If you've ever just mindlessly scrolled through Instagram or clicked on a suggested video when you were in the midst of falling into a YouTube deep-dive and stumbled upon a super cute guy you haven't really seen before, you're automatically intrigued. A carefully curated IG feed with pics that show off his killer smile, that perfectly coiffed hair, chiseled abs, love for his family and some silly pics and vids sprinkled throughout? A YouTube channel filled with videos that make you laugh, even cry because you can just relate on a deeper level, or simply just make you smile?
Then you find this cutie on Twitter and he just so happens to tweet out a few words here or there that really speak to your soul, like he gets you. Next thing you know, you're totally obsessed. We're talking all notifications on, buying merch and spending hours of your free time getting to know these boys — and possibly, hopefully, one day meet them in person just to tell them how much they mean to you, snap a #goals worthy selfie, and maybe get a hug.
Welcome to the allure of the Internet boys. Yes, we're talking about the web stars here.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being a fan of anyone. Whether it's a singer, actor, athlete, designer, makeup guru, or a cute boy who makes you smile and happens to have thousands, no actually millions of followers on social media. Hey, I'm a self-professed fangirl myself. I've never missed a Taylor Swift tour, nearly weep every time Zendaya graces the red carpet, get a notification sent to my phone when Taylor Lautner posts a pic on Instagram so I don't miss his life updates, and I am the first one to admit that if you come in my car and I'm driving, you will hear a playlist filled with boy band hits from the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and One Direction that I'll sing along to with no shame. So I get, I really do. I'm right there with you.
But I have a bit of the problem with the way these web stars — specifically the boys everyone is so quick to stan — are being perceived and treated by fans. I've seen too many people blindly defending and supporting these web boys who have often shown us more of their questionable, problematic behavior than anything else, and I'm a bit worried. Why exactly are we as young people, especially young women of the Internet, not calling these boys out to be responsible for their actions and choices when they need to be, but instead are just letting them get by without any real repercussions?
Now bear with me here, I was never really into the web star crowd. Probably because I'm older than most of the current stars themselves, so not really my demographic. I didn't really understand the whole YouTube, Vine, Instagram, and now Snapchat and musical.ly, "celebs" fascination. These people are just regular Joes like you and me, what makes them so special? They know how to take really flattering photos of themselves? But upon closer examination, I do get the appeal.
Yes, they're pretty people who seem more interesting than the kid sitting next to you in math class but at the end of the day, they are just normal people who end up being lucky enough to live extraordinary lives. And that IS interesting. You see yourself in these people, see them as a friend, someone to crush on, what have you. You feel like you know them, but really you don't. We're only getting a filtered version of these celebs we have made and it's not always genuine.
The most recent example of puzzling web star devotion comes from the one and only Jake Paul. At only 20 years old, he has amassed millions of fans he calls the Jake Paulers, all stemming from his Vine success along with his older brother Logan, to his YouTube channel where he posts daily vlogs. He has created his Team 10 empire and even managed to crossover into mainstream success, landing a role on a Disney Channel series. But, he has since left Disney, right after a flood of negative attention. He was on the local news causing a ruckus in his neighborhood. He's made a diss track. He's been accused of emotionally abusing his ex-girlfriend and pushing another female member of his Team 10. He made racist comments to a fan. And now former classmates have come forward saying he was an actual bully back in the day.
And yet he has aspirations to be a serious actor and take on acting roles in major motion pictures. His behavior and lack of remorse really, is a bit problematic in the grand scheme of his career goals, something one of the most well-known former reality TV villains, Spencer Pratt from The Hills, even spoke about to The New York Times.
"All due respect and not to player-hate here, but if you’re trying to be an actual actor, running around on the streets like a fool, making a scene with KTLA is not going to get you there," Spencer said. "He’s not playing the role. If you hate Jake Paul, you just hate Jake Paul."
Kind of hard for people to take your talent and craft seriously when this is what you're known for, don't you think? In the wake of his less than stellar actions, Jake has simply said everyone is only focusing on the negative things he's been doing lately, never once really owning up to his mistakes or properly apologizing, meaning he has actually learned from the error of his ways and will try his hardest to not repeat these same mistakes.
Now, I know people can change and you shouldn't judge someone on their past, so I won't, but all of these recent reports are nothing short of eye-roll worthy. Has he done other things that weren't too bad? Of course. He's done charity work too and been nice to several fans, as he should be. But when someone does something wrong, no matter who they are, it's up to those who love and support them to keep them in check and call them out. Like, hey, this isn't cool and you should probably learn from your actions and change your ways?
Instead, I'm constantly seeing tweets and Facebook and Instagram comments filled with people saying, "Why are you only focusing on these bad things he's doing and not anything else? Leave him alone." Well, that's because you're supposed to be fully aware of what the person you're idolizing is up to. You can still be a fan of someone and not agree or like everything they do. There's nothing wrong with that. But you shouldn't just defend them when it's not appropriate. As fans, we're the ones who these stars listen to most, so it's up to us to hold them accountable.
Jake isn't the first and mostly likely won't be the last web star to find himself in hot water without really getting burned. The first well-known set of rather problematic web stars that comes to mind is the OG MagCon crew. Nash Grier is known to be a reformed man today, Carter Reynolds has relatively stayed pretty quiet just living his life, Cameron Dallas has shown his fans his true self via a Netflix reality series. But let us not forget that most of their scandals happened during their time in the peak of the web star spotlight, not before they were well-known by the masses and, well, it was a time indeed.
Nash came under fire for using homophobic language on Twitter and in a Vine video, and he and Cameron, along with JC Caylen, made a rather insensitive YouTube video about "what guys look for in girls," making claims about how girls should look, dress, and act in order to be what they deemed as attractive.
Carter found himself in a terrible mess of a situation when an inappropriate video leaked of him and his then girlfriend Maggie Lindemann.
There were fans on both sides when it came to these web boys' massive errors in judgment. But what's most interesting about these boys and their cringeworthy, eye-rolling antics is the way they have each moved on from it all. Nash is clearly remorseful and seems to have changed his views 100%. His longtime girlfriend Taylor Giavasis seems to be a driving force in helping Nash adopt a new outlook and overall attitude and today, he's been taking his career seriously.
Carter, on the other hand, kinda-sorta half-apologized for it all in a tweet and attempted to explain his side of the story in various videos where he continued to drag his ex-girlfriend and it was simply a messy outcome. Although he's doing just fine these days, having left this all behind him, he's not out there making a name for himself in mainstream media like Nash, Cameron and other former web stars have done. It's safe to say his career took an interesting turn in the wake of his antics, which is most likely a direct correlation to the way he not-so-genuinely handled it all. Granted, he still has his millions of followers on his accounts, but he's most likely not going to break beyond that Internet barrier, all because of the fans' reactions.
They seemed to realize this time he had gone too far and since this incident happened, he isn't someone they occupy their time keeping up with anymore. This is proof of how fans can truly make or break a person's career. They can get things trending on Twitter, a simple "#SoandSoIsOverParty" is all it really takes and once a collective fandom feels a certain way, it's hard to sway them. When fans unite, they're unstoppable whether they're working together to get someone's song to number 1, selling out a tour, camping out for a movie premiere or deciding it's no longer worth investing their precious time and energy into someone. Fans are the key. Always.
So as you can see, the power fans have over these web stars is truly astronomical. As the Nash evolution shows, fans can genuinely teach celebrities how to be better stewards of the world. And that's a beautiful thing! Because without their loyal fans there to support them in every aspect of their budding careers, they're just like the rest of us normal folk. Which is why it really just hurts my soul to see those out on the Internet not taking an objective stance and using their voice to let these guys know their wrong-doings are just that, wrong.
I apologize for that— Cameron Dallas (@camerondallas) March 3, 2014
What makes me the most upset about seeing this behavior from fans is that it's worrisome if they're carrying this into their real lives. If a girl finds herself in a relationship with a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend who mistreats her, how is she reacting? Is she standing up and saying, "This is not okay, you can't be like this?" Is she talking this out with the person or with someone else she trusts? Or is she just letting it go and thinking, "Well this person isn't so bad most of the time so this one bad thing isn't something to worry about?"
The thing about these web boys is that they are nothing without their fans, plain and simple. The fans are the ones who are following their every move and buying their product. That's what they are: brands. They make content to be consumed and if no one is there to consume their products, well then it's all over. Fans have a responsibility to be those voices of reason and let these stars know when they slip up that it's not OK, and not just let these celebs say, "Oh you're just all dwelling on the negative, let's move on."
It's not about being a hater; it's not about trying to drag someone else down behind the protection of a screen. It's about letting those these stars influence, their fans, know you can't just do whatever it is you want without any sort of consequences. You do something wrong, you have to own up for it, pay for it and move forward, take it all as a lesson and learn to be better and grow from it all.
When you're a celebrity, even a web star, there are often no real repercussions that others would normally deal with. Things can get overlooked and brushed under the rug, but that's where the fans come in. It's time to really take a look at who you're following, pledging your unwavering support and allegiance to.
There is nothing wrong with letting someone you love know they have messed up. That counts for every person you care about in your life. So let's make better choices. Let's not allow these web boys to simply send a tweet one time and move on, thinking everything is just fine. Let's make sure their mistakes don't keep happening. Because just like you're learning from these stars you look up, wanting to emulate their every move and be more like them, they're learning just as much from you.