It’s no secret that social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and X, formerly Twitter, and the comments sections located under articles published on various websites, are among some of the most treacherous places on earth–or cyberspace–as hate speech, bullying, slurs, toxicity, and people-shaming constantly litter the screen.
But you might be shocked to learn that adults who identify as Disney fans are responsible for some of the most shameful, angry, and toxic comments and responses found anywhere across the World Wide Web.
Some communications, media, and fandom experts have noticed a growing trend of negativity and toxicity among Disney fans who post comments in social media groups and in the response section of websites across the internet. And though most fans would like to believe otherwise, some of those experts have been studying the sad phenomenon for years, and their findings have led them to an awful conclusion–that some of the most toxic, hateful, and negative comments online are posted by those who consider themselves Disney fans.
“Black Sunday” Made Guests at Disneyland Angry
Disneyland’s opening day in July 1955 was nothing short of a widespread catastrophe.
Plumbing was in a total stay of disarray. Ladies in high-heeled shoes found themselves stuck in the not-yet-dry tar and asphalt. Food and drink offerings ran out by the middle of the day, and it seemed as though a bajillion guests showed up, even though Opening Day was to be an invitation-only event, and though 15,000 invitations were sent out, nearly 30,000 people stormed the gates of Walt’s new park, many of them with no tickets or with counterfeit tickets.
And that’s putting it nicely.
To say there was plenty that day to complain about, to be enraged over, and to be completely negative about, would be an egregious understatement.
Surely Guests were frustrated. The day didn’t go quite as they had imagined, and it certainly didn’t line up with the kind of experience Walt Disney had promised them during his Sunday evening program on ABC in the months leading up to the opening. But there was no internet, no social media, no posting videos of the disappointment at Disneyland in 1955, and, gauging by what some experts say about Disney fans of today, that’s a really good thing, as the comments and complaints about what came to be known as “Black Sunday” might have sabotaged Walt’s endeavors in Anaheim, California, rendering a completely different outcome, as an online downward spiral would likely have ensued.
Experts Call Out Disney Fans for Their Online Toxicity
According to experts in the fields of communication, fandom, social trends, and the like, online comments from self-proclaimed Disney fans can be some of the most negative, mean-spirited content on the web, and while this revelation might be shocking to some, for those who serve as moderators on Facebook fan pages–as well as for those who’ve fallen victim to the online attacks of other Disney fans–it’s mere confirmation of something they’ve known for a while now, and there’s no denying the prevalence of such negativity and toxicity online.
The Vintage Disneyland Facebook group is a forum for self-proclaimed Disneyland fans to come together and reminisce about the park’s first 50 years, from 1955 to 2005.
Posts are regularly made on the group’s Facebook page about various aspects of the park and include images of everything from vintage Disneyland postcards and structure facades on Main Street, U.S.A., to musings about fans’ most favorite visits to, or memories about, Walt’s first park.
But a growing trend often attempts to sabotage–and even vilify–those wholesome and innocent posts, ultimately spiraling them into a cesspool of insults, slurs, and toxicity that has many in the group scratching their heads and wondering, How did we get from there to here?
An Innocent Walk Down Memory Lane Sparks Sheer Outrage
Recently, a post invited members to share their thoughts and gave the prompt, “My Disneyland had—,” to which others responded with “My Disneyland had the Welch’s Grape Juice stand,” and “My Disneyland let you fly through the Matterhorn on the Skyway.”
Innocent enough, right?
But things quickly escalated–and without provocation, as fans began to post comments like, “My Disneyland didn’t let wokeness ruin rides,” and soon, many of the online group’s members–self-proclaimed Disney fans–had been part of leading an entire discussion about Disneyland nostalgia into the pit of despair as comments about sex slavery in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, the insensitivity of the Jungle Cruise attraction, and anger over the origins of the now-defunct Splash Mountain attraction (which, of course, opened wide the door for rage posts about Disney’ Song of the South) took over what had begun as something wholly innocent–a happy post that encouraged other members to think back about what they loved most at Disneyland from days gone by and share those memories with the group.
Bill Cotter, one of the administrators/moderators of the Vintage Disneyland Facebook group, which boasts more than 123,000 members, says he and other administrators are responsible for filtering the worst of the comments.
“The whole ‘My Disneyland’ thing was just mind-boggling,” he said. “I actually posted a picture of my car on Main Street [and posted] that my Disneyland had better parking.”
Cotter was reminiscing about his time as a Disneyland cast member, and he shared that on the days Disneyland was closed, some senior-level cast members were permitted to park their personal vehicles inside the park.
“I came back later, and the hatred [in response to my post] was flying back and forth,” Cotter said. “Like, ‘my Disneyland didn’t have whale-sized people stuffing food in their face.'”
As Cotter tried to work through the shock he felt at receiving such aggressive and derogatory comments in response to his seemingly happy and harmless post about parking spaces at Disneyland, he responded with a post that read, “Why do you feel you had to make that comment?”
But he says the comments only got more aggressive and toxic at that point–some of them even becoming accusatory, and somehow eventually leading to comments that referred to government leaders as pedophiles–all in response to an innocent post about a nostalgic memory Cotter had about earlier days at Disneyland.
A Trend That Doesn’t Look Good on Disney’s Fans
One report suggests that a terrifying chain of events can begin to unfold in threads of comments like these. In fact, the members who participate in such threads “can get so toxic that even just speaking out in a mild way against the negativity–by saying something as innocuous as this has to stop—is to risk having thousands of people pile on their criticisms, starting with why the problematic comment wasn’t a problem in the first place and ending, quite often, with personal attacks on that person and their family that can extend outside the group and sometimes into real life.”
But the toxicity seen and heard in comments like those above isn’t unique to members of the Vintage Disneyland Facebook group–not by a long shot.
Rebecca Williams, a senior lecturer in communication, culture, and media studies at the University of South Wales in the United Kingdom and author of the book Theme Park Fandom: Spatial Transmedia, Materiality & Participatory Cultures, studies fandom in society, especially as it relates to Disney and adult fans of Disney.
Williams says she, too, has noticed the toxicity in comments in social media groups comprised of adult Disney fans.
“It’s become quite fascinating to me to look at the toxicity in a fandom that a lot of people would think is just very happy, and everyone’s always on the same page with things–when they’re obviously not,” Williams explains.
She says she first noticed these types of toxic and negative comments among and between Disney fans–as well as the online attacks on others for their innocent preferences about rides, attractions, and experiences in the parks–when she set about the work of planning a Disney World vacation for her family.
“It was the first time I’d really seen a sense that a lot of the locals thought of tourists as being foolish or as not really knowing the right thing to do or the right place to go, and I’d never really thought about that before,” Williams said. “I’d always thought quite nicely that everyone who liked Disney was going to be friendly and nice.”
Williams says some of the online frustration among Disney Parks fans can be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic that began in early 2020. In fact, she has conducted research into how the pandemic affected adult fans of Disney’s theme parks.
“I think the pandemic has made people generally more angry about the little things,” Williams said. “I think people on social media started to become more divided anyway, and some of that spilled over; they’d never really been that vocal about their politics before [the 2016 election] on the Disney sites or on Twitter accounts.”
Another expert on the subject says that he’s noticed online posts attacking others just because they like one Disney Park more than another–and other seemingly harmless opinions.
“These kinds of conflicts usually end up turning on ideas about who are the real fans and what does real fandom look like or mean,” said Benjamin Woo, associate professor of communication and media study at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. “That discoverability of online fan activity means that you’re kind of confronted by different conceptions of what it means to be a Disney fan or a Marvel fan or a gamer or whatever in a way that you might not have been if your fandom was limited by your own immediately available peers in your school or your city.”
Dan Wann, professor of psychology at Murray State University in Kentucky, says that innocent questions can get a person destroyed in some of these online groups: “On Facebook, I’m in groups for Disney cruises, and it’s amazing how somebody will ask the most innocent question and just get destroyed. I’m like, man, some people don’t have near the magic you should probably have.”
Some journalists who cover topics related to travel say they really began to see a rise in online negativity among fans of the Mouse when it was first reported that changes were coming to the Splash Mountain attraction back in 2019.
“When I wrote that story, people were commenting on the piece and saying things like, ‘PC police get a life, leave us alone,’” says Hannah Sampson, a staff writer for The Washington Post. Sampson says some readers defended Disney’s problematic film, Song of the South, on which the Splash Mountain attraction is based.
And while one person attacks another because of this or that, it’s possible that when it comes to the Disney universe, no one receives more personal attacks than Disney CEO Bob Iger–at least for the time being.
Speaking about former CEO Bob Chapek, Williams said, “He’s not even pretending to hide anything. He’s like, ‘We want your money,’” Rebecca Williams says, “but I think it’s interesting that he’s been singled out in this way.”
Williams says others in Disney leadership are perceived as doing the right thing for Guests and fans but that Chapek is the scapegoat.
“We get this weird scapegoating of one person as bad, and someone else isn’t,” she explains. “It allows people to defend the company to put the blame on an individual when it clearly isn’t just his fault.”
It’s worth mentioning that Disney fans are by no means in a class by themselves when it comes to posting argumentative and negative comments online.
Any topic is up for debate, whether Disney-related or otherwise, and as social media grows and infiltrates the everyday lives of those who participate in it, it’s glaringly obvious that members of any group–not just Disney groups–can be guilty of posting less than niceties online. It certainly isn’t just about Disney-related topics, and it isn’t just people who like to discuss Disney, Disney Parks, and the like.
But most fans would like to think that those who love Disney the most would be the least tempted to spread anger, hatred, and unkindness online–especially when discussing Disney-related topics. Only time will tell whether that can be our story or not.