Victim, Rival, Bully: Influencers’ Narrative Cultures Around Cyberbullying
Influencers are among the most conspicuous, crucial, and contentious stakeholders pertaining to cyberbullying. As opinion leaders for young internet users, Influencers communicate with followers through their effective digital strategies applied across a variety of potentially-integrated digital platforms. This vernacular knowledge of digital environments sits at the intersection of relatability politics, attention gaming economies, and self-branding cultures. Unlike anonymous internet trolls, Influencers are nonymous self-branded personae, deeply invested in their reputation metrics. They are also unlike everyday users on the internet, being more conditioned to cope with negativity and social aggression, or even appropriating such negativity for revenge or to further promote their brand. Consequently, Influencers practice a variety of discursive strategies around cyberbullying, including positioning the self as victim, rival, and bully. This paper discusses how Influencers develop and perform four positional narratives around cyberbullying, including: cyberbullying experienced pre-celebrity, in which they speak of digital tools as platforms for recovery and self-care; cyberbullying experienced with microcelebrity, in which they use their platforms to share coping strategies, steer and direct conversation among peers and followers, and advocate for internet safety campaigns; cyberbullying directed towards fellow Influencers, in which transient leadership on healthy internet culture and group policing emerges; and cyberbullying everyday users, in which notorious Influencers become perceived as anti-examples in local communities and new discursive spaces around internet visibility, voice, and responsibility open up in tandem with media virality. The data presented in this paper are developed from in-depth content analysis of the digital estates of a group of young Influencers in Singapore, and supported by ethnographically-informed interpretations from long-term traditional anthropological participant observation.
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