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Pete Davidson and Ariana Are Showing Us How to Talk About Online Harassment

After Davidson spoke out about the volatile messages he's been receiving, Grande urged her fans to show him more empathy.

by Taylor Hosking
Dec 4 2018, 7:57pm

Jeff Kravitz , Getty Images

Ariana Grande responded Tuesday morning to her former fiance Pete Davidson’s Instagram post where he implied that her fans have been harassing him and encouraging him to kill himself. The couple’s breakup inspired Grande’s overnight hit song and viral music video “Thank U, Next,” an anthem that promotes self-love and appreciation for former partners. But Davidson, who has openly discussed his struggles with depression and borderline personality disorder, has apparently been getting harassed even before their high-profile breakup.

The Saturday Night Live cast member started his post on Monday stating his frustration with people “trashing” him, presumably because of his relationship with Grande, without proper context. Davidson addressed his mental health saying, “I’ve spoken about (Borderline Personality Disorder) and depression only in the hopes that it would bring awareness and hope to kids like myself who don’t want to be on this earth,” and ended with a clear message: “I just want you guys to know. No matter how hard the internet or anyone tries to make me kill myself. I won’t.” The post seemed to imply that Grande’s fans and others have exacerbated the situation.

On Tuesday morning, Grande posted a response on her Instagram story, encouraging her fans to “be gentler with others.” She wrote, “I really don’t endorse anything but forgiveness and positivity. I care deeply about Pete and his health.” She acknowledged the challenge of having to resist a reactionary internet culture that comes to quick conclusions about people with little personal knowledge. But held a firm line, saying, “I will always have irrevocable love for him and if you’ve gotten any other impression from my recent work, you may have missed the point.”

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Both posts brought attention to the alarming issue of online harassment, and particularly the dark phenomenon of fan hives bullying their favorite celebrities’ perceived enemies. Celebrities with intense cult followings like Beyoncé may not champion particularly toxic messages themselves but if their art or comments throw any minor shade toward another person they can set off an avalanche of harassment. Even when celebrities don’t contribute to the rumor of a feud there can still be major uproar, like when SZA’s disappointed fans harassed singer Alessia Cara for winning the Best New Artist Grammy over her in 2018. But there are also times celebrities with energetic followers have played into this toxic culture, exacerbating its effect. For example, Nicky Minaj cursed out Canadian journalist Wanna Thompson via Twitter direct message for a tweet criticizing her. And when Thompson publicly complained about it, Minaj’s fans flooded all of her social media accounts with vile messages and death threats, causing her to get fired from an internship and fear for her safety.

In this broader context, a viral song like “Thank U, Next,” which addresses known exes with an appreciative yet still dismissive tone needs a disclaimer like the one Grande gave Tuesday. It’s important for cultural figures to speak out against harassment as often as necessary. While celebrities are entitled to their artistic freedom and online opinions, moments like these are sobering reminders that even artists who wouldn’t suspect their fans have a cruel side have to stay vigilant.

Correction 12/5/18: An earlier version of this article misidentified the acronym “BPD,” which Pete Davidson mentioned in his Instagram post. It stands for Borderline Personality Disorder, not Bipolar Disorder.

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