A little over a month ago, the vtuber Mano Aloe quit her job after only a couple of weeks since her debut on YouTube. While the timing seems surprisingly quick, the reason behind it was unfortunately not quite a surprise. After weeks of harassment directed towards her and her family, not only online, but at her own home as well, Aloe terminated her contract with the company Hololive and left before she ever really was able to start.
Doxing, the act of intentionally searching for and exposing a person’s personal info, and harassment aren’t new to the Internet. Historically, whether it was AOL creepers in the 90s, swatters of the mid 2010s, or stalkers now, people online have been subject to terrible and dangerous situations. We usually think of these as outlier incidents. However, every community has their stories. One of the storyboard artists on Steven Universe was harassed into attempting suicide over hate from fans of the show. Famous YouTuber Philip Defranco had an extreme fan bypass security and walk onto set during a recording of his show. We as fans of various media and people get excited by the things we love but this can always go too far. Vtubers are, unfortunately, the new crew that are dealing with this, in their own unique way, and they need help in a way that we can supply.
Parasocial relationships are one-sided loves where someone invests their time and emotion into another, when the other person may not even know the other exists. With the rise of online personalities from YouTube, Twitch, and many other platforms, this form of “relationship” has risen as a standard for a lot of communities. These relationships aren’t necessarily toxic by nature, as a lot of good things can be done through these types of situations. Many streamers use their streams to donate money for good causes or use things like Twitch Raids, taking a person’s currently watching viewers and escorting them over to another person’s stream, to show love to other personalities that may not get as much attention. However, there is always the capacity for obsession and entitlement with a parasocial relationship.
When people donate their money, time, and emotions into someone, they may expect something out of it, and sometimes that expectation is too high. On the smallest scale, a good example may be someone who constantly Super Chats on YouTube, i.e. donates money so that their message is potentially read by the streamer, acknowledging them in some way. Sometimes this can lead to a streamer knowing someone by their online handle, that person then being a common voice of the community. However, when a fan of a streamer expects the attention of the streamer and expects the streamer to do things for them, that’s when this starts to fall apart. Entitlement and obsession creeps in and starts a noxious blight on this type of relationship.
When vtubers, for example, are given money or views, those are given freely by their viewers. Viewers aren’t required to donate nor are they forced to do so in order to enjoy content, and so a vtuber is not indebted to a viewer to do anything. The vtuber may live off of the money they get for streaming, but it’s never required or expected for all viewers to give it. If people like them, they can support said vtuber, and if they don’t, then they don’t have to watch. However, some members of the community may feel that because they invest time and money, they are owed something. This starts an unhealthy expectation that said vtuber could never match, especially when by the nature of a parasocial relationship, they probably don’t even know this individual fan exists. How could they answer to someone they don’t know? And even worse, how could they do that for each of the hundreds and thousands of people that watch them?
That type of entitlement is dangerous by itself, but when coupled with obsession, it becomes extremely volatile. Fans of authors, streamers, or tv writers tend to follow these people on social media and as anyone who’s used Twitter before can vouch, people tend to hang onto every word someone tweets. The backlash against JK Rowling, for instance, is understandable when her negative views on various groups of people came into light outside of her creative work, causing schism among fans. This is particularly the case for streamers, as their personality is what has people invested, rather than just their creative work. Fans latch onto these people and find themselves invested in the ins and outs of their life and thoughts, something social media makes all too easy to share and find. Because of this, people may find themselves on either side of the coin when it comes to obsession, love or hate. Some may seek to further their “relationship” with someone and attempt to invade their actual life in some way. Others (like the “Antis” as the vtuber community call them) may hate the individual and want to cut them down a peg simply because they’re popular in some way. This can lead to people doxing people to expose where they live and their daily lives. It may seem like an extreme jump but as someone who lives in Austin, I know the horror stories all too well.
Roosterteeth, an online media company founded here in Austin became popular over their “Red Vs. Blue” series, Achievement Hunter let’s plays, as well as their own convention, Rooster Teeth Expo. Because the people that work in their company are encouraged to be frank and open online, many people have attempted to come into their business by the dozens and befriend the employees, with security constantly being an issue for them. And those are the ones that like them. Meg Turney, an ex-employee and successful Twitch Streamer, had her home broken into because an obsessive fan didn’t like her choice of boyfriend and attempted to kill him. While some incidents are more extreme than others, the number of them is staggeringly unfortunate.
A lot of this seems doubly worse for Vtubers. By the nature of how they operate, there is an additional level of anonymity. Vtubers present themselves as either 2D or 3D virtual icons and play a character that’s usually close but not quite themselves. The community on the whole respects that the person behind the character wishes to stay anonymous. However, the more extreme sides of the fanbase take the extra levels of anonymity as a challenge to learn more, and attempt to find any personal information on the people behind the character.
This unfortunately has resulted in some vtubers being harassed when private information was found out about them. Among Hololive, a company that employs numerous vtuber personalities, there have been incidents. The company previously did their best to do damage control, but Mano Aloe’s unfortunate harassment proved to be a breaking point and the company has stated they would be doing everything they can to keep their employees safe, threatening full legal actions whenever possible.
However, it’s not just companies that need to step up. Typically, there is only so much they can do, and as seen with Hololive’s statement about this issue, most of it is reactive, rather than proactive. This leaves online personalities like vtubers in a vulnerable state, as there seems to be no first line of defense. However, there is an option: Us.
We in these fandoms are also liable for the safety of people within this fandom. The people in a fandom are usually up-to-date with what’s going on and how people feel rather than a larger corporation like Hololive that is also busy trying to run a business. In this case, it’s up to us to do something to protect this community and people like vtubers who create it.
A simple way is to agree upon rules and guidelines to follow to prevent unhealthy situations from developing. For instance, two simple rules that are easy to follow for online personalities may be:
Rule 1 (outside of don’t be a dick) is that at the end of the day, vtubers owe you nothing.
We may think so but any money they obtain is freely gifted. No one is forcing the audience into a subscription service for content. They don’t have to do shit for you and if that upsets you, don’t watch. If you don’t like something they do, don’t support them. Simple.
– Rule 2 would probably be to understand the actual parasocial relationship. Neither party knows who they are in real life. Cool. Keep it that way.
The entire point of all of this is anonymity and love of the personality, rather than that actual person and their life. We shouldn’t ever try to dig up their info or attempt to get “closer” to them in some non-online way. They don’t love you like that and thinking they do is incredibly wrong and gross.
Even if a vtuber talks about their life, that’s on their terms and within their own comfort. For anyone to invade that is messed up and, depending on what that person does, potentially illegal.
Upon agreeing to something that people can stand by, it’s important to then put this into practice. If someone in the community is seen acting against the rules or straddling that line, we in the community should call them out and keep track of them, reporting if necessary. Internal policing of a community can help make a safer place for not just the creator of the community but the people within.
There are very real lives behind vtubers and other online personalities, people that should be treated as humans with the equal respect that you should give anyone. The fact that invasion of privacy is common is sad but it can be fixed if people stay aware and report it, supporting each other and the fandoms they find themselves in. There doesn’t need to be another person who quits a job they wanted to love because their family is being harassed or their private life is being exposed. One of the wonderful things I’ve seen in some fandoms online is when people come together to celebrate something together, like the website made for Mano Aloe filled with messages of love and farewells at her leaving. It really is a joy to see human beings from around the world and many walks of life interact so positively. And that’s something we can help to keep going.