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How an ironic, abusive meme drove Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown off Twitter

The story of an inside joke escaping to the “outside”

On June 13, 14-year-old Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown deactivated her verified Twitter account, @milliebbrown. Reports indicate that harassment drove her away from the platform, and while her representatives could not confirm the reasoning at the time of publication, the proliferation of the “#TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown” hashtag makes its own case.

While celebrity harassment on social media is a growing issue, Brown joining actresses Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran in deactivating social media due to continued provocation, the animosity towards the Stranger Things star comes from a surprising, more complicated source. Ridley and Tran were targets of torment due to angry fans unhappy with their Star Wars characters, the harassment behind Brown came in the form of a series of memes depicting her as violently homophobic — a passive form of reputation dismantlement.

Unlike more direct attacks, these memes originated from people who assumed that the false accusations would not leave their “insular” Twitter communities. The meme is essentially people attributing violent, homophobic language — in particular, the use of the slur “faggot” — to Brown and saying that she attacked them or tried to run them over with her car. Edits of Brown’s social media pictures are paired with hateful comments and the hashtag #TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown.

These memes are not new, unfortunately, and have been have been circling Twitter since late 2017.

The origin of #TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown

In 2016, Brown broke out as Eleven in Netflix’s Stranger Things, a part that earned her nominations for the Screen Actors Guild and Emmy awards, and a shower of praise. As part of a wave of young fashion icons, Brown became the youngest person to ever feature on Time Magazine‘s “100 Most Influential People“ list. Her social media following and activity reflected her icon status — with over 16 million followers flocking to her every Instagram post. Aside from her acting career, she’s also known for being a genuinely good person; she runs a (currently inactive) anti-bullying twitter account, has displayed her support for GLAAD’s Together movement, and has been called wise beyond her years.

There is a long history of the internet slinging mud at celebrities at the peak of their popularity. As reactions to Brown’s deactivation seem to prove, in the actress’ case, she became a target because she’s the last person who would deserve a crosshair on her back.

In November of 2017, shortly after the second season premiere of Stranger Things, an account going by the name “Kelsey Fiona” tweeted that Millie Bobby Brown had ripped off her hijab at the airport. The accusation was called out as a fake, many pointing to KelsFiona’s Twitter photo, which did not include the garment. After questioning the authenticity of the tweet, and the fact that she did not wear a hijab, Fiona responded “because she [Brown] ripped it off me.“ The account was suspended, but the hashtag #TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown emerged.

The hashtag #TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown was first used in a response to the tweet pictured above. Fiona‘s “@KelsFiona“ account has since been suspended, but after one individual condemned her original tweet, another user replied with the hashtag.

Pretty soon, #TakeDownMillieBobbyBrown started propagating on social media, attached to false accusations of violent homophobic behavior. These tweets, however, were only moving in supposedly “insular” Twitter communities — namely, so-called “Stan Twitter” and “Gay Twitter.”

What is “Stan” Twitter?

Both Stan Twitter and Gay Twitter signify individuals congregated around certain, specific interests ranging from queer identity to K-pop groups. Stan Twitter is essentially synonymous with fandom twitter — the term is thought to have originated from a 2000 Eminem song called “Stan,” which tells the story of an obsessive fan that falls apart after Eminem doesn’t answer his letters. Today, the term has evolved to mean any active fan that’s deeply invested in the artist or individual that they stan. Gay or Queer Twitter (the term gay typically gets thrown around given its historical use as a general signifier and simpler nature) is comprised of LGBTQ individuals and often overlaps with other Twitter sects (Stan Twitter, for example).

Like many other “Twitters,“ Stan and Gay Twitter earned unofficial subsection monikers when their corner of the platform began dealing in specific conventions, language, and memes. They’re defined in contrast to “Local Twitter,“ or the general population of Twitter — people not congregated around specific interests or in defined communities. However, in more insular communities, Local Twitter takes on a pejorative context. Locals, in this use, are the ones who ruin memes and are behind on trends. It’s a loose concept, and more of a vague entity than anything that serves as the contrary to Stan Twitter.

These specific communities aren’t inherently bad: they begin as neutral spaces in which individuals can form relationships based on common interest and can facilitate collaboration and campaigns. But anyone or anything can float into them — and anyone and anything can float out. When a community that thinks it‘s insular bleeds into an open space, the potential for increasingly toxic behavior begins to rise.

Certain vocal members of Stan Twitter have a history of taking celebrities and turning them into hateful memes. Much like Millie Bobby Brown, Demi Lovato was used as a fatphobic meme. Edits of her social media pictures were made with fat-shaming and ableist comments.

Another celebrity to get this Stan Twitter meme treatment is Mariah Carey, who is often photoshopped to extreme thinness and called a “skinny legend.”

“Skinny legend” has taken on a life of its own, thrown around on Stan Twitter as a way to signify that someone looks good or, at a basic level, has done something perceived to be iconic.

Blaming it on Local Twitter

An informal litmus test finds very few participants in the Millie Bobby Brown meme who believe that anything they’re creating, sharing, and re-sharing is wrong. There’s an impression that as long as they’re making these jokes in their own private spaces of Stan Twitter, the memes are funny and not hurting anyone.

Reactions suggest that the blame is on Local Twitter, which “ruined” the memes and are the ones to blame for Brown’s deactivation.

(Oomf: “One of my followers”)

No social media experience is completely isolated; there are no walled-off subsections of Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram, no matter which followers you surround yourself with or what content you curate. Stan Twitter is on Twitter Twitter.

In particular, the Millie Bobby Brown meme circulated on Gay Twitter amongst queer individuals and plays (to a certain degree) into communities working to reclaim language that has been used against them. At its base level, the meme represents a reclamation of the slur “faggot” and other homophobic language as well as a modicum of control over homophobic harassment.

In this respect, the meme was also seen as something exclusive to queer individuals, a sentiment that’s clearly expressed in the below tweet, which asserts that “this is a gays only event, go home.”

While marginalized communities find empowerment in reclaiming words that have been used against them, such as “queer,” implicating a child who publicly supports LGBTQ individuals and is a visible supporter of GLAAD‘s Together movement stands out as a different type of reaction. “Why do it?” is a question that may have no answer; many argue that the humor of the meme lies in the dissonance between Brown’s public support of the LGBTQ community and the violently homophobic nature of the memes. No one circulating the memes or creating them truly believes that Millie Bobby Brown would actually do something like break a gay individual’s legs. The meme itself is supposed to be funny because it is darkly ironic.

While the leak of the meme into a more general Twitter space is what eventually prompted Brown to delete her Twitter account, it’s clear to many in the LGBTQ Twitter communities that “locals” did not ruin the meme. In their opinion, it was wrong in the first place.

While Brown is gone from her official Twitter account, her anti-bullying account @Milliestopshate is still active. The handle hasn’t posted since December, but in light of recent events, the positive messages on the account sit in stark contrast to the last 24 hours.

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