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Through their quickly consumable content, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter have made it increasingly easy to connect with people who have similar interests to you. While this helps people to find those like them, it may become dangerous when those interests are morbid. All over social media, you can find fan accounts and fan edits for the world’s most deadly serial killers. By connecting true-crime fans all over the world, social media has caused an emergence of teens who have a cult-like obsession with killers like Dahmer, Bundy, and Manson. Today’s article covers social media’s obsession with serial killers and how you can keep your child safe from digital injury with our GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit.

Fandoms and The Rise of the “Stan”

A fandom is a group built around the shared interest or enjoyment of something in popular culture.[1] Since before the creation of the internet, people have gathered to meet and obsess over their common interests. The internet has simply made it easier to do so.

Fandoms provide a space for people to be themselves without judgment, leading to higher levels of self-esteem.[2] There is a term for those who are particularly obsessed, called “Stans.” A Stan is someone who is a mix between a stalker and a fan, someone who shows extreme fandom behavior to the point of excessiveness.[3]

Typically online, you can expect to see fandoms for pop culture groups like movies, TV shows, and musicians. However, with the rise in true crime popularity, a new subgroup has formed of “Stans” with a particular interest in serial killers and their victims. These Stans continually post videos of serial killer interviews edited to music, create fan accounts, and even write serial killer self-insert fanfiction where they are the victims.[4]

Social Media’s Role in Obsession

Social media thrives on content that can get lots of views and produce lots of likes, meaning that the more scandalous and salacious content is, the more likely it is to do well. The notifications from social media likes and comments trigger the reward center of our brain, releasing dopamine and making us feel good all over.[5] When users post content that is related to their fandoms, they get a rush of dopamine and that connection between fandom content and happiness causes them to post more and interact with the content more.

Social media has also created a world where content is readily available for consumption, meaning that people can see posts specifically tailored to their interests 24/7. This allows people to go from fans to superfans, spending their waking moments scouring the internet for posts related to their fandom. One Quora user shared their experience as an obsessive fan, “I’ve been addicted to a fandom for 7 years, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for that long. As per my personal experience, I got sucked into several fandoms due to over-engaging in social media. I over-identified with the idols and associated my own ego with that of their public image.”[6] This idolization of celebrities creates dangerous parasocial relationships that are only made further dangerous when one’s idol is a serial killer. To learn more about parasocial relationships, check out the GKIS article, “The Dangers of Online Parasocial Celebrity Relationships”.

When Does Harmless Become Harmful

It’s easy to brush off fandom behavior as nothing more than a phase one will grow out of. But when the obsession turns into something more it can become dangerous. Cody Ackland was a 24-year-old who grew up obsessed with Ted Bundy, an interest that no one paid much attention to until he attacked and murdered 18-year-old Bobbi Anne McLeod. Just hours before attacking McLeod, Ackland had searched for “Ted Bundy dead victim’s bodies” and “Ukrainian serial killer bodies” on the internet.[7]

Teens have become more and more desensitized to serial killers and true crime content, going so far as to make fan accounts as part of a big internet joke. When 23-year-old Peter Manfredonia was on the run from the police following a double murder he committed, teens on TikTok and Instagram began making fan accounts and posting meme comments to the killer’s personal Instagram page.[8] While the people running these accounts chalk up their actions to being a big joke, there is a large community of people who genuinely run fan accounts for notable serial killers.

Reddit user IkariMonster shared screenshots of several accounts from Twitter to a sub-Reddit, stating, “These teenagers worship and treat serial killers and school shooters like e-boys.”[9] In the screenshots, you can see several fan accounts treating serial killers Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Columbine Shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold as though they were celebrities. In one post a teenage girl shares a selfie next to her bedroom wall, which is covered in photos of Dahmer with the caption, “I just thought I’d share cause I think my wall looks pretty [face with hearts emoji].” These accounts and posts are just one example of content and cult-like obsessive behavior that exists across multiple social media platforms.

The victims of these killers were people with friends and family and the pain they endured it absolutely horrendous. There is no reason that serial killers and mass murderers should be praised or celebrated for their actions. The creation of fan accounts and fandom content perpetrates further violence against the families of the victims and serves as a constant reminder of the pain they suffered. GKIS does not endorse this behavior. We are mortified by it and think it is destructive to kids and teens to be so callous and to celebrate violence in this way.

What Parents Can Do

  • Installing management tools for social media can help you in monitoring their internet behavior. If you would like help with this process, check out our GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit made to help empower and provide parents with smart tech tools to filter, monitor, and manage online behavior.
  • Co-view the content your child interacts with; you can scroll together to choose what content they view and enjoy.
  • Make it known from the beginning the type of content that is acceptable for your child to view. We can help facilitate this healthy conversation with our Connected Families Screen Agreement to help you work with your child to create a collaborative, living document.

Like what you read? Check out our GKIS articles “Do Netflix Serial Killer Exposés Cause Kids to Romanticize Murderers?” and “Is Your Child Following True Crime?

Thanks to CSUCI intern, Katherine Carroll for researching social media and serial killer obsession. 

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

 Works Cited

[1] Subcultures and sociology. (2022) Grinnell College. https://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultural-theory-and-theorists/fandom-and-participatory-culture/

[3] Blistein, J. Eminem-Inspired Use of ‘Stan’ Added to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2019). Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/eminem-stan-merriam-websters-dictionary-entry-826557/

[3] Radzicki McManus, M. Where’s the Line Between Fandom and Obsession? (2018) HowStuffWorks. https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/fan-superfan-why-some-people-go-too-far.htm

[4] Septin. Serial Killers Fandom Wiki (2013). Fanfiction Wiki. https://fanfiction.fandom.com/wiki/Serial_Killer

[5] Thalin, G. Too few social media ‘likes’ can lead to increases in teen depression (2020). Painted Brain. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/eminem-stan-merriam-websters-dictionary-entry-826557/

[6] Bose, Emily. I’ve been addicted to a fandom for 7 years (2020). Quora. https://www.quora.com/Ive-been-addicted-to-a-fandom-for-7-years-and-I-havent-been-able-to-stop-thinking-about-it-for-that-long-How-do-I-stop-this-unhealthy-obsession

[7] Eve, C., Matthews, C., and Wade-Palmer, C. Ted Bundy-obsessed guitarist who beat teen to death at bus stop jailed for life (2022) Daily Star. https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/breaking-serial-killer-fan-murdered-27005203

[8] Tenbarge, K. Teens on Instagram are making dark fan pages for a 23-year-old suspected of double murder (2020) Insider. https://www.insider.com/peter-manfredonia-connecticut-instagram-teens-fan-pages-suspected-murder-2020-5

[9] IkariMonster. r/AwfulEverything (2020). Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/awfuleverything/comments/hfl06e/these_teenagers_who_worship_and_treat_serial/

Photo Credits

Photo by Kyle Johnson (https://unsplash.com/photos/yXAXya621Po)

Photo by Kashawn Hernandez (https://unsplash.com/photos/aLmK7pF3s7M)

Photo by Hassan Rafhaan (https://unsplash.com/photos/DHZAZRWxuQQ)