For a brief moment last week the lines between fame and fandom collapsed, and devolved into a quickfire comment war.
Singer and actress Demi Lovato appeared suddenly on the Instagram account of a fan calling herself "Stalker Sarah," who had posted pictures of herself with Lovato and her younger sister. Sarah had captioned the pictures affectionately, writing on one "Having a blast at@dallaslovatome's showcase with my girl@ddlovato...So proud of my babes."
According to screenshots doing the rounds on social media, Lovato replied in a series of now-deleted posts (we couldn't confirm it was definitely her, but the screenshots show the posts came from her official Instagram account):
I'm not your fucking "girl". If I was you wouldn't be asking for pictures. You STALK PEOPLE FOR A LIVING. We are NOT FRIENDS...GET A JOB… THIS IS MY 14 YEAR OLD BABY SISTER... SHE'S NOT YOUR BABE."
She concluded, "My family is not afraid to press charges." Then, just as suddenly as they had appeared, the comments were deleted, leaving Sarah to answer to thousands of angry Lovato fans.
There are layers of uncertainty at work here. Did Lovato really make the posts? It's possible that she was hacked—as some have suggested—or that the screengrabs were Photoshop forgeries. But who would stand to gain? Lovato's team did not respond to a request for comment.
Stars do occasionally comment on accounts belonging to their fans—Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and notable Twitter troll James Blunt are all examples—but this was different. The comments, captured in screengrabs, are harsh ("You are a 20 year old fame LEECH") and hint at something sinister ("this girl has no regard for anyone's well being but her own"). What could have inspired this rage? After all, Lovato and Stalker Sarah had met many times before.
Stalker Sarah is well-known as a "super-fan" and doesn't mind being called by her "stalker" title. She adopted it years ago in response to some angry Jonas Brothers fans, and uses it in place of her real name, which she keeps secret. Sarah gets told to stay away from famous people on a daily basis, but getting close to them is her job. In her world, proximity to fame is a currency, one she has turned into a career which spans thousands of celebrity selfies.
Stalker Sarah apparently never sleeps. The full-time celebrity chaser updates her 157k Instagram followers and 126k followers on Twitter daily. In 2013, she was even profiled in the New York Times Magazine. She appears outside hotels, at airports, and in underground carparks late at night as frequently as official tours and signings. Her updates record the tedium as well as the excitement of active fandom—camping out, waiting in the cold, and dodging bodyguards in the quest for the perfect picture.
Attracting fans, haters, and imitators, Sarah has developed her own fame by osmosis
Sarah counts selfies with Justin Bieber, One Direction, and Miley Cyrus among her trophies, but Lovato is clearly one of her most-prized. She has collected shots with Lovato's family and friends, including her boyfriend, Wilmer Valderrama, her older sister Dallas, and her 14-year-old half-sister, actress Madison De La Garza, who has been photographed with Sarah on several occasions and is the subject of the conflict with Lovato.
As screengrabs of the Instagram comments made their way around blogs and Twitter, "Stalker Sarah" claimed it must be a hack. But Lovato's Instagram account replied that it definitely wasn't (again, this was also later deleted but screengrabbed by fans). Days later, in a bid to defend herself, Sarah published a screengrab of some iMessages, apparently sent from Demi's sister, Dallas, on Twitter, blurred in parts to hide personal information:
Sarah, I am so sorry about what's going on… I'm so disgusted I can't tell you how embarrassed I am for what's gone on.
Fans were quick to point out the text could easily have been forged. Either way, damage had been done: multiple fans claimed Dallas Lovato had deleted previous pictures with Sarah from her Instagram, while Marisa Callahan, known to fans as a close friend of Demi's, allegedly tweeted (and then also deleted) that "no one's hacked here."
It's almost impossible to figure out exactly what happened, and the plot is complicated by Stalker Sarah's reputation. Attracting fans, haters, and imitators, she has developed her own fame by osmosis: there are Stalker Sarah memes and tribute blogs.
In the online fame machine, Stalker Sarah serves a double purpose: she offers friendly coverage to celebrities (she only posts positive messages) and an attainable ideal to fans—the ordinary girl in a band t-shirt and glasses, living the dream. She serves as a conduit between celebrities and fans, posting tips about when Bieber has left the building, lovingly capturing images Zayn Malik encircled with lasers, or recording Harry Styles moving slowly in a pack of girls who scream but never touch him, like a Dionysian floppy-haired god.
Her version of "fandom" is encyclopedic and impartial: she'll happily pose next to everyone from Oprah to Charlie Sheen to Fetty Wap
She refers to celebrities in cloying, possessive terms, addressing them as "my homie," "my bestie," "my girl," or "my babe." This isn't unusual in a culture where fans assign themselves tribal names—"Beliebers," "Directioners," "Swifties," and in Lovato's case, "Lovatics"—and sometimes refer to stars as "mom" or "dad."
But it's also worth noting Stalker Sarah's professional role. She "stalks" ostensibly as a full-time job, though the only obvious hint of sponsorship is a newfound enthusiasm for that laxative "detox" tea Instagram celebrities love. By Sarah's account, she's an uncredited source for gossip blogs, but she also speaks of herself as being "in the industry."
Occasionally Sarah's role as more than just a fan become more obvious. In one (rare) interview she admits to having her own manager. She follows a consistent formula in every shot, appearing to the right-hand side of the celebrity and wearing the same glasses-black-t-shirt-leather-jacket ensemble. On Instagram she bills herself as a "promoter, influencer, creator."
There's something odd about how Stalker Sarah falls between categories, cosying up to her subjects rather than pursuing them Nightcrawler-style down dark LA streets. Her version of "fandom" is encyclopedic and impartial: she'll happily pose next to everyone from Oprah to Charlie Sheen to Fetty Wap. To an outsider, this new brand of celebrity media seems unruly and invasive, in many ways more shallow than before, because now a "fame leech" is presented as a friend.
But celebrities continue to pose with Stalker Sarah, because unlike traditional, predatory paparazzi shots, her pictures advertise the humanity of their subjects. The hyper-enthusiastic "super-fan" will always be of use to celebrities—provided they can tolerate the "stalking."
Forum Cop investigates the ugliest of internet beef, getting to the heart of online squabbles and extricating facts from gossip in digital enclaves.