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From a distance, influencers’ lives may seem all rosy. What may not be obvious is this: in addition to the massive amount of time and energy required to create quality content and entertain followers—influencers are often subject to intense criticism and harassment. 

While online bullying is undoubtedly a pervasive social issue, most of us will never know the degree that influencers endure from opting to share their life so publicly.

In this post, we hope to raise awareness about the kinds of bullying and harassment that the influencer community experiences in their day-to-day, to share helpful strategies for anyone encountering these challenges, and to cultivate empathy and support. It’s far easier to be a critic than to create.

Beyond Bad Behavior

An influencer survey conducted by Collectively in 2018 touched on the subject of bullying and harassment on Instagram. Of the 750 respondents, 68% believe that bullying and harassment on the platform is a problem, and 25% reported having been bullied or harassed directly. The severity ranges from mean-spirited judgment to abusive threats.

In general, influencers reported being critiqued on anything from the superficial to the deeply personal. From body-shaming, to how an outfit looks on them, to questions about ethics/principles, and gossip about religious beliefs—negativity stems from followers, non-followers, and even from their peers in the influencer community. Harassment also extends to influencers’ families at times.

Respondents cited sexist, racist, and homophobic remarks as everyday occurrences, and comments of a sexual nature, including lewd photos sent via private messages, are an unfortunate yet familiar situation for many. New social technologies like live streaming were reported to be susceptible to offensive, destructive behavior.

While having one’s content featured on the Instagram “Explore” tab brings exposure to new audiences (the majority of whom are lovely) influencers shared that this can open the floodgates, inviting random trolls to wreak havoc and spread hate.

Influencers also are subject to less overt forms of online bullying and harassment like the stealing of their identity, content and intellectual property. This type of behavior, where people peddle influencers’ brands, content and personalities on new accounts to bait fans into action is more criminal in nature. Unfortunately, perpetrators repeat their plays over and over again.

Advice & Coping Strategies

Being the subject of baseless negativity is stressful. Influencers shared how it’s scary to be singled out, and can leave oneself feeling hurt and raw. And if this is you, know that you’re not alone in this challenge. The community shared an overwhelming amount of advice for navigating these tricky waters, that echoes Michelle Obama’s mantra, “when they go low, we go high.”

Here are some of the best ways to deal with bullying and harassment:

  • Establish healthy boundaries and decide how—or if— you want to respond to a comment. While it’s a personal judgment call that you alone need to make, consider whether a public response or private message is more appropriate based on your relationship to the person and the nature of the content.
  • In general, don’t be shy about deleting comments and blocking users. It’s your community that you’re cultivating, so if you can move on and let it go, it’s probably best. Create and maintain the environment you and your followers crave.
  • Report serious offenses to the social platforms and mark comments as offensive. Use the tools at your disposal and trust that providing feedback data to the platforms is an essential step in solving the issue at large.
  • Contacting local authorities if your safety and security is at risk.
  • Last but not least, look out for each other! Notify your friends or influencers you admire if you see something offensive.

Wanted: A More Ethical Arena

Intense debate is happening over tech companies’ responsibility for what happens on their platforms—the repercussions of which can be detrimental.

In our survey, influencers were asked about their experience reporting offensive activity to Instagram. 37% of respondents claimed to have formally taken action and reported bullying on the platform. Of those seeking support, only 50% said the platform took appropriate action, leaving room for improvement. Having “verified” status reportedly doesn’t help guarantee support from the platform.

Providing better user support is critical, and content moderation is a huge job with many problems of its own. Together, influencers and advertisers should encourage social platforms to leverage their resources to prioritize initiatives that cultivate better conduct.

So what’s next? Instagram has indicated that fostering a healthier user experience is a priority and we’re seeing this come to life in early tests with hiding “Like” counts. Reportedly, Instagram is also developing a subtle AI-powered “nudge feature” that would encourage people to rethink negative comments as they’re typing.

However this warning feature manifests, we applaud any and all efforts to cultivate civility, and tip our hats to all those who are putting themselves out there, pushing past the noise and negativity.

Onward and upward. ✨✨✨

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Update: Days after this blog post was published, Instagram launched “Comment Warning” (the “nudge” technology we alluded to) and “Restrict” which gives more controls for unwanted interactions.

Reach more about these new anti-bullying features here.