I feel like the figure skating fandom is getting pretty extreme, in a not-so-nice sense. Certain fans (maybe a minority, but very vocal) will abuse and insult skaters, officials, commentators and each other, start flame wars, even send death threats (like in last year's Lim/Bell thing).
Most of this activity is online but occasionally manifests itself in person, like the signs and graffiti at the GPF which were mentioned earlier today. This is a little worrying, and I really hope it isn't the start of a slippery slope. In the world outside skating, when people start to follow up their online vitriol with physical actions, stuff like terrorism happens. Of course words alone aren't benign either - I guess that's why comments on the JGP Youtube videos are now disabled, to protect kids from the psychological impact of verbal abuse.
Pretty much the only other sports fanbase that I've seen to exhibit such crazy tribalism is football. However, figure skating fans tend not to be drunk while spectating, so what other reasons might be contributing to the nastiness of their behaviour? And most importantly, is the situation fixable?
I thought of a few:
-Rise of social media over the last decade (can comment anonymously with little accountability + creates 'echo chambers')
-Rise of streaming/video-sharing sites as opposed to television channels for viewing (same reason as above)
-Inherent characteristics of a sport that is subjective/performance-based (can argue about judging) and individual (attacks become personal)
-Recent technical changes (e.g. top-down: judging system/programme requirements, bottom-up: the revolution-of-revolutions in men and women's events) resulting in less consistency in terms of who wins which year
-Most fans don't skate
A caveat is that I only started skating/following figure skating around 2014, so I'm not sure if it's always been the case or if it's a more recent trend. Would anyone with a longer history of watching figure skating be able to offer any insight into this?
It's unfortunate that this kind of behavior appears in real life, but figure skating events are far from the only places where people have been manifesting what we deem to be "toxic" behavior. It's happening all over the place, and in my opinion, reflects a certain breakdown of civility that the Internet - arguably - has contributed towards.
I agree with many of the points you raised. The Internet can enable people who would otherwise be much more reticent to display toxic or aggressive behavior to do so behind the comfort of an anonymous username. But at the same time, it has also enabled others to speak more freely or openly because they are not being forced to use their real names.
It goes both ways.
Incivility did not begin with the Internet and especially social media, but it has increased in recent years, and I always find that to be sad. This is why I believe it takes courage to use your real name online because in doing so, you are taking a lot of risks. And this is also why I don't blame people for taking breaks from the Internet or going offline completely to focus on their "real lives." Considering the way people can behave online, I can totally understand that.
But for my own part, I try my best to be as polite and respectful as I can. And if people want to behave like toxic jerks - online or offline - I simply ignore them. And take all the steps that I need to to protect myself.
That's all you can do.