Why Some Taylor Swift Stans Are Ganging Up On ‘Gaylors’: Report
There’s some bad blood in the Taylor Swift community. According to a new report from social media tracking firm Graphika, the largest harassment in Swift fandom spaces is happening between radical Gaylor and Anti-Gaylor accounts online — and changing fandom interactions for the worse.
#Gaylor is a long-running fan theory that baselessly purports Swift is queer and is leaving secret messages referring to it in her work. (While she does leave “easter eggs” about various topics in her music, Swift has never said she is anything other than straight and has only been in public relationships with men—though she has been a vocal advocate and ally for the LGBTQ+ community.) Anti-Gaylor fans, also known by the derisive term Hetlors, are a subculture of Swift followers who believe the harmless Gaylor fan theory is disrespectful to the pop star. The theory, which originated on the blogging site Tumblr in the mid-2010s, became a renewed topic of interest online when Swift abruptly announced her tenth studio album Midnights in 2022 — and began releasing coded messages about the contents and meanings behind her new songs.
Released Wednesday morning, the Graphika report details that factions in the online Swift fandom can be split into six distinct but connected groups: Multi-Stan, Spanish-Language, Gaylor, Anti-Gaylor, Larries, and Neutral Swifties. The report found that factions exist even inside group lines, and polarized communities consistently interact with content from other groups far more than those they agree with. But Gaylors and Anti-Gaylors, specifically, have shown a common playbook on how harassment takes shape in online communities.
In an exclusive interview, report authors Cristina López G. and Avneesh Chandra tell Rolling Stone that mapping the Swift fandom doesn’t just provide information on the inner workings of the pop star’s fan groups — it’s a blueprint for how online communities and social media platforms can develop better practices moving forward.
“This community is just one good case study of how fandoms generally operate because of the size and the history of the community,” Chandra tells Rolling Stone. “But if you are able to understand one example of the way this happens online, hopefully, it will help you contextualize other instances, because nothing is an isolated phenomenon.”
The researchers examined over 13,000 Swift-related accounts on Twitter and mapped the six groups based on key terms, hashtags, size, volume of content, and interactions with each other. (For instance, the Larries group was defined by accounts that believed former One Direction bandmates Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson were or should be in a romantic relationship.) All six Swiftie groups were connected by content focused on the pop star, most of which is largely benign. Yet both Gaylor and Anti-Gaylor accounts use common harassment tactics like doxxing, mass reporting through coordinated attacks, and using coded language and sock puppet accounts to expand their reach and evade bans.
Sound familiar? That’s because these methods aren’t unique to the Swift community. Both Chandra and Lopez G. have worked for years in data visualization, misinformation, and online conspiracy groups, and say the same harassment techniques (used by vaccine conspiracy theorists, QAnon supporters, election outcome deniers, and more) have become common ways for groups to get around community guidelines. Moving forward, Lopez G. says, there’s strong evidence that platforms should update how they handle harassment once groups have proven they can easily get around it.
“The narratives [these communities] are defending become a big part of their online identity,” Lopez. G says. “And communities are incentivized to weaponize the things platforms put in place for the safety of their users — in order to silence each other. This is how harassment still happens. And the work of trust and safety [teams] has to grow just as communities adapt to it.”
According to the report, while both Gaylor and Anti-Gaylor accounts are antagonistic toward the other groups, Anti-Gaylor accounts outnumber Gaylor fans and “play a key role” in how the theory is presented to mainstream audiences. The research also adds that the outsized number of Anti-Gaylor supporters — the group represents 28 percent of accounts in the sample in comparison to Gaylors’ 9 percent — means that Gaylor fans can often find themselves “exiled” from neutral fan spaces. One example cited is the r/TaylorSwift subreddit. The forum is in the top one percent of communities on Reddit and has 460,000 subscribers, but posting about Swift’s sexuality or pro-Gaylor topics is a bannable offense — which Lopez G. and Chandra say can isolate Gaylor stans from the larger community.
“It’s very easy to dismiss what happens within fandoms as not important or as not serious,” Lopez. G says. “But the doxxing is real and the harassment is real, and oftentimes this harassment has really homophobic connotations. And it is affecting real life, like people who were outed because they had posted about this theory. We wanted to take both communities equally seriously to see what their behaviors really do.”
While the Gaylor and Anti-Gaylor rift focuses on Swift’s sexuality, opinions and fan theories about her romantic relationships can vary even within the same groups. But on Saturday, after Swift and her longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn reportedly broke up after six years together, Lopez G. and Chandra tell Rolling Stone that the news did little to shake core beliefs online. Instead, the two say while online groups are always aware of mainstream news, it is often twisted to fit community narratives.
“We are still tracking the activity of these communities and you can see a gigantic spike — the activity doubles for both groups — the night that news came out,” Lopez G. says. “This is a community that is incredibly dynamic, incredibly responsive to real-life occurrences.”
“Real-world occurrences are just fodder for existing narratives,” Chandra adds. “And in communities where narratives are identity, the identity in the community is not going to change. When something in the real world happens, it becomes a starting point for more conversation, but the ultimate aim is to maintain the community. And as long as that is being fulfilled, very little else matters.”
It isn’t all Band-Aids and bullet holes in Swift’s online community. Graphika also found that one of the most cohesive and least antagonistic fan groups was the Spanish-language Swifties. Largely indifferent to the Gaylor debate, the insular group tweets predominately in Spanish and mainly shares content to connect Swift fans who speak their common language, rather than comment on ongoing issues between groups. Lopez G. points to the Spanish-language Swifties, and other shared data points between groups, as evidence that harassment doesn’t have to be the primary way Gaylors and Anti-Gaylors interact with each other.
“And from a more down-to-earth perspective, everyone in this fandom probably has more in common than they have opposing each other,” Lopez G. says. “The effects of these tactics, techniques, and procedures that get put in place in order to win over the other groups do leave a mark and do have real human effects. And if a reader can think with kindness the next time they want to respond, maybe that’s a good takeaway, too.”