When the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel in Disneys live-action The Little Mermaid was announced earlier this week, it was met with positive surprise. Fans who want to see greater diversity on screen have come to expect disappointment when it comes to casting in major Hollywood films. The casting of a black woman in a historically white role signalled an important moment in the ongoing push for greater representation.
However, the optimism was quickly dampened. Anyone who has spent time online is aware of the cycle of outrage that comes after such announcements. For years now, casting announcements which skew from tradition have almost always been met with a messy push-back; think back to all woman Ghostbusters, Jodie Whittaker announced as Dr Who, Zendayas rumoured as MJ in Spider-Man, and the slew of hate-filled tweets, think-pieces and videos that followed their casting.
But with the The Little Mermaid news, it seemed like some people that supported Baileys casting were preempting the cycle and searching for any negative tweets they could find about the news. Quickly tweets with minimal likes, or accounts with small follower counts, were retweeted and quote-tweeted numerous times, giving large public platforms to statements that would have usually disappeared into Twitters echo-chamber.
But people who go looking for any adverse opinion, just so they can dunk on it for numbers, are causing problems. This isnt a case of holding someone with public influence to account or punching up. Its only benefit is to show that youre engaged in the cultural conversion, and to get likes. But it has negatives, too: trolls are given the attention that they crave.
This need to find wrongness then leads to fake tweets. As reported by BuzzFeeds Brandon Wall, one account switched its appearance to look like a Little Mermaid fan account, then tweeted that they would be throwing away a copy of the film due to Baileys casting.
It should have been more obvious to anyone with digital literacy that the tweet was suspicious. Iit reads like a stereotype of viral anger; the threat to destroy merchandise is now a troupe of stan twitter, the mention of race so early on in the tweet makes it feel geared for controversy. A quick scroll through the account's photos revealed it as a fake – although it was worrying how few people were willing to spend the minimal time required to do that.
Fake tweets, reviews, and even accounts are becoming worryingly common in pop culture. Last year a group of Lady Gaga fans used fake midwestern mom accounts to tweet suspiciously similar negative reviews of Venom, the week both that and Gagas A Star Is Born hit theatres. When Marvels Black Panther and Captain Marvel were released, both were the targets of fake negative reviews in an effort to bring their rotten tomatoes score down.
The issue here isnt necessarily that some people find the idea of multiculturalism in cinema repulsive, or are prepared to make lengthy arguments about how Hans Christen Andersons Danish roots mean that a fictional mermaid should always have white skin (although there certainly are people who have those opinions, and they often share them online). The question is why is there such a compelling need to shine a spotlight on such opinions – which in reality may be voiced by a fairly small number of people – that it starts actively fuelling misinformation.
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