Whenever a game of ‘two truths one lie’ comes up, whether as an introductory icebreaker in some class or a beer-fuelled party game, I have one go-to statement: I have self-published a book that had almost 20k readers when I was 13. Usually, the group unanimously decides this must be the lie; how could a 13-year-old write a legible book, let alone publish it? The answer is fanfiction.
Fanfiction is a phenomenon of our times that is as amazing as it is odd. On the one hand, people of all ages have access to creative platforms where they can try on a writer’s hat for an afternoon (or 20) with all the anonymity whatever username they chose can grant them, and, on the other hand, teenagers are writing straight-up porn anonymously and engaging with content and an audience they should definitely not be engaging with.
As part of a generation that grew up in times where stranger danger was seen as more relevant on the streets than online, it all of a sudden makes a lot of sense that 13-year-old me had a 40 chapter fanfiction work that attracted 20k readers from all corners of the world. I believe fanfiction was such a big hit due to the freshness of the internet and social media; there were endless options for platforms where one could find others with common interests, yet no social media savvy businesses that capitalized on these and put out their own content for their fans to enjoy. This, along with growing subreddits running out of things to discuss/analyze, created the perfect atmosphere for fan-created content. The same lack of big presences online however also led to a practically uncensored and arguable unhinged atmosphere where people not only forgot their fellow fans were actual human beings, but creators of their favourite shows as well.
This had some immediate effects, going as far as destroying friendships by writing fanfiction of people as a couple in such volumes that it became unavoidable for the people it concerned and left little privacy to up-and-coming internet personalities. Now that the generation that witnessed the immediate effects of that atmosphere are adults (i.e. Tumblr users of the early 2010s), we see a rise in cancel culture. I believe this could be the result of the uncensored chaos of the early 2010s where the ‘older’ generation (i.e. 20-year-olds) are “exposing” influential people to protect the newer generation (i.e. today’s 13-year-olds) who do not hold the nuance of the toxic atmosphere that seasoned the experienced internet users, leading to a rapid-fire ‘cancel culture’ where every little mistake is scrutinized. This is also reflected in the modern helicopter parent and effort of “monetizing” content. This “monetization” feeds into the cancel culture by attempting to make all platforms child-proof, while forgetting that these platforms were not created for children in the first place, leading to the rules leaving out the adult demographics and censoring their content.
A time seems to have come where the efforts to ‘save’ the internet have found the end of their rope, now creating mayhem in the opposite direction. What then do we need to do to create a safe and enjoyable space for all internet users? Is this even possible or a good thing to strive for? Perhaps only time will tell, perhaps we must take the reigns we have and forge our own answers.