Marina Joyce: Why did panicked fans believe the YouTuber had been kidnapped, or worse?

The Independent spoke to a psychologist about what caused thousands of fans to turn into internet detectives and why, even after assurances of her safety, they just can not let the conspiracy theories go 

Maya Oppenheim
Thursday 28 July 2016 17:40 BST
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Joyce has become the subject of untold videos, articles and tweets speculating about her safety and welfare
Joyce has become the subject of untold videos, articles and tweets speculating about her safety and welfare (YouTube)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Within the space of days, Marina Joyce has gone from a relatively well-known YouTuber to the subject of an internet frenzy of intense speculation and heightened panic. In turn, the 19-year-old north London-based beauty blogger has proved there is a darker, altogether more ominous side to social media fame.

Joyce is now the subject of innumerable videos, articles, and tweets speculating about her safety and welfare. The cause of this collective hysteria all links back to a video titled “Date Outfit Ideas”.

While the title may sound rather anodyne, many found its contents disquieting. In the video, Joyce, who is promoting dresses, appears disorientated with bruise-like marks on the backs of her arms. The video was followed by a rapidly growing sense of panic among fans; some began to suggest she was in a hostage situation while others speculated about the state of her mind. In has been viewed 16 million times in five days.

Police have visited Joyce and found her to be “safe and well” and Joyce herself has repeatedly reassured fans she is fine on virtually every social media platform available to her. Yet many remain concerned.

The Independent spoke to David Giles, a psychologist who specialises in the relationship between celebrities and fans in the age of social media, about how and why this particular case has managed to garner so much attention and hysteria.

Marina Joyce's mum assures fans she's ok in live stream and it was her saying 'help me'

Mr Giles says fans develop what they believe to be a closer relationship because influencers talk directly to their fan base about their domestic and personal lives.

“The degree of intimacy which is set up by YouTubers is so much stronger than with traditional celebrities," he explains. "You get a sense of where they live, who their family are, what their pets are, you see them in their homes on a regular basis. It creates a much greater interest than you would get for a traditional celebrity who is stereotypically cordoned off in some Beverley hills mansion with security guards around them”.

That fans felt compelled to inform the police they were scared for Joyce’s welfare is a testimony to the level of intimacy they felt towards her, he adds.

“In a sense, it shows how real all of this is,” he says. “Traditionally followers of celebrities would not even consider getting involved with their personal problems. Even if they were very committed fans they just wouldn’t really feel that degree of connection with them to call the police.”

"Why would it take followers on YouTube to alert the police to something which seems to be happening in her own home? It's very much the case that people feel they know the person so well that they can see things in their behaviour that other people can’t.”

But the question remains: why did people jump so quickly to such bleak conclusions about Joyce in the first place? After all, some fans went so far as to speculate she was being held hostage by Isis. A conspiratorial element runs throughout the saga, with fans quickly turning into internet detectives and seeking out clues.

“In a sense, it becomes a detective story where people are trawling through like forensic experts trying to pick up clues and trying to piece things together. It is triggered by genuine curiosity and an element of voyeurism but also because we have access to so much information about people nowadays”.

In an age where YouTubers record where they go, what they do and what they think, it can become easy for their followers to become emotionally invested. A quick scan of Joyce’s old videos shows followers going through videos with a fine toothed comb.

Most importantly, even though Joyce has repeatedly attempted to quell alarm about her welfare in repeated announcements, some fans seem unable to let go of their concerns. “You’ve got these conspiracy theories building up and once conspiracy theories get going it’s very very hard to disconfirm them".

But while it is obviously possible to see the internet spiralling into a mad panic, it is much harder to decipher who exactly these people are obsessing over Joyce’s well-being. As such, Mr Giles argues an important distinction needs to be made between her long-term, die-hard fans and newer followers who have jumped on the bandwagon and rode the wave of the internet’s storm.

“There is a fan hierarchy there but this will not be visible in the media. I would guess the initial concern was probably sparked by her long-term followers who have obviously been following her every week and are guided by genuine concern”.

Unlike the latecomers, the long-standing fans of Joyce are likely to be quite intimate with her and will have built up a dialogue with her over the years as she has replied to their tweets and comments on YouTube. It is this familiarity and intimacy which has led to the ensuing “Marina Joyce frenzy”.

Nevertheless, the mounting interest piqued by Joyce transcends fandom. As the reactions on social media show, people from all walks of life have become drawn into one of the most bizarre mysteries the internet has been privy to in a long while.

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