The art of hate-following in Gen-Z

As I was scrolling through Twitter in my TIR period, I came across an interesting article on my “Moments” page entitled, “I was Caroline Calloway.” I had never heard of Caroline Calloway before, much less the woman who wrote the article, Natalie Beech, but I’m a sucker for a good exposé, and I could tell I was in for a wild one.

  This was two months ago. The second my finger tapped that link, I fell down the rabbit hole.

  To sum up the article and all its quirks and curveballs, a 20-something-year old Natalie Beech recalls her friendship with Instagram influencer Caroline Calloway, for whom she ghost wrote captions for in 2012-2013 and helped craft a book proposal for in 2016.

  Natalie raises anecdotes from their college and post-graduation years together, painting herself as the poor, less-attractive sidekick to Caroline’s rich and beautiful genius. For example, she tells a story about the time her and Calloway went on a trip to Europe together, which consisted of Natalie playing photographer for Caroline and then sitting in a hotel room later in the day drafting clever captions that she would get no credit for.

  Another time, years later, Caroline abandoned Natalie at a bar in Amsterdam, taking their Airbnb key with her, and forcing Natalie to run around the dark, foreign city for hours before finding a museum bathroom to sleep in. Every horrible, cringey anecdote ends with Caroline consoling Natalie, apologizing profusely, telling her she’s beautiful and worthy.

  The whole relationship reeks of toxicity, but every reader can find vague reflections of their own lives and relationships in the story. If you can’t identify the Caroline Calloway in your life, then it’s probably you.

  If you’re thinking, “who cares?”, the answer is Caroline. Since the article was published on The Cut, she’s posted on Instagram obsessively— about how much she loves and misses Natalie, how much she believes in her, and how her adderall addiction was to blame for their unfair treatment towards Natalie.

  She’s revelling in the attention, reposting every article that defends her in some capacity and bragging about the famous actresses that are fighting to land a role in the movie about her and Natalie’s friendship.

  In between these posts, she advertises her homemade art, which is essentially just cut-out paper glued on to other pieces of larger paper priced upwards of $200, and writes extremely detailed captions about the male models she dates.

  I, like many other people, have begun

hate-following Caroline. In other words, I waste my time and data engaging with her posts and stories just to find more reasons to hate her.

  I know it’s wrong and pretty pathetic, but why can’t I stop? I have an uncontrollable urge to bring up Caroline in any conversation revolving around social media, even if no one knows who she is. To quote Cady Heron from Mean Girls, “I could hear people getting bored with me, but I just couldn’t stop.”

  The psychology of hate-following is perplexing. I couldn’t unfollow Caroline even on my best day. Watching her manipulate her audience of nearly a million people makes me feel better about myself in some weird way. She may have a beautiful Manhattan apartment and can afford said apartment just by selling Henri Mattise knockoff art, but at least I’m loyal and self-aware, right? Right.

  I do a similar thing with a Reddit thread called “Am I the A**hole?” where people post anecdotes where they were made out to be the bad person in the situation and then ask if they were truly in the wrong. The thread has so many followers that don’t even post anything, but just lurk, silently “tsk-tsking” all of the foolish people who so clearly are the antagonists.

  As long as social media exists, people will hate-follow. It’s a way to validate yourself without actually acting on your feelings. It’s wrong and a waste of time and shameful in every way, but it’s an unavoidable symptom that comes with being a part of Gen-Z. With technology at our fingertips 24/7, it’s just too easy to let the lives of other people consume you.