Axel Webber and the power of parasocial relationships

Navigating online relationships between content creators and viewers can be difficult. The internet is a place where people can connect more easily than they could before. However, due to its vastness and, in many ways, anarchy, boundaries can blur. The ambiguity of what constitutes acceptable behavior in online spaces has led to extreme and impassioned reactions to situations, ranging from staunch support for a public figure to harassment and doxxer on their behalf. A recent example of a creator who provoked such an intense response is the 22-year-old TikTok star Axel Webber.

Webber, who hails from a small town outside of Atlanta named Cumming, Georgia, moved to New York to start an acting career. Once installed in his cramped apartment which he called the “NYC’s smallest apartment,” he started filming TikTok videos in his unit about how he survives on little money. While her living space isn’t literally the smallest in town, her videos reflect the reality of many New Yorkers and also function as wish-fulfillment for those looking to move to the metropolis. Over time, Webber has amassed a dedicated fan base, which to date is made up of over 4.1 million followers.

While much of Webber’s content centers around his day-to-day life in America’s most populous city, he also shares his acting aspirations with his audience. Webber, despite having little stage experience, decided to audition for the famed performing arts school Julliard, an institution with an acceptance rate of 7%. The TikToker posted videos on the to treat, including a clip where he informed his audience that he used an English accent during the audition, a skill he admitted he “can’t do.” The next day, Webber announced his rejection of Julliard on TikTok. The influencer also congratulated the artists who were accepted and noted that he will have to find another path to become a professional actor. The video showed Webber’s disappointment but in no way blamed or attacked Julliard for their decision.

@axelwebber

Julliard Final Update

♬ original sound – Axel

Reactions to his rejection

The video captured national attention within a day. Fans sent Webber tens of thousands of supportive comments filled with uplifting messages and promises of a bright future. Celebrities as singer Charlie Puth also comforted the TikToker. Within approximately 24 hours, The New York Times interviewed Webber and published an article about his situation. In addition, he signed a modeling contract with the modeling agency The society. Although Webber would not live out his dream of studying at Julliard, he got opportunities that would not have been possible without his rejection.

Even as the online content creator expressed excitement about the upcoming post-Julliard audition, his audience took the dismissal personally. Fans of the public figure flooded the school’s social media pages, specifically Instagram, demanding that the influencer be admitted. Spam from college comment sections had been so insistent that Webber himself made a TikTok asking fans not to Bash Julliard and “stay positive”. While he has made clear his desire for his supporters to leave the school alone, supporters have continued to essentially harass the institution as often as possible. Julliard has made no official statement about Webber or his rejection.

Fans accept Webber’s rejection

The backlash Webber received in response to his refusal highlights the power online fans have to promote, even destroy, people and organizations on the Internet. The connection between a viewer and a content creator is considered a parasocial relationship. A parasocial relationship can be defined as a one-sided relationship where one person invests emotional interest and time in another person or personality who is completely unaware of their existence.

A common example is a celebrity and their fan base. The famous person does not know each of his followers personally or even at all, while every supporter has bonded with the figure. Parasocial relationships are normal for people with notable people. It is natural for a person to love someone they have not met and will never meet. Sometimes relationships of this nature can help younger children see themselves represented in others, and teens can then aspire to be like their idols. Although parasocial relationships are, for the most part, healthy, these intense bonds can cause people to act irrationally.

In Webber’s case, his viewers, who in their minds were acting in good faith, escalated the significance of his rejection to an unnecessary degree with constant comments on Julliard’s social media pages and various calls to action to that the TikToker receives “Justice.” Being rejected from Julliard is not uncommon and happens to the majority of applicants every year; however, since the person who was denied a place at the school was a beloved internet personality, TikTok users chose to take their displeasure to the school.

Fans often protect social figures

Fans shielding an online personality or celebrity through harassment and spamming is a fairly common occurrence. An example of this happened in July 2020 when singer-songwriter Taylor Swift released her eighth studio album, “Folklore.” Following the publication of Fork project review, who gave the album an 8.0 out of 10 rating, Swift’s super fans released the critic’s personal information, Jillian Mapes, on social networks. His home address and phone number were available to anyone online. There have been many other occurrences like this where a celebrity’s followers, whether famous online or in more traditional entertainment, have attacked people or businesses that appear to have hurt or hurt their public persona. favourite.

The complications of his parasocial relationships

An underlying problem in out-of-control parasocial relationships is that audience members often project themselves onto their idols. When the connection between an influencer and a regular person is this intense, the public persona becomes part of the follower. For some Webber viewers, they’ve watched him since his first TikTok at his New York apartment months ago and had been consuming his content constantly. Because some people felt close to Webber and his content became embedded in their daily routines, it felt like Julliard was rejecting them as well.

To be clear, Webber is not responsible for the harassment of Julliard by his followers. Unlike other celebrities whose fans have attacked other people and organizations, he encouraged his fans to quit. However, his efforts were still not enough for his followers to redirect their energy elsewhere. Online dynamics and influencer fanbases are still topics that require further analysis. With the constant development of technology and the internet, it looks like parasocial relationships will only get stronger from here. Webber won’t be the last public figure to get massive online support and harass others on their behalf.

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