In a surprising display of solidarity with the accused Boston Marathon bomber, a 14-year-old One Direction fangirl recently changed her Tumblr URL to “Free-Jahar” and began advocating for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s release (“Jahar” is the nickname Tsarnaev’s friends call him.) At first glance this may seem unfathomable. So much media attention, the gripping chase, the incriminating photos and other convincing bits of evidence – where’s the doubt in that?
Turns out the Internet has spawned an entire campaign, primarily on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, of thousands of people proclaiming Tsarnaev’s innocence. The rhetoric of the movement argues that there are too many holes and inconsistencies in the evidence to ascertain 19-year-old’s guilt, let alone give him the death penalty. #FreeJahar Tumblrs use images, sarcasm, and claims of conspiracy to make their case. This isn’t the first time Internet fans have rallied behind accused mass killers. The Columbine and Aurora shootings inspired similar contingents of advocates, illustrating the kind of intense, bizarre, and deluded fandom that can spread rapidly through social media.
One twist in the #FreeJahar cause is that the fiercest advocates are largely young and female, and many point to Tsarnaev’s attractiveness as the inspiration for the movement. Combine a fascination for conspiracy theories, a passion of contrary online social movements, and a weakness for good looks, and you have a much misguided cyber community on your hands.
Some questions that this story raises for us:
- Are fangirls the new social activists and grassroots organizers?
- Does physical attractiveness lead to greater sympathy and more “get out of jail free” passes?
- Are we entering an era of the truest free, egalitarian, open-forum democracy we’ve ever known with the growing power of social networks? And if so, is this a change for the better?
Photo credit: Gawker