I remember when my friends first downloaded the Instagram app. One explained it to me as “Twitter, except only pictures.” To be honest I thought it sounded a little silly — I mean, what’s the point of that? But, of course, I eventually decided to check it out for myself. Honestly, I didn’t use it that often at first and looking back it seems like it became our main source of communication, information, and entertainment overnight.
Now though, almost impossibly, Instagram has become so much more. It’s become a vehicle for careers, a money-making app, and a place where, if you click your red bottoms together three times, a transport to stardom. In 2015 there were more than 77.6 million active Instagram users in the United States. This figure is predicted to surpass 111 million this year. That’s a huge audience that, if reached, can launch anyone into their fifteen minutes.
The pioneers of internet fame are people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. As much as you may love them, hate them, love to hate them, or hate to love them, you none the less probably know who they are. If you happen to have been living under a rock for the last ten years here’s a quick recap. Both, now celebrities, were born to rich and notorious parents, had (or maybe orchestrated) a public scandal and resultantly rose to fame. Both have become household names and through a growing network and an omnipresent social media influence, have continued to ride the wave of their initial scandals. Of course, the reason they have stayed around for so long has a lot to do with both of their constant presence on reality TV, but the age of social media has added to the longevity of their stardom.
The definition of fame, in the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the state of being known or talked about by many people, especially on account of notable achievements.” Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian have quite literally annihilated the last portion of its definition and redefined how we see fame and what one has to do or achieve to reach an audience and attain notoriety. Both women are famously famous for simply being themselves. They do not sing (although both have tried), they do not dance, or act (though both have been on reality television), or have any blaring talents (other than tellings people to stop being poor). They are, however, very good at keeping the spotlight. In an interview with Interview Magazine, Kim defended herself by saying “If I’m so not talented– if I do nothing, then how is my career my reality?” This statement draws the question though, is what we see really your reality? And how much of the truth are we really getting? It also opens up a new career door: documenting your reality. The acceptance of this concept is perhaps best described through the words of Oscar Wilde, “life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”
Enter Instagram and you no longer need notable parents, or a significant amount of money, or talent (although those things help) to become “famous.” And in the words of Kim, your reality can become your career. The “Instagram influencer” in many ways is the modern day reality TV star. They present their “candid” lives on the internet for hundreds, or thousands, or millions of onlookers to consume. In the roster of the Instagram celebrity, we see the traveler, the fashion icon, the one who’s friends with famous people, the daughter of aReal Housewife, or the slapstick fool. Whatever it may be, they usually don’t have what we would consider a talent, which separates them from celebrities who are famous for something (i.e. singers, actors, models, photographers, artists, writers, etc.).
People will look at aesthetically pleasing photographs. It’s in our nature. And the crazy allure of fame and social media enables someone with a lot of followers to decide what’s cool and whether or not you’re in. The masses will follow what influencers are looking at: they will go where there are thousands of others because of human curiosity and the need to see what all the hype is about.
Hashtags also help. Once you put a “#” in front of a heavily searched word, your page will begin to make appearances when that hashtag is searched. There is evena website to see which hashtags are trending. If you pop these under one of your posts it will bring more traffic to your page. Ultimately this contributes to an algorithm that makes things more searchable on the world wide web. Zoom back into Instagram and the more followers you have, the more likely you are to make it to the “explore page” and soon you’ll start popping up on the pages of your follower’s followers and so on.
An example of an Instagram celebrity that rose to fame in seconds is a young woman named Cindy Kimberly (@wolfiecindy). InDecember 2016 Justin Bieber shared a photo of her face, in the hopes of finding out who she was. At the time she was just 17 years old and even though Bieber’s search abruptly ended there, it left her with thousands of followers, growing day-by-day. She has now seemingly launched a career into modeling, mostly on Instagram. But her 5.1 million followers are a prime example of the power of social media. If you haven’t heard of her, it’s not surprising, because there are hundreds of other girls who look similar, have a similar following, and have gotten famous because— well, someone slightly more famous thought that they should.
This isn’t to demean anyone’s career or what they have gone on to do with the attention they’ve received on the internet, but the danger in being discovered because you’re particularly attractive, or live a particularly attractive life, can and does make those who aren’t as privileged, feel less worthy. This isthe dark side of Instagram fame and Instagram influencers.
As much as a young girl may or may not be asking for a sudden influx of followers, once someone has a heavy following, there is arguably a moral duty to present an image that is honest and sincere. When you are buying into a product, the producers of the said product have a duty to be honest about: what it is, what does, and what’s in it. The same conceivably go for those who are essentially selling their life as a product. There is an ethical obligation, to tell the truth about who you are and what you do. This may seem extreme or harsh, but if you choose to maintain the life of the former, you should accept the responsibility of fame. The truth of the matter is most people do not.
The esteemed blue check mark, right next to a user’s Instagram (or Twitter) handle, is the true social media indication of fame. What it actually means? According to the social media platform, “it means Instagram has confirmed that an account is the authentic presence of the public figure, celebrity, or global brand it represents.” So what does one have to do to be verified on Instagram? Luckily the Instagram app provides a list. You must be “authentic.” I.e. a real person or registered business. You must be the only account representing said person or business. Your account must be public, have a bio, profile photo, and at least one post. Finally and most decidedly you must be “notable.” And yes that is the exact word Instagram uses.
“Your account must represent a well-known, highly searched for person, brand or entity. We review accounts that are featured in multiple news sources, and we don’t consider paid or promotional content as sources for review.”
The fact that an app and a blue icon next to a person’s name have the power to tell us who is and isn’t notable makes me feel like I’m trapped in an episode of Black Mirror.
Memes (humorous images, videos, pieces of text, that are copied and spread rapidly by Internet users) have actually become incredible vehicles for online fame. Whether you start a meme page or you are the star of one, it has become a way for social media users to gain notoriety.Mason Ramsey started off as an unsuspecting young yodeling boy in a Walmart and turned into a sensational meme overnight. He went on to perform at Coachella and meet various celebrities. He’s just one example of someone who accumulated fame through 21st-century meme culture.
Perhaps one of the most famous meme pages is that of @thefatjewish. He started off spreading jokes and images on his page and graduated to creating his own merchandise as well as his own line of affordable rosé wine. He’s frequently seen spending time with celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski andKris Jenner as well as being paid for appearing at events. Memes often have a shorter shelf life than Instagram influencers and celebrities, but, nonetheless, they serve as platforms for people to jump-start their careers.
Upon typing in the words “Instagram” and “famous” into google I came across some interesting results. An Urban Dictionary definition of the term, following by floods of “how to” headlines with How To Become Famous on Instagram being the first search result.
I’m not here to tell you the secret formula and, frankly, I’m not totally sure there is one. But once you do achieve your blue tick of approval or your 10k plus followers, what happens next? Despite fame itself being great, you probably also want something besides a flashy social media account to show for it. This is where paid posts come in. Brands will often send items over to influencers or celebrities and compensate them for photos they post with their products. To give you an idea of the real money that is in this, it is estimated thatKylie Jenner makes roughly 1 million dollars per sponsored post. It’s no wonder so many young attractive Instagram users will turn to the app for their career, as you are basically being paid to just live your life.
Social media has turned into a career option. As hard as it is not to judge I am going to try to take a second to justify the occupation. It isn’t easy to constantly be in the spotlight (I’d imagine) and is equally difficult to get into the spotlight in the first place. I revel in the fact that although there are overlaps between my life and my job, they are ultimately separate. What I do in my free time is not publicized and there is no one watching my Instagram profile (as far as I know) expecting to see each moment of my life explained and photographed.
Maintaining the persona you present online constantly, as well as keeping followers interested in new content—to be consistently living an outstanding life— sounds like a huge amount of pressure. The truth of the matter is we all have bad days, we all have great days, but we don’t all have a million people surveilling and drawing conclusions on the ratio of bad to good.
To me, the career of a social media celebrity sounds soul-crushing and spiritually exhausting. And, in that sense, I salute the people who can do it and their fortitude. But I’ve got to say I tend to believe that those who work on their craft every day are more deserving of notoriety. Whether it be in a small company, a passion project, a startup, or in an art studio, people who are able to find talent, a passion, or a knack at something, are taking a more difficult route than presenting their lives in a relatively falsified manner in order to become famous.
Instagram and social media, in general, can still serve as wonderful means to promote your brand or your abilities, but making it your whole life could end up having dangerous consequences. See BOLDFISH article Body Image, Self Presentation, and The Dangers of Social Media to learn more.
Written by Delfina Forstmann