Committed fans are willing to defend a wrongdoerErik Drost/wikimedia commons

It is not uncommon for public figures to retain supporters despite committing acts that prompt international condemnation, but why do these fans remain loyal?

New research from the University of Cambridge found that individuals who frequently express approval for a celebrity are more likely to support them in the event of a scandal. Previous engagement has also been linked to fewer negative emotions, and more attempts to defend the wrongdoer.

“Imagine a celebrity or a politician you greatly admire does something you consider deeply immoral and repugnant. Would you stand by them?” questioned Simon Karg, the lead author of the study.

The study analysed comments from 36,464 YouTube followers before and after a high-profile scandal involving the prominent YouTuber Logan Paul, in which he filmed the body of a suicide victim while making insensitive remarks. The notorious incident sparked public outrage, prompting Paul to release an apology video to his followers where he expressed remorse over the ‘suicide forest scandal’.

Language-processing algorithms assessed the emotions of Paul’s viewers before and after the scandal, from disgust to adoration. They analysed comments on seven Logan Paul videos prior to the scandal, and compared these with comments from the same users on the later apology video.

'Imagine a celebrity or a politician you greatly admire does something you consider deeply immoral and repugnant. Would you stand by them?'

The researchers were able to explore the effect of the fans' self-identity by accounting for phrases such as “logang” and “logang4life”, used to demonstrate commitment to Paul. Those who posted using this fan language and expressions of ‘social identity’ were 10% more likely to continue supporting Paul after the horrifying video.

Overall, the study found that 77% of YouTube users who had left comments on the pre-scandal videos continued their support afterwards, with only 16% expressing anger, and 4% disgust. It also found that users who often commented positively before the scandal were 12% more likely to continue to support him, despite his shocking act.

“The more important the person has been to us, the less likely we are willing to change our favourable opinion,” commented Karg.

He added that “it seems that fervent supporters will readily excuse deplorable actions by their heroes. The question is whether anything can break this spell of commitment.”

For each video a user had commented on, the likelihood that they would display ‘adoration’ for Paul after the scandal increased by 4%. Conversely, users were 5% less likely to express anger and 9% less likely to express disgust for each pre-scandal video they had commented on.


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Prof Simone Schnall, the study’s senior author, explained: “People often use celebrities in the construction of their social identity. A threat to the standing of a public figure can be perceived by fans as a threat to their own self-identity – something we may feel compelled to defend.”

Perhaps the worrying query remains: how much does it take for fans to change their minds about their idol?