Another celebrity has left a social media network, for now.
If you have a Belieber in your house, you likely learned within hours of it happening that singer Justin Bieber deleted his Instagram account. Maybe you saw it in one of your feeds, or quite simply, you just don’t care.
But you should.
Whether or not you take note of what celebrities do, the reason behind Justin Bieber leaving Instagram raises an important issue for parents and teenagers: hate that exists on social media.
If you’d like more on the gossip and the once-private, ex-boyfriend/girlfriend feuds social media gives us front row seats to, a quick Google search will give you the 411 on how Bieber deactivating his Instagram went down.
For the rest of us, here’s the Cliff Notes version:
Justin dated a girl named Selena Gomez. They’re both stars. They broke up. Fast forward to recent posts on Instagram by Justin of him together with a different girl by his side. More than 1 million people liked it and another 44,000+ had something to say about it in the comments -- including a harmony of Bieber followers who took on temporary personas of Internet trolls and voiced preference for ex-girlfriend Selena or hatred that, heaven forbid, he had a new girlfriend. Curious responses when, like most Instagram users, he simply posted a pic of what’s currently happening in his life.
And then it got interesting.
Having enough, Bieber posted a warning that he’d delete his Instagram account if his followers didn’t stop the hate. "I'm gonna make my Instagram private if you guys don't stop the hate this is getting out of hand, if you guys are really fans you wouldn't be so mean to people that I like."
Ex-girlfriend Selena chimed in, saying, “If you can’t handle the hate, then stop posting pictures of your girlfriend lol - it should be special between you two only. Don’t be mad at your fans. They love you. They were there for you before anyone.”
A little public back and forth ensued (as millions munched on popcorn and curiously watched), and just like that - @justinbieber on Instagram said “Sorry, this page isn’t available.” Justin Bieber left Instagram and the company of almost 78 million followers.
Why does this small blip on social media matter to parents in the big picture of the rest of the world?
Justin Bieber deleted his Instagram account because of hateful comments. Chances are, kids you know are on the giving or receiving end of criticism at some point, too.
Just because our kids aren’t celebs doesn’t mean they’re immune to criticism on social media. Few, if any of the million plus people who interacted with Bieber’s Instagram post, know him personally enough to have a valid reason to express their support or dissent about who he dates. It’s easy to hit “like” or react to a social post, and even easier to make a comment when you don’t know the person. It's easy to forget that on the opposite side of the screen - the receiving end - is someone who is still a person, no different than the rest of us.
It’s social - it’s quick, we see, we react, we move on. C’est la vie.
A quip to a post might seem harmless, but judging and making irresponsible comments contribute to a chorus of hate and normalizes negative mindsets. Beyond the possibly of being guilty of contributing to it, kids are regularly exposed to negativity on social as much as they are to the positivity. They follow celebs, publishers, sport teams, athletes, brands, friends they know, and people they may not know personally. If teenagers are used to seeing hateful comments on social media, what’s to keep them from becoming desensitized to it and partaking without realizing the impact their comment might have on others - especially their friends?
You might live with an Internet troll - one might even be your kid
That’s impossible, right?! Internet trolls are people who sit alone at their computer in dark rooms and make ugly and hateful comments behind the anonymity of a screen and...pause. This thinking is where we let the problem breed. Before we go into parental denial, let’s do a simple reality check ask ourselves what we’re doing to be sure our kids' activity on social isn't harmful or hurting anyone - are you checking your kids’ social media activity regularly? Are you having conversations with them about digital responsibility, or the good and the bad they see on social media, and the importance of our in-person manners carrying over online?
When kids get access to their first social media accounts, many parents are apprehensive. Why is that? Among many parents and teens I know, it's for reasons just like this. I don’t know the demographics of Justin Bieber’s “Belieber” fan base or social media followers, but intuition tells me it isn’t you or me getting upset the Biebs is seeing someone new. Whether you’re logging into their accounts daily or use apps like DijiWise that make it easy to see their social media activity in one place, having conversations about their everyday lives and online behavior will give you peace of mind that your son or daughter knows better than to be a troll, even if for a moment. In the end they’ll demonstrate responsibility when using Twitter, KIK, Snapchat, Instagram and other social networks.
“If you can’t handle the hate, then stop posting” sends the WRONG message
Did anyone else catch that? When the pop star warned he’d delete his account if the hate didn’t stop, his high-profile ex publicly suggested that if he couldn’t handle the hate, then he shouldn’t post pictures. Words straight from the mouth of an influential 24-year-old woman. It’s worrisome because it suggests that hatred toward another person is the norm on social media. Why is it even acceptable? Not to mention cringing when you see two people engage in a public argument online.
That’s why this saga is a learning moment for our sons and daughters. When it comes to social, our job as a ‘digital parent’ is helping our pre-teen and teenage kids understand there will be time when they don’t agree with everything someone posts, not everyone will always agree with them either, and how to handle it (or how not to) when it happens.
If only more people did what Justin did. Or Leslie Jones. Or Curt Schilling.
Bieber isn’t the first celebrity to have had enough with ugliness that can brew on social media. Comedian/actress Leslie Jones (Saturday Night Live and Ghostbusters) abandoned Twitter after receiving what she described as racist abuse from Twitter users. Retired MLB player Curt Schilling took a public stance calling out Twitter users who Tweeted vulgar comments about his daughter after he announced the college team she’d be playing for. Everyday people, like you and me, like our sons and daughters, suddenly found themselves suspended from college. Or fired from their job.
We should encourage our kids to not get to the point to the point they feel reliant on a social network and can’t live without it. Having respect for themselves has far greater importance. Imagine if more people - famous or not - draw a line and take similar stances toward hatred on social media. We might see a shift in how companies like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter respond and better protect their users and the integrity of their platform. Even better, on an individual basis, we’d see a positive shift in what our kids deem acceptable from their friends - or of their own behavior.
Parenting in a ‘digital generation’ is different for most of us who didn’t grow up with social media and only started using it in college or in our adulthood. Privacy has new meaning, and we have less control over what our kids are exposed to and where they express themselves. What was once ‘our business’ is made everyone’s business with a simple click.
Social media connects people, including celebrities with their fans, and fans with other fans. In this case, hopefully it will connect parents and teens to start a conversation about hatred and the expectations and implications of our actions online.
Cindy Kerber Spellman (@kerberpr) is the VP of Strategy & Community Development at DijiWise. Her experiences as a parent and leadership background in communications, technology and digital media fuel her inspiration to encourage conversations about digital responsibility.