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Family Shaming & Young Trolls

The cruelty and explicit language of tweens, teens, and even twenty-somethings in comments to pictures on popular Instagram accounts can be unbelievable.  I’ve been noticing this for a while now, but last night I encountered a new form of bullying — shame trolls.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post entitled: An Open Letter To My Future Child Who Doesn’t Exist.  Within that post, I have listed a number of points I feel important to instill in my future child, from picture taking tips to personal safety.  The step that was drilled into ME as a child, and one that I find so important is step:

4. Your behavior online is a reflection of me.  Straight up. Your actions online affect me, our family, my livelihood, and future meals on the table.  Not enough people explain this to their children – but it is the truth.  Even when you’re 40 years old, and I’m aging beautifully in my Squatter’s apartment on Main Street in Disney World (long story), your actions will reflect who I am, your aunt & uncle, your grandparents, your best friends, and our family name.  Have pride in us.

Recently there has been a lot of talk regarding Ms Miley Cyrus and her “choices” at the VMA concert — topics from blacksploitation to misogyny to the curse of fame to perpetuating the caricature of the black woman.  Those topics are well covered, and there are plenty of people out there with more knowledge on such subjects to articulate any debate necessary.  What I’m more interested in is the fall out — how the actions affected the family.

There’s a variety of resources out there to help a youth entertainment expert stay “in the loop” with the trends and topics important to kids.  One of my particular resources comes from the combination of Instagram and popular tweens/teens, particularly celeb kids.  They are exposed to more: fashion, travel, opportunities, events, spending, etc.  This exposure often allows them to be “early adapters” (whether or not they know it).  Its from this combination that I discovered the (sometimes frightening) social apps Kik and Keek.  [Off Topic Tip: if you’re a parent of a teen, go look at the apps on your teen’s phone, and then look them up online… understand what you’re working with before asking your child to explain the app to you.]  Some of these celeb kids are well known (the “Dance Moms” girls have hundreds of thousands of follower/fans), and some are children or siblings of celebrities.

imgresAfter the VMAs, this week’s pop culture chatter surrounded Miley, both on and off traditional information.  There were quotes from her “Hannah Montana” mother Brooke Shields, from rappers, from health experts, other musicians, other actors, parenting experts, community-created Reddit memes, and even her father, Billy Ray Cyrus.  Clearly Miley ruffled some feathers.  Although I could easily enough make this post about how Miley’s choices may have affected or disappointed her family, instead I want to illuminate how our youth may choose to express their disappointment, frustration, support, and how those reactions affected a member of the Cyrus family.

There is a 13 years old family member of Miley’s who has been on Instagram perhaps a little longer than what the Terms of Service allows.  This young lady’s pictures showcase her friends, her family, and her horse.  She seems, for all intensive purposes, like a good Californian kid who happens to be related to one of the biggest celebrities out of the USA. Last night I stumbled across something troubling on this young lady’s account (she has 439K followers, by the way).  I’ve provided the slightly edited (to protect the young) version of the text update posted to her Instagram account.  The gist is that this young lady, who is related to Miley Cyrus, has been the victim of shame trolls this week — peers who have sought her out to condemn her for Miley’s actions, and in some cases, accuse her of inappropriate adult interactions.  The diatribe below, although showcased on her account, was written by a friend in attempts to confront the shame-trolls:

20 hours ago
Okay read on: I do understand how someone can be so mean to someone they’ve never met…. You don’t know [her], you don’t talk to her everyday. You don’t see the look on her face when people say the kinds of things you guys are Saying, I’m not speaking to all I’m speaking to all the people who have think that have to post something that they think is funny, or has a meaning when you just calling that person a slut…. Ik times have changed but really do you guys know what a slut is… Because I know [she] isn’t one, and even if you think that about her sister why would you have to bring her into it? SHE’S 13!!!! Like think what you want but you don’t have to comment it, or preach to everyone what your thoughts are. What do you want to accomplish when you call some one a slut, whore, ugly, saying Don’t be like [Miley Cyrus]. Because all your doing is making someone very sad. Ik it’s dumb saying this but treat others how you want to be treated. And before you say something mean just think what the person ever did to you. Because I really don’t understand where are this hate is coming from. Just think about it. If you don’t like [her] or don’t wanna see what she has to Post and say.. Don’t follow her. It’s as simple as that. Once again this is for the people who won’t stop hating. Thank you to the people who support and stick up for someone you care about.

What is nice to see is the supportive, protective friends this young lady has, as they stick up for her publicly to faceless, nameless peers.  And I’m glad this young lady showcased the frustration and sadness proactively, instead of burying it deep and private.  Not all children have this ability.  When trolls target a young loved one of a person who made a poor choice, that’s a lot to deal with emotionally.  It draws public attention to feelings of conflict, confusion, and perhaps sadness.

Teens are still socially developing.  They emote digitally, in a variety of communities, and in an array of methods.  More often than naught, kids say extreme things, or emote dramatically as a way of learning to understand or navigate social interactions.  Whether it’s pure boredom, cruel disappointment, or misguided fundamentalists, trolls seek to punish or harm or offend or force, and with very little effort they can create very big problems.  “Mean Girls” 101, most of us have experienced this.

There’s always the thought that celebrities bring on public opinion by making themselves public.  Recently, an article came out about Kanye West, and the 6 months he experienced after his VMA debacle.  Basically, he fled to Europe for 6 months, and went through a bout of depression.  This from a full grown man, who (notoriously) has a very healthy ego.

Bullying isn’t going anywhere any soon, and neither are digital trolls (I mean, I love Reddit!  But that’s basically a community of grumpy townsfolk with silly, yet sharp pitchforks).

Do me a favor and read some of these responses below, and if YOU have children, talk to them about how they express their frustrations or disappointments online (particularly how they do so with or about others).  The young lady (related to Miley Cyrus) has been deleting a lot of the rather nasty messages, so I wasn’t able to capture some of the extreme bullying I scrolled through this morning.  There is still some explicit language, both in the positive responses and the negative.  To me, these Instagram communities showcase a lot of hidden behaviors of our youth.  It’s time we take a look and consider how each of us can address the choices of our own families, and how to help shape better responses and healthier behaviors with our youth.

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Izzy Neis
Director of Digital Strategy & Engagement

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