Here's the story of how over two weeks, a "nobody" went from 10 to 100 to 10,000 followers on Instagram, having two fan pages, and a social media stalker.
And I'm not proud to admit that the story is about my nine-year-old daughter.
Rightly or wrongly, I've subscribed to the notion that when it comes to the wild world of the Internet and social media, I want my kids to experience, and make their mistakes when they are young -- and their transgressions relatively small. As someone whose business has been in watching trends for over 20 years, I've observed with a combination of a trained sociologist and the wariness of a young parent the explosion of a new digital world. I have eased sighs of relief as my children tried out Kik, Snap Chat, Moshi Monsters and other "kid" based apps and sites to no issue under my watchful eye.
But even as a predictor of the future, I wasn't ready for the speed at which Instagram would catch fire, and before one could apply a photo filter, over one million tweens joined the service in July 2012 alone (according to Nielsen). So when my kids wanted to join, I allowed them, carefully outlining the types of photos they should post, never to tag friends who weren't allowed on, and to let me know of anything untoward or inappropriate on there. Everything was fine.
And then my daughter got "famous."
Well, lets be clear, not famous, just... Internet famous. My daughter is a very good dancer, extremely flexible and adorable. And she is one of a tremendous number of tweens who follow the show Dance Moms as if it were a marathon One Direction concert. If you're not familiar with the fervor with which this show is received, you should check out any one of its' talented tween stars Instagrams. Each has 300,0000 to over 500,000 followers and countless fan sites. Because of my business, I wound up meeting and working with some the cast. They couldn't have been sweeter to my daughter, and they became friends. And as many group of friends today do, the girls posted photos with my daughter. Thus, the frenzy began. Rumors started swirling whether my daughter was the newest cast member? Was related to the girls? Or why she was suddenly all over their feeds. No matter how much my daughter, her brother, or the girls themselves denied it, the interest in Lilia grew. Over night she had over 2,000 new followers. By the end of the week, she had two fan pages. (FAN PAGES??!!!) and even the video I had posted on YouTube for her grandmother in London to see was getting "favorited."
By the second week, she had endless requests to release her (nonexistent) Kik, girls begging to be her best friend, and countless pleas for replies. And that weekend, she received a call and texts from a "fan" who increasingly became frustrated that Lilia would not respond, and threatened to release her number (How she even got it remains a mystery).
So a girl, who did nothing, was not on a show, was not in the public eye, and was just your normal kid suddenly had fans and a stalker?
Today, tweens, and frankly all of us, are looking for cues of what to pay attention to . We are so eager to find the next trend, and be the first to discover it that we will jump on anything with heat, only to discover that not only does the emperor have no clothes, but he has no followers. Tweens today have to navigate not only the struggles of getting older, but learning to discern fact from fiction in a world that few of us can truly decipher.
Another friend told me that her daughter felt her friendships had become threatened, and competitive. If two girls were off together and posting photos, two more of the group would feel the need to show that they were having a better time. Besties and BFFL's were used like currency, and birthdays became an occasion to see who could post a longer "friendship love letter" and if the use of each emoticons cost money, we'd all be bankrupt by now.
Just as I was ready to shut it all down, my daughter decided to pull herself off. Though, as you can't actually delete an Instagram account, she simply decided to stop posting. I can do nothing about her fan pages, who to this day remain loyal and scour the internet for photos I didn't even know existed on line.
We suggested that she could create a new account, keep it private, and accept only her close friend. But she decided not to. As she said, "I think I'm too addicted to it, I don't need it or want it." There was no better lesson we could have taught her, or ourselves.