Within days of its release, Taylor Swift’s new app, The Swift Life, became inundated with fans who wanted to fight about politics. No, we really can’t have anything nice in 2017. Fans who simply wanted a place to get more Swift in their lives instead found that the app had become a place for people to openly support far-right views and fight with fans who don’t agree with them. It would be great if Taylor Swift would denounce her white supremacist fans and the people who are taking over her app’s chatroom with homophobic and bigoted remarks, but given that she hasn’t in the past, it doesn’t seem likely. HelloGiggles’ request for comment from Swift’s legal and public relations representatives was not immediately returned.
Over the past few years, Swift has been co-opted by white supremacists. For example, back in 2013, Pinterest was over run with memes attributing anti-semitic quotes to her.
Those memes were collected and shared on the white nationalist, fake news website the Daily Stormer, along with headlines such as: “Taylor Swift, Avatar of European Imperialism,” “Aryan Goddess Taylor Swift: Nazi Avatar of the White European People” and “Aryan Goddess Taylor Swift Accused of Racism for Behaving Like an Ape in a Music Video,” according to the Washington Post.
Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin told Vice, “It’s incredible really that she’s surrounded by these filthy, perverted Jews, and yet she remains capable of exuding 1950s purity, femininity and innocence.” On Breitbart, Milo Yiannopoulos wrote that “Swift is covertly ‘red-pilled,’ concealing her secret conservative values from the progressive music industry while issuing subtle nods to a reactionary fanbase.”
Earlier this fall, Swift issued a cease and desist letter to blogger Meghan Herning at PopFront, much like she did when Pinterest allowed anti-semitic memes of her image, after Herning wrote an essay about neo-Nazi imagery in the video for “Look What You Made Me Do.” Swift’s lawyer tried to bully Herning into taking her post down and concealing the letter Swift’s team sent. Herning then recruited the American Civil Liberties Union to defend her. According to the ACLU:
It seems odd that Swift’s legal team would claim that the letter should be considered a denouncement but then threaten a lawsuit if the letter was made public. Much like it’s weird that Swift hasn’t said anything about the polarized political talk going on in her app’s chatroom. We don’t know Swift’s politics, but that’s sort of not the point. As a public figure with such a huge, mostly young fanbase, Swift should denounce white supremacy and homophobia personally and loudly instead of trying to silence people who question her values so that she doesn’t look bad in public.
Maybe it’s true that Swift doesn’t “owe” her fans an explanation about who she voted for and why in the 2016 election. And it’s not her fault if a bunch of internet trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos think Swift is a symbol of the Aryan nation — but she should speak against their rhetoric, if only for all of her fans who are targets of the white supremacist movement. And she should do it for herself: It has to be hard to sleep at night knowing that people are using your name and likeness to promote hate.
Now that it’s happening in her own app, and isn’t just a bunch of dudes in the bowels of the internet adopting her as one of their own, there’s all the more reason for her to speak out. No one would think that was overstepping anything.
One possible reason for Taylor not publicly denouncing her white supremacist fans if she’s not a white supremacist herself is, well, not wanting to sacrifice their cash. How could she make up for all of the lost ticket sales, streaming revenue, Instagram followers, and lackluster Taymoji downloads if she tells a large portion of her fanbase that they’re racists and that’s not alright with her? It’s a fair question to ask: Does a public person like Taylor Swift have an obligation to distance herself from unsavory revenue streams?
What’s worse: Being a white supremacist or letting someone call you a white supremacist in the name of profit? It’s honestly not our decision to make, but it’s a decision that, with her silence, a lot of people think Swift is actively making — and it’s totally fair to be upset about that.
Instead of threatening to sue a blogger for pointing out that Swift’s image has been co-opted by white supremacists and that the imagery in her videos can be interpreted by different groups of people, maybe Swift could threaten the Daily Stormer or random 4Chan members for calling her their Aryan Goddess, right? Hey, it would certainly send a strong message.
Her silence, and aggressive cease and desist letters for indie bloggers, can easily feel like a tacit approval of white supremacy, whether she actually believes in it or not. It’s one thing to not want to share one’s thoughts on the tax reform bill or health care, but silence on white supremacy, and bigotry of any kind, is different.
It’s hard for a lot of people to reconcile being a fan of Swift’s until she decisively distances herself from her more problematic fans, because this is serious business. It’s OK (even if it’s annoying) to drum up some “is she, isn’t she?” drama when it comes to dating, or if she’s feuding with a member of her squad. But letting rumors that she endorses white supremacists — and then threatening anyone who has the gall to suggest that she should handle those rumors — fester is actually dangerous. Maybe Swift is proof that you can be too famous to not use your platform to tell people that there’s no room for bigotry in this world. The longer she doesn’t take the hate faction of her fanbase seriously, the more fans will have room to assume that she’s not bothered by white supremacist support at all.