For weeks, Marjorie wanted to speak about her encounters with vicious death threats and an online stalker, but she was scared. Admitting what was happening might result in more harassment. Instead, she distanced herself from Twitter, staying offline until she felt safe enough to come back. Back on her feed, the prominent Star Wars fan and community creator faced the worst hate she’d ever received online.
After weeks of being away, Marjorie spoke with Polygon about what she went through, to showcase what Star Wars fans often go through, and why it’s so important for people to take a stand.
“I had one person say [...] he’s in a neighboring state only a few hours away, and he might just drive over so we can have a ‘conversation,’” Marjorie told Polygon. “It was a little nerve-wracking, especially since his tweets toward me were pretty abusive and violent.”
Marjorie, who goes by “MargieC,” but asked to keep her full name anonymous, witnessed this behavior bubble up to the top of Star Wars fandom. In the weeks leading up to her own encounter with online abuse, she saw fans hurle death threats at The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. Actress Kelly Marie Tran reportedly left Instagram after dealing with trolls. Anonymous voices called for the head of a Star Wars Show host found drinking from a mug that said “fanboy tears.”
Marjorie wanted to push back with positivity, so she, her husband and their two friends in Australia started the #ForceOutHate hashtag. People used it to share fan art of their favorite Star Wars characters, promote positive Star Wars YouTube channels and reach out to other fans who were having a rough time. Fans filled the hashtag with promising messages: “The Rebellion stood for unity, not divide. You are not a Jedi, you are not a Rebel, you are not strong.” “We are all Star Wars fans, and our differences shouldn’t force us apart. Rather, they should create a strong and diverse community as rich as that far, far away galaxy we all love. That’s what we should strive for.” It made Marjorie’s heart swell.
“There are a lot of new people coming into the Star Wars movement, and I am so worried that little girls and little boys won’t want to be a part of it anymore,” Marjorie said. “And I really hate the idea they Googled ‘collecting,’ and land on a fan site that preaches misogyny. I don’t think that we can allow that. Our community is amazing. We help each other so much.”
The campaign made the hopeful fan a target.
Usually, Marjorie can handle people sending her crude messages, but she told Polygon the reactions got out of hand once people started taking over the #ForceOutHate hashtag, a common tactic in online protest. Back in October 2015, positive Star Wars fans and various celebrities came together to take over the #BoycottStarWars hashtag, originally mounted by self-identified alt-right fans that were upset over the diversification of Star Wars. The hashtag quickly became a way for fans to spread adoring messages about the Star Wars community and franchise.
The reverse happened to Marjorie. A week or two after her initial tweet, trolls discovered and co-opted the #ForceOutHate hashtag. “There were people who took offense to it greatly,” she said. “Even as recently as about three weeks ago, I got some girl telling me on Twitter to fuck off. It was co-opted by people pretty soon who felt that it was about them. The hate started pretty quickly, and it’s sad that people have to attack women they don’t know on the internet.”
The shift prompted Marjorie to introduce new safety precautions to her daily routine. She made sure a friend or family member always knew where she was headed, in case anyone waving around her address made good on their threat.
The harassment would have been enough to make anyone walk away from Twitter for good, but Marjorie said she’s not staying away from the site or the fan community. Most of the people who love Star Wars are good, Marjorie said, and that’s still true just by glancing at the hashtag, which has been mostly drained of toxic feedback. She believes an unfortunate event reminds everyone that banding together makes for a more vibrant, aware and strong community.
“There are a lot more people in [the community], which is really awesome because there are new people to meet and be friends with,” Marjorie said. “They’re very good and accepting people, and they can recognize that, ‘Hey, this person’s life experience makes them see something differently, and we are okay with that.’ I think Twitter is a cesspool full of hatred, but I think that you’ve got to temper it with good stuff, with finding a good online community. Star Wars is more popular than it was, and [the fans] are able to connect easier with people, which I think is a really great thing.”
Marjorie hasn’t talked to the trolls who have targeted her, but she’s thought about what she would say to them if given the chance. It’s not about pointing fingers and blaming one another, but about finding common ground and working toward bettering the community.
“I would just sit down with them, and say, ‘I don’t know what you have against me personally. Please let me know what I’ve done to you and then maybe we can grow from this and determine where our differences lie, and agree to either disagree.’ Maybe we can build something out of this.”
Even after all the pain and paranoia endured by her own positivity campaign, Marjorie returned to Twitter, and keeps the #ForceOutHate hashtag in her bio. She plans on using Twitter to show her support for Star Wars and the friends she’s made in the community.
“I think that in general, this country needs to be more positive, and find good things to do with our energy instead of screaming about fictional characters.”