A Look into Parasocial Relationships Online

by Lilika Jenkins ‘22

The majority of teens in first-world countries have access to the Internet, which exposes them to many niches of entertainment, information, and creativity. A new corner of entertainment that has taken over this digital world are YouTubers, Twitch streamers and TikTokers. Children and teenagers follow these content creators on various social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram, hoping to get a glimpse into their ‘everyday lives’ and feel closer to them, as if they were these creators’ actual friends. 

When a person feels as though a celebrity or content creator that produces content for their fanbase is a personal friend, it is termed a parasocial relationship. While the content creator at hand does not know who the individual is but the individual feels as if the content creator is communicating with and only them, the fan may believe that they have a more personal connection than what they actually have. This phenomenon is common due to the fact that content creators can tweet and ‘talk’ to fans, making them seem closer to the normal viewer than they actually are. Celebrities may like tweets that fans make talking about a new song or video they made, and even reply to them.

Parasocial relationships are especially common in communities such as the Minecraft Youtuber community, BTS fandom, and other Youtube/Twitch streaming communities. Because these creators’ jobs are to speak directly to their fanbase, many start to feel as though they are friends with them.Parasocial relationships in and of itself are not too harmful and while wanting to be friends with someone you look up to isn’t a terrible thing, sometimes these imaginary relationships can lead to people doing foolish and even dangerous things. 

Many KPop groups have regular livestreams and can even virtually talk to fans using an app called VLIVE. Some fans may start to feel entitled to this interaction and may want to take it a step forward and try to meet with them in real life. This behavior is a culmination of parasocial relationships and obsession, which may initially start off harmless, but become a bigger problem. When Twitch streamers blog or livestream outside, they have the high risk of being swarmed by fans near the area. This can prove to become very dangerous, as there is a chance of spreading COVID, someone holding a weapon, or risk of trampling in order to get close to their favorite content creator. 

This phenomenon is not just cultivated by the fans themselves, however. In fact, many content creators actively promote this behavior, intentionally or not. By saying that they love each and every one of their fans, they cultivate a sense of closeness with their audience, and many seem to fall into this unhealthy mindset that they can get close to these celebrities. 

Ludwig Ahgren, a famous streamer and YouTuber with over a million Twitch followers and YouTube subscribers, streams almost daily for up to 10 hours a day alongside regular video uploads. He made a YouTube video titled “I Am Not Your Friend,” discouraging people from forming parasocial relationships with content creators including himself, who are essentially strangers to their audience in actuality. “In the Direct Messages people send me, it feels like I’m not the guy for the job. They ask me for advice as they would a friend, or someone you’re close to. But I’m not involved in the person’s life.”

Awareness of this phenomenon is extremely important. Healthy consumption of media, especially on the Internet, should be heavily normalized and promoted in order to ensure that everyone involved is safe.