShyLove, suggests the Discord is where they find like-minded people they can’t find in real life, who simply share a common interest:
“I enjoy following internet drama (I'd say it's one of my favorite sources of entertainment), but unfortunately, none of my friends are into it as much as I am, so this Discord is a place where I can discuss the things I like to watch with like-minded people.”
Another member I spoke to, Chena, pushes this desire for community a bit further, providing some of the purpose behind their participation—to discuss influencers among others uncovering “the truth”:
“It's entertaining to watch youtube videos and then come on Gossip Gate to see if others have the same thoughts. I think a lot of people are starting to see the truth about influencers and Gossip Gate gives us a place to discuss our thoughts.”
CurlyTop, a member active in a channel dedicated to the influencer Kristee Vetter, enjoys the entertainment and camaraderie of being in Gossip Gate, suggesting it’s been nice to have a “community of funny and smart people who watch the same content.” But they also add that the Discord server is an outlet for criticism of the world of influencers:
“As I’ve gotten older (I’m 24 now) what it means to be an influencer has changed, as has my own world view. This discord provides a really valuable place for me to critique the content I’m consuming, and I honestly feel like it’s helped me think more critically about everything….”
While there's an endless list of influencers to critique in Gossip Gate, most members, like Chena and Curly Top, stick to a few channels or only one. Often the person they provide harsh commentary on is a lifestyle YouTuber or beauty guru they’ve followed for years; Chena has followed the influencer Weylie Hoang for over a decade. Often, these are influencers Gossip Gaters used to like, but now hate-watch. CurlyTop explains:
“From my experience it seems like a lot of the people on here were at one point fans of the people they’re snarking on, so the critique leans more constructive than simply ‘hate.’ Like I wouldn’t wish harm on anyone that I talk about on here...sometimes there’s a ‘BEC’ moment where anything someone does will annoy you, but I don’t think anyone here really despises/wishes for bad things to happen to anyone.”
But this hardly seems true—either implicitly or explicitly. I ask CurlyTop what “BEC” means, and they tell me, “It means bitch eating crackers—basically someone who annoys you so much that they piss you off even by just eating crackers.” This made me laugh out loud, but the reality is less humorous. It’s evident that the underlying desire from community members is to see the perfect lives of the influencers they hate fall apart, watch #couplegoals pairings end in divorce, and have manicured online personas slip from relevancy. After all, this would confirm what they believe to be true: that they were, indeed, lying all along. More explicitly, In Gossip Gates’ sister Discord server run by the same moderators, Family Gossip Gate, a screenshot from a video of mommy influencer apparently buckling her child’s booster seat wrong elicits comments like, “at this point I hope child service steps in.” Both Discords are littered with comments that would certainly never be confused with well wishes or “constructive” criticism.
Admitting you’re a hater isn’t something that most people do—even in an online forum dedicated to providing space for hate. But ad hominem attacks aren’t criticism and tearing down apart an influencer’s appearance doesn’t count as feedback. The constant claim that rings through the Discord, that influencers they follow are delusional, is reflected back in its members who frame the words they share as entertaining critique rather than obsessive scorn.
ShyLove admits to how following along with influencers you don’t like isn’t always healthy:
“Some online creators I follow, I specifically ‘hate-watch.’ I don't think it's a healthy way of consuming content, because both the person watching and the content creator don't gain anything good from consuming/producing content like that.”
Perhaps the most interesting observation about anti-fans and their negative parasocial relationships with influencers is their deep desire to be acknowledged and noticed—the very same thing a fan wants. A common charge against creators is that they’re obsessed with what everyone thinks; reading every word about themselves online.
Anti-fans are often convinced that the influencers they hate are reading what they write, obsessively refreshing the Guru Gossip forum pages, hanging on to every word. In a forum dedicated to discussing Trisha Paytas, anti-fans often preface posts with “Hi Trish,” before launching into tirades, believing that she closely follows their writing and rants. Others proudly turn to the forum to announce they’ve been blocked on Instagram or YouTube for a needless comment made on a post or video—Guru Gossipers see being blocked as evidence that they reached their influencer directly, and must have had an effect. It’s a negative acknowledgement of their existence, but it’s acknowledgement nonetheless.
Spending a deluge of time focussing on the life of an influencer—discussing their appearance, the food they feed their child, the body language of their spouse—creates an anti-fan identity that begs to be affirmed, not just by the anti-fan community to which they belong, but by the influencer themselves. In the same way fans desire to be seen, anti-fans often crave recognition of their own. They want to know that they’re impacting an influencer in some way. It’s too difficult to acknowledge that the creator they follow so closely—spending hours discussing and late nights watching—doesn’t think about them at all.