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Caroline Calloway, anti-fans, and why some people love to hate

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(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

This week on Endless Thread, we investigate the rise and fall of influencer Caroline Calloway. Caroline was once a beloved Instagram star, but she recently deleted her social media accounts after years of criticism and ridicule from online netizens. Legions of fans have turned into anti-fans.

In this episode, we dive into why some (cringe-worthy but otherwise harmless) personalities inspire so much hatred and snark. Why are so many women the target of such "anti-fan" forums and communities? We hear from two academics who specialize in the roots of why some people love to hate, and an early-aughts influencer who dealt with early waves of organized snark campaigns.

Show notes

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Amory Siverston: Our story today starts with some viral pictures of a very dirty apartment.

Ben Brock Johnson: It’s not mine, I swear!

Amory: (Laughs.)

Ben: It’s not mine.

Amory: The first picture that I'm looking at, it just looks like a trashed or really like an abandoned house. Like the floor — it's a wood floor.

Ben: One of our producers sent us these photos when they were making the rounds on Twitter and Reddit earlier this year.

Amory: …just filthy. There are papers all around. There are dirty garbage bags.

Ben: These pictures were attached to a lawsuit filed by a property management company in New York City. And they were suing the tenant of the apartment, a woman named Caroline Calloway.

Amory: According to the lawsuit, Caroline owed her landlords more than $40,000. She hadn’t paid rent in more than two years.

Ben: Looking at these photos, it was hard to believe anyone lived here. The floors and refrigerator were covered with grime. The bathtub was filled with murky water. There were piles of dust and dirt everywhere.

Amory: There's one of the oven [doors] open and there are a bunch of books inside, little red notebook looking things. Which is very puzzling and the fridge, uh, yeah, this is, this is just very sad.

But while these pictures bummed me out, I seemed to be an outlier.

Caroline: Show me a Reddit page as obsessed with someone as D-list famous as I am, and like, I will, I will Venmo you $5.

Ben: Caroline Calloway is an Instagram influencer. Maybe you’ve heard of her. That’s her speaking on a podcast called Going Mental last year.

Amory: And she’s alluding to the smolbeansnark subreddit, which describes itself as a “lightly moderated forum devoted to Caroline Calloway.” It has more than 14,000 members.

Ben: You’ve probably heard about fan clubs, but have you ever heard of anti-fan clubs?

Amory: Smolbeansnark — which I feel like I have to pronounce it that way Ben because it’s spelled s-m-o-l bean snark — smolbeansnark definitely falls into this latter category of anti-fan clubs. A thread about the lawsuit against Caroline on the smolbeansnark subreddit quickly racked up hundreds of comments.

Ben: Of course, Caroline isn’t the only person with a subreddit devoted to snarking about her. It’s a whole genre of subreddits, about bloggers, Instagram influencers, YouTubers, Amory.

Amory: Yeah, yeah. Anyway there are tons of these. There’s one for Hilaria Baldwin, Alec Baldwin’s wife, who infamously pretended to be Spanish and has been called an “identity hoaxer”. One for the TV baptist family with 19 kids, the Duggars. There’s one for bloggers that has over 100,000 members, and posts featured snark threads about all kinds of famous people.

Ben: But we’re going to focus on Caroline. Who first began her journey to micro-celebrity in 2012, when she was a student at Cambridge University in the UK.

Ben: Back then, she posted lots of pictures of her mid-leap, in floral dresses, or with flowers in her hair. Talking about how amazing everything is in Cambridge. This is a whole zone of Instagram right? One that over time has inspired its own referential art. Like the 2020 song by comedian and songwriter, Bo Burnham.

Bo Burnham: (Sings.) …fresh snow on the ground / a golden retriever in a flower crown / is this heaven? / Or is this a white woman’s Instagram?

Amory: You can hear some of that energy in this clip from a Daily Mail profile of Caroline in 2015.

[Daily Mail reporter: 23 year old, New Yorker Caroline Calloway moved to prestigious Downing College a year ago and has found herself swept up in the thrill of her new life.

Caroline: Oh my gosh. I live in a constant state of embarrassing excitement here. Like my British friends, they've been forced to get used to it at this point, because it's, it's clear that this isn't going away, that this wasn't like a temporary freshers week condition.]

Amory: During her Cambridge days, most of Caroline’s followers seemed to really like her.

Caroline: I think the strange thing about, um, my followers in particular is that since I'm writing these like, really personal things about my own life, in the comments they’ll — and especially in the emails, they'll send me these, these really personal stories about them too. I mean, I don't think I could write about such intimate stuff if I didn't think about them as friends.

Amory: In the early 2010s…this kind of influencing wasn’t just friendly though. It was making influencers rich. And bringing them from the new media world into the established media world. Caroline signed a book deal with a major publisher, Macmillian. It was going to be called And We Were Like, and it was going to be based on her long, effusive Instagram captions. And it was worth half a million dollars. She started putting together events for her legions of social media followers to hang out with her. She was on the upswing.

Ben: But at some point, Caroline’s comment section began to curdle. More and more people seemed to be clicking follow just to make fun of her.

Amory: And they found a home on these snark subs. First, there was just a thread about Caroline in a sub called blogsnark. Then, her threads got so popular, people had to create subs totally devoted to her.

Ben: And thus, smolbeansnark was born — so-called because someone once called Caroline smolbean in an Instagram caption, and she tried to reclaim it.

Amory: Can I just admit, I don’t know what that is. It sounds like —

Ben: It’s just like, small bean, but pronounced smol, because the internet talks weird.

Amory: Is it just like people who think they’re adorable? That’s where my head goes.

Ben: I think that’s the idea.

Amory: Ok, cool. We’re on the same page. So anyways, the negative posts rolled in.

Redditor 1: “She’s got Homer Simpson beat in the lazy department.”

Redditor 2: “How did she go downhill so fast?”

Redditor 3: “My soul has departed my body after being squeezed out by the cringe of reading these texts.”

Amory: This all culminated in the thread about her apartment, which was posted just this past March. It’s one of the most all-time popular threads on the sub of all time.

Ben: The title of the thread is "It's happening." This lawsuit seemed to represent some long-awaited comeuppance for Caroline. But comeuppance for what, exactly? What makes Caroline Calloway such a villain? Besides trashing this apartment — what did this woman do for so many people to take pleasure in her legal woes? What was her scam?

I'm Ben not-smol-bean Johnson

Amory: I'm Amory just-learned-what-smol-bean-means Sivertson

Ben: And, you’re listening to Endless Thread.

Amory: Coming to you from WBUR, Boston's NPR Station. And today, we're asking: Why have so many people spent so much time snarking about Caroline Calloway? And how do these online communities built on snark bleed into life off the internet for better or worse?

Ben: So Amory, I don’t think you knew who Caroline Calloway was until we started working on this episode, is that right?

Amory: No. It sounds like a fictional character. You know, like Caroline Callloway Goes to Tea.

Ben: Yes. It’s true. I sort of clocked the drama around her years ago now. There was, you know, like one week where everyone was talking about her. Like literally, everyone.

Amory: Except for me.

Ben: Except for you. Not sure where you were that week. Maybe you were on vacation.

Amory: I was off the grid.

Ben: While Amory was off the grid, Caroline’s one of those people who went internet infamous so hard that she’s almost a meme. For a few days in 2019, after years of building herself up into an internet influencer celebrity, she basically flamed out. And if you’re extremely online, you’ve probably heard of this flame out. Because those who have been paying attention have found a lot of issues with Caroline’s rise to internet stardom.

Jaws: It's definitely part of her brand to just leap into something without any thought or work and kind of just say something is gonna happen and then assume that it will just because she's, she's spoken it into existence.

Amory: That’s one of the moderators of the smolbean snark subreddit devoted to Caroline Calloway snark. Her username is...

Ben and Amory: (Hums the Jaws theme song.)

Amory: Alright, in the future we need to at least agree on a key.

Ben: Nah.

Amory: Anyway, her username is: jawsthemesongplays

Ben: Jaws for short.

Jaws: I am 27, I live on the East coast. In real life, I'm just a normal person with really weird hobbies.

Amory: Chief among those hobbies: snark.

Ben: Jaws stumbled onto Caroline in 2019.

Ben: It's hard. It's kind of hard for you to remember when you first discovered her. Right?

Jaws: Yeah. I mean, it was definitely the Twitter thread, um, the Twitter thread from — I wanna say her name is, it’s Kayleigh something.

Ben: Donaldson. Kayleigh Donaldson is a Scottish journalist who hate-followed Caroline and in January of 2019 wrote a very viral twitter thread about how Caroline’s “Creativity Workshop Tour” fell apart. Caroline had put together these workshops for her followers. That you could pay for. But then things went very sideways.

Amory: When Caroline first sold the tickets to these workshops, she promised homemade salads. Personalized handwritten letters for every attendee. Little mason jar gardens. And orchid flower crowns.

Ben: Yeah, this is the part that I remember, Amory. This moment when it all fell apart. She ended up selling the tickets before she booked venues for her events. And she also didn’t realize how hard it would be to make all of those salads and all of those little mason jar gardens.

Amory: Salads, man. They’ll getcha.

Ben: Anyway, Caroline ended up having to cancel several of the tour dates at the last minute. And for the dates she kept, she asked people to bring their own salads. Not a great look. And apparently attendees didn't get orchid crowns! They just got one flower for their hair.

Amory: Oh boy. One flower!

Ben: I was told there were going to be orchid crowds!

Amory: Caroline wasn’t the only one flaming out. Scammers were a hot topic in 2019. Especially scammers and influencers combined. Remember the dumpster fire tropical music and influencer event Fyre Fest? And the documentaries about it?

(Fyre Fest documentary clip.)

[Narrator: Guests who paid thousands of dollars for the ultimate luxury getaway instead were stranded in waterlogged tents, eating soggy cheese sandwiches, not a model or musical act in sight right now of everything.]

Amory: As the discourse about an empty, messy, scammy influencer economy erupted, Caroline was briefly a main character. A close friend wrote a tell-all for NY Magazine’s The Cut about how she ghost wrote many of Caroline’s captions and was supposed to write her memoir. Caroline had supposedly lied to get her book deal, too. Other “she’ll do anything to be famous” kinds of details started to come out. Which made her perfect fodder for people, like Jaws.

Jaws: I've been on the internet for a long time. I had unfettered internet access from too young of an age. So I, I honestly think I just like, started reading Gawker when I was like 12 or something and it really all went downhill from there.

Ben: Gawker’s an interesting example because it’s sort-of this middle step in the evolution of celebrity gossip. The site — which trafficked in seriously great writing as well as internet gossip stuff and sometimes both at the same time — wasn’t old fashioned newspaper gossip columns. And it wasn’t the user-generated hive mind of a subreddit. It was often more of a conversation between journalists and users. But it was also feeding a need for people like Jaws to stay on top of the latest updates about people like Caroline.

Amory: Gawker went offline in 2016 though, before Caroline’s flame out. So where to post and discuss all of the lurid details of her giving back her book deal advance, moving back to New York City, canceling her tour stops, starting to act stranger and stranger? r/smolbeansnark Where users cataloged and collated her downward spiral along with her attempts to use her celebrity in new ways.

[(“Baited” audio.)

Caroline: I’m so happy to be here.

Ziwe: I'm happy that you're here. I, I think you are one of the most fascinating people on the internet. So it's a privilege to ask you about race]

Ben: That’s comedian Ziwe Fumudoh. She invited Caroline Calloway onto her Instagram Live show, “Baited,” in the summer of 2020.

[Caroline: I do feel like you're going for the low hanging fruit. Like I do feel like you're trying to bait the most easily baitable and easily cancelable person online. But you know, this is a really stressful time for Black people and I'm really glad that you can have this emotional rest by having me on the show.]

Ben: Sorry, we should've put a cringe warning on that. And there's more.

[Ziwe: Now I saw on your Instagram that you were promoting black authors, like, um, Wesley Lowery, who wrote They Can't Kill Us. And The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander,

Caroline: Austin Channing, let's f****** go.

Ziwe: Now, you're a vociferous reader. How many of these books have you read?

Caroline: Honestly, of the nine books that I recommended on my Instagram, I've read four.

Ziwe: Wow.

Caroline: But I, but I've ordered the other five from Black bookshops. So I would like my ally cookie now.

Ziwe: There are no cookies in this game.]

Amory: By this time, Caroline was getting into sex work. Selling water color paintings of her boobs for about $100 a pop. She had joined OnlyFans and had promised to make “cerebral softcore porn.” She’d claimed that Playboy was doing a spread with her, which Playboy then denied through a spokesperson.

Ben: Caroline had also come out to say that she was addicted to Adderall in college. And the same year that her workshop tour fell apart, detailed by her hate-follower Kayleigh Donaldson, the same year a close friend wrote a tell all for New York Magazine, Caroline’s father had died by suicide. This was catnip for Smol Bean Snark and the thousands of commenters there.

Ben: Caroline and Jaws have some things in common. They’re around the same age. They’re both white women. But Caroline grew up in an affluent suburb, and went to prep school. Jaws says that’s a background she can’t relate to.

Jaws: I grew up like super, super poor, um, food bank, not-knowing-where-I'm-living-next poor. Um, I think that's, it's, I guess I would consider myself middle class now, but like very newly middle class.

Ben: For Jaws, Caroline’s privilege is part of what makes her so compelling.

Jaws: I think that she is a classic American story of failing upward. Looking at the things that she's done and looking at the chances that she has gotten over and over and over again, would not be afforded to literally anyone else, but a privileged white woman.

Amory: So it sounds kind of like Jaws is saying that...this isn't really about hating Caroline Calloway, but hating all the ways that society is unfair, and gives certain people — who are white, who look a certain way, or went to certain fancy schools — more chances than other people.

Ben: Well, Jaws doesn't want to idealize what's going on here.

Jaws: I … (Sigh.) Kind of go back and forth on this, because I do think that ultimately at its heart, snark is just like, it’s a hobby, like any other random weird hobby, like following celebrity gossip. Like, I think that if you wanna do something that's like bettering society then like do something that's actually bettering society. Don't pretend that like, talking about like a privileged white girl is doing that, but at the same time, The conversations that I've seen and like the writing that I've seen, um, on the subreddit, has been really interesting and I think does lead to a lot of really good, interesting, important conversations about class and education and like sex work and like feminism.

Ben: I mean, on the one hand, I get it...sex work, class, race...these are a lot of themes that are interesting to talk about — to dig into, and dissect on Reddit.

Amory: Plus, Caroline isn't always easy to sympathize with. That interview with Ziwe is rough to listen to.

Ben: Not great. Not great. I definitely get why a lot of Redditors wouldn't want to be friends with Caroline Calloway. Or rent her an apartment. But where's the impulse to spend so much time and energy talking about her coming from?

Amory: Sure, if you don't like someone just don't engage.

Ben: Mute 'em.

Amory: Unfollow 'em.

Ben: Don't spend hours dissecting their every move on a forum with thousands of other people on the internet.

Amory: Yes! And yet...people just can't help themselves.

Ben: It’s like that popcorn thing. Michael Jackson eating popcorn.

Amory: Yes! They love to snark and to bond with other people through snarking.

Ben: This desire to bond and form community with people over a shared dislike of another person? That's just human.

Jennifer Bosson is a psychology professor at the University of South Florida. She's studied how disliking the same person brings people together — more than liking the same person does.

Amory: I have so many questions. Like, why does it have to be people. Can’t it be the same cheese or something? I don’t know. Anyway. The idea for this research came about in grad school. Jennifer and one of her fellow grad students shared a common enemy.

Jennifer Bosson: Each week there would be multiple times when we would kind of, she would come out of her office at one end of the hall and I would come out of my office at one end of the hall and we would just kind of walk toward each other and we would be like (growls), we would just like knew with our facial expressions that we were like, we needed to talk about this person.

Amory: Their need to vent about this third person was a big feature of their friendship. And it gave Jennifer her research question: is mutual dislike more powerful at bringing people together than mutual admiration?

Ben: The answer: yes. Jennifer has a theory about why.

Jennifer: It's more appropriate, socially appropriate to share, to express favorable than unfavorable views of other people. By confessing a dislike, you're kind of violating norms, and that makes you a little bit more trustworthy, because you're clearly not a person who's merely, um, saying falsely positive things to make a good impression.

Amory: But while we all know the thrill that can come from venting to your friend for five minutes…it’s still a little hard to wrap my mind around snark as a hobby that people spend hours and hours on.

Ben: Brooke Erin Duffy is a professor of communications and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Cornell who has actually studied this.

Brooke Erin Duffy: When I tell people that I study influencers, there's this sense that, oh, it's, frivolous. There are people just, you know, selfies and, and posting them. They're narcissistic. um, this is work. This is a form of labor.

Amory: Labor because, Brooke says, there’s more to this influencer game than meets the eye — photo-editing and logistics, managing brand deals, engaging with fans.

Ben: As part of her research on influencers, Brooke studied a gossip site that was a precursor to a lot of the snark subreddits: a forum called Get Off My Internets.

Amory: Get Off My Internets is devoted to bloggers and influencers. It offers perfect examples of anti-fan communities — which, Brooke says, consist of more than just your average haters.

Brooke: This essentially is when people are united in their hate or dislike for a person or personality. And the reason I said that these are not just haters is, the anti-fan is characterized by a strong investment and does a lot of work to pay attention to the person.

Amory: Like digging up lawsuits against the person. Snooping in publisher's records to find the person's contracts. Looking up a person's parents' property records to assess their family's wealth. All things that have been done on the smolbeansnark sub.

Ben: Smol beans, Amory.

Amory: Smol. Excuse me.

Ben: There are some recurring themes in the criticism of influencers like Caroline. That they're lazy and don't have "real jobs."

Amory: And — a criticism that has been leveraged against women since time immemorial — that they're "fake." In Caroline’s case, that’s attention to filters on her pictures, questions about lip fillers, botox, and the way she frames her life story online.

Brooke: Painted ladies was a euphemism for prostitutes in the Victorian era, um, cosmetics and makeup, which is an everyday part of life for a lot of people, these had this like very crass ntation that had to be overcome through marketing. And so all of this is to say that the politics of fakey have long been gendered. So I think that's part of what's going on in this site, but also. I don't know who is on this site because they're all behind pseudonyms, but much of the research I've come across says that it's mostly women. And so the site is really about, um, women critiquing other women in this public forum.

Amory: That's right, the subjects of the snark on Get Off My Internets — the snarkees if you will — were almost all women, and so, it seemed, were the snarkers.

Brooke: This really speaks to the larger ways, like the politics of beauty and the politics of childcare in our society. And so that for us, helped us to make sense of this kind of curious gender dynamics underpinning the site.

Amory: Brooke and her fellow researchers have an academic term for all of this: "displaced feminist rage."

Ben: Brooke and her colleagues theorize that, in hunting for evidence of fakery like Photoshop or lip fillers, the people in these online anti-fan communities are railing against regressive norms holding women back. The subjects, like Caroline, are just stand-ins for societal problems.

Amory: But because these stand-ins are real people — Brooke says that the people on these forums are also engaging in a form of gender-based violence. The academic term: horizontal misogyny.

Brooke: I think there's a tendency to say, oh, this is just cattiness. This doesn't really matter. And, you know, again, these are, these are rooted in larger concerns about how, how women should behave and, what are the boundaries around acceptable, feminine behavior in public space?

Ben: Which kind of goes back to that term basic b****, right? Like that is a term that is way more common than something like basic bro, and it's effectively being used to police the behavior of women and maybe sometimes it's being used by women to police the behavior of other women.

Amory: Since we’ve been talking about smolbeansnark — moderator Jaws does have some rules about what can be discussed there. No contacting Caroline. No wishing physical harm. And no “bodysnark” about things that aren’t Caroline’s choice.

Ben: Still, to the people who are the subjects of these anti-fan communities, the commentary can definitely feel like more than “just cattiness.”

Julia Allison: I believe snark is a cover for hatred.

Amory: We’ll hear from the subject of an anti-fan community after the break.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Ben: Ok. So we've been talking about why there's a subreddit with thousands of posts hating on this one woman, Caroline Calloway. And part of the reason is just because trash talking is fun! And it bonds people. That's human nature.

Amory: But also when it comes to anti-fan communities about people online, people who are branded “cringe” or “fake” or “trying too hard.” Those people are often women.

Ben: Now, they are women who are at least a little famous. Women who are putting content out into the universe. Jaws — the moderator of the Caroline Calloway subreddit — says that’s why Caroline feels like fair game.

Jaws: I've been asked like, why do you like, pick on this one particular person? Well, she's put herself out there in a way that is very intentional. She has chosen to make this her livelihood. And honestly, it kind of comes with it. Like, if you want people to be talking about you, which I genuinely think she does — Like, I, I think that she really likes that — you don't have control over what they're going to say.

Amory: But does any of that trash people talk on the internet seep into real life? How does it feel to have so many people actively rooting against you? Caroline declined our request for an interview, so we're not sure how she feels. But we talked to someone whose story has a lot of parallels.

Julia: I'm Julia Allison. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts and I run a conscious PR firm called Reimagined media and a brand new nonprofit called Solutionist.

Ben: Solutionist aims to help social media creators share content that has a positive impact on causes that they care about.

Ben: It's so interesting 'cause I, I assume it sort of connects to your own past as an influencer. Right?

Julia: Oh, this was a direct karmic apology, yeah. It’s not random in any way, shape or form.

Ben: Ok, so why does Julia feel like the universe needs an apology from her?
Ben: By some measurements, Julia was the first Caroline. In the early aughts — Julia rose to some level of celebrity because of a blog where she posted links to the clothes she was wearing. The make-up she was buying. We didn't really have a word for it then. But Julia was a proto-influencer.

Amory: An influencer who the internet loved to hate. Gawker wrote dozens of posts mocking her content. They called her the "fameball queen," a "wannabee," "famous for not really being famous." They speculated about her sex life. They made fun of her boyfriends. And people flocked to the comment sections, adding their own snark about Julia.

Amory: Like Caroline, Julia is a conventionally attractive white woman, who grew up in a relatively affluent suburb. She's from the north shore of Chicago.

Ben: Also like Caroline, she first found some level of internet celebrity when she was at an elite university — in her case, Georgetown. That's when she started her first blog. And discovered her very first anti-fan community.

Julia: I had taught myself HTML in 1999 when I was very lonely my freshman year of college and created what was in essence a blog, what was literally a blog, and immediately got my first hater. I mean, this is a true story.

Ben: Julia’s first website was called juliajuliajulia.com

Julia: And I swear to God, someone created a site called JuliaJuliaJulia sucks.com. (Laughs.)

Ben: Wow

Julia: Unbelievable. Yeah. And I didn't know this person and they didn't know me, but they were deeply offended already by my existence.

Amory: Julia says she was shocked when she found this blog. And sad. And that's another thing she has in common with Caroline. Before the smolbean subreddit, there was a Facebook group snarking about Caroline's Instagram account. Caroline talked about discovering the group’s existence on the Going Mental podcast.

[Caroline: It absolutely wrecked me to go from thinking that there were just like some people who didn't like my account or would leave an occasional mean comment to realize that there was an organized group of people who, every time I did anything were going to be there to pick it apart, whether it was just, you know, anything, what I was reading, what I was wearing, what my face looked like, what my hair looked like, what I said, what I misspelled, what font color I chose, what I, anything that absolutely wrecked me. I was like literally incapacitated for like one week with grief. And that was really bad and I really tended to believe them.]

Amory: Julia Allison knows this all too well, the more famous you become, the more haters there seem to be. Julia got a column in Time Out New York, she eventually even her own reality TV show, and her anti-fan community, grew larger and larger

Ben: In 2008, Radar magazine voted Julia the third most-hated person on the internet. Instead of ignoring the vote, or condemning it, Julia released a statement thanking all of her detractors. It started with: "Wow, you hate me! You really, really hate me!"

Amory: I mean, that’s good. If people are going to do that, that a pretty strong response, in my opinion. And at least this was a laughing-with situation, as opposed to being laughed at?

Ben: Kind of.

Julia: So if let's just say we had a psychiatrist or a psychologist, look at the situation. From my perspective, it was a classic abusive relationship. I just went along with it because I didn't know what else to do. I was 26. I had no power. I had very little money. I didn't have people backing me. I was on my own in New York City and I just tried to do the best I could with what I had. I had no mentors. One of the, one of the things that people often said is, oh, you were in on the joke. Oh, you were a part of, it was like, that was the best I could come up with. I didn't have the security or the strength or the wherewithal to say, f*** no, f*** you.

Ben: I wonder what you think about this idea that sometimes people find community online in this kind of snark or criticism or hate?

Julia: Yes. I think… (Sigh.) People are so desperate for connection and for community that they will take whatever way they can to find that community. And I know at least for my haters, they bonded very deeply with each other. They exchanged book recommendations and they talked about their cats and they talked about their struggles with their jobs. And they, what they really were looking for was an experience of being seen and recognized within a group. And the thing that tied them together was their shared distaste for what they believed I represented to them. So, the projection screen that was Julia Allison to them. And then they just lived out their desire for connection through snark. But snark is such a, a light word for the things that they did.

And I think snark is a really, dangerously, how do I wanna put this? I believe snark is a cover for hatred. And by using the term snark, you allow people to quote unquote, get away with something that potentially in another context, wouldn't be societally acceptable.

Ben: Sometimes that snark about Julia bled from the internet and into her real life. And her family's real life. And friends. And the businesses she was working with. Even her boyfriends' parents would get random emails about her.

Julia: I spent a ton of money on lawyers just to keep people from, you know, like literally they tried to stop my business dealings. They would email all the companies I worked with. Tons of defamation issues. And, and you might be like, oh, that's silly. Like, who cares if they called you a slut or whatever, but it's like, when they're emailing your place of business and doing that, that's just gross.

Ben: This was no longer a joke on the internet. This was harassment. And, Julia adds, she was famous, but not famous famous. She wasn't a movie star. She couldn't hire security.

Amory: Julia herself looks back at some of the content she made in her 20s and cringes. Which she hinted at when she called her work today with Solutionist a karmic apology.

Julia: I was not serving something bigger than myself when I was in my twenties. I was not tuned into the planet. I was not, I cared about people, but I wasn't actively in alignment with values that I had thought clearly about. You know, here's my outfit. Here are the dates I'm going on here. Here are the celebrities I'm talking about on television. Do I think that that's a good use of, of life? Not really. No, which is why I don't do it anymore.

Amory: One could say the same thing about snark as a hobby. Not a great use of life.
Ben: But back then — Julia did want attention. And, like Jaws said, negative attention is just part of the deal right? Well, Julia doesn’t buy that premise.

Julia: If someone had handed me a legal contract to be an influencer back in the early two thousands, when I started and I had read the fine print about what would happen and what people would feel entitled to do to me and to say to me, well, first of all, there's no f****** way I would've signed it. 

Ben: Yeah.

Julia: No way, but when you're starting into a profession that literally didn't exist and there's no precedent, you can't possibly know how it's going to affect you. And even if you, for some reason, thought that it was a reasonable expectation that you'd be harassed. Um, there's no way to understand how that can affect your psyche. I mean, I, it took me 10 years to begin to heal the wounds of having hoards of people literally wanna destroy my life and anything good in my life.

Ben: Yeah.

Julia: I have just receded completely from the public eye because it felt like s***.

Ben: So yeah, if you haven't heard of Julia Allison? Or you had, but you kind of forgot about her? All of the snark is part of the reason.

Amory: We asked Jaws what would happen if Caroline followed in Julia's path and just stopped doing the things people love to hate.

Jaws: I think that would be great. Like, I’m sure there would be a small part of me that would be upset to not have that source of ridiculous content anymore, but like, again, like that's, you know, that's her, her choice.

Ben: And then in March, shortly after that lawsuit and those pictures of her apartment went viral, that's kind of what happened. Caroline Calloway kind of went away. She deleted all of her old Instagram posts, and she stopped posting new stories.

Amory: And without there being a lot to comment on anymore, the new threads and posts on the smolbeansnark subreddit are getting fewer and farther in between.

Ben: Caroline has gone dark on Instagram before. But this time might be different.

Amory: Just like the blogs that were popular when Julia was in her 20s gave way to Instagram, Instagram is giving way to TikTok. Caroline’s medium of choice is just not as popular.

Ben: And Caroline might just be entering a new stage of her life and career. For better or for worse, for most people, fame is fleeting.

Amory: Most likely, the void she’s leaving on Reddit will be filled with disdain for another influencer, or “D-list celebrity.” But Ben, I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe, people will find something better to do with their time, they will resist the temptation to bond over someone they don’t like…

Ben: Yeah. Photoshop some arms onto some birds for the birds with arms subreddit.

Amory: Exactly. That's exactly what I'm talking about.

Ben: Make a short horror film about the back rooms, you know.

Amory: Watch some power washing videos together, right? Like let's gather around lovely things. Things we, we, we love together. Maybe this is just me getting older, but I think it feels so much better to just be like, Hey man, you do you, live your life. You wanna do that? Cool. I'm gonna go do that. I'm gonna go Photoshop some arms on some birds. Have a good one.

Ben: Endless Thread is a production of WBUR in Boston.

Amory: Want early tickets to events, swag, bonus content? Access to the AmoryAmoryAmory.com friendly web forum? Pictures of Ben wearing an Orchid crown? Join our email list! You’ll find it at wbur.org/endlessthread.

Ben: This episode was written and produced by Grace Tatter. Cohosted by Ben Brock Johnson and Amory Sivertson. Mix and sound design by Emily Jankowski. Our web producer is Megan Cattel. The rest of our team is Nora Saks, Quincy Walters, Dean Russell, Matt Reed, and Paul Vaitkus.

Amory: Endless Thread is a show about the blurred lines between digital communities and a creativity workshop where you have to bring your own salad!? And salad. If you’ve got an untold history, an unsolved mystery, or a wild story from the internet that you want us to tell, hit us up. Email Endless Thread at WBUR dot ORG.

Ben: Ok, goodbye! Good luck.

Amory: Ok, goodbye!

Grace Tatter Twitter Producer, The Great Wager
Grace Tatter is an independent journalist and audio producer.

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