I remember a time back in second grade when my friend Ailee was explaining her sudden hatred for Jonathan Taylor Thomas, a boy whose posters had, until a week ago, plastered the walls of her bedroom.
"I wrote him a letter and he didn't write me back," she told me.
"So?" Even at such a young age, I couldn't understand why this would cause her to turn her back on any celebrity, let alone one as profoundly important as JTT. "He's probably busy. Or he probably gets lots of letters," I explained on his behalf, but she remained unmoved. She was committed to her grudge.
The public has always demanded a certain level of access into the lives of the famous, but fortunately, for most of us, there is an implicit understanding of just how much access is actually reasonable. Of course, there are those people who don't get this, but usually those people are either a.) mentally ill, b.) assholes who don't care about anyone else's autonomy or c.) too young, like my friend Ailee was, to understand that being a fan is not the same thing as knowing someone personally.
Figuring that out is a process that every young fan has to go through and now, in 2013, that process has become even more challenging because of social media. Whereas we — as children, tweens and teenagers — would have to post physical letters (something that takes time and effort) to the celebrities we were devoted to, kids now can use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It's easy, it's instantaneous and, if you want to, you can do it all day. No need to trackdown a fan mail address in Tiger Beat. Today's heartthrobs are only an @ away...or so it seems.
While this is great news for today's diehard fans, this limitless accessibility blurs lines in a mildly dangerous way by making people feel entitled in the same way that my friend did back in second grade, only magnified. And now they have an audience to egg them on.
Follow any of today's tween favorites on Twitter and you'll see the same thing over and over again. Any time the celebrity tweets, they'll receive dozens of mentions from people begging for a follow-back, sometimes even trying to barter for a follow, though what they think is in it for the celebrity, I don't know.
Sometimes it works and they get a reply from their idols, but most of the time it doesn't — and then all the fan is left with is an unearned sense of being slighted.
There have always been crazy fans who've engaged in horrifying behavior to get the attention of whoever they're fanning over (can you back me up on this, Jodie Foster?), but, as previously mentioned, never have they had the illusion of the constant pathways of interaction that exists now.
Which is why you get situations like the one that happened recently when a young girl tweeted to boy band One Direction, saying that she would break her dog's neck if they didn't follow her back. The next day, when her tweet went unanswered, she tweeted directly to One Direction member Liam Payne, begging him to follow her because her dog had just died and she needed cheering up. It would be easy to dismiss the girl's tweets as bullshit, but she happened to include photos — one of her with a poor chihuahua in a chokehold and another of her holding an alleged dead chihuahua in her arms. (The "dead" dog doesn't actually look dead, so it is possible that the girl is lying about being a dog murderer. Based on the chokehold photo, however, she is undoubtedly an asshole.)
So how do we fix this and teach people, tweens and adults alike, that no stranger owes you their time or attention, no matter how much you feel otherwise? Twitter recently rolled out a feature that allows verified users to filter the responses that they get (meaning One Direction could probably find a way to cut out tweets containing threats or animal injury), but that only solves a part of the problem. As social media grows, so grows the amount we share with one another and who we get to share with. With that, however, comes the need to redefine and maintain boundaries. How that's done, I have no idea.