by MIKE CHAIKEN
In 2019, social media is as important to aspiring models as a pair of nude heels for casting calls.
Careers are made and bloom on platforms like Facebook and, in particular, Instagram.
Supermodel Gigi Hadid has 49.8 million followers on Instagram. Her posts receive way over 1 million likes each time she shares a photograph or video.
Fellow supermodel Cara Delevingne has 43.5 million followers on Instagram. A video she posted recently had been viewed over480,000 times.
Tina Rattigan of Connecticut helps guide her daughter Tianna St. Louis’s modeling career and helps the teen mine the social media landscape.
St. Louis has been featured in a fashion spread in the New York Times and on the international modeling website Models.com. She’s had some advertising campaigns. She also has walked on runways all over.
St. Louis, 17, appears to be on the cusp of something big in the modeling universe.
On Instagram, the young model isn’t quite yet at Gigi Hadid’s level. But, all the same, she has 10,000-plus followers.
A social media presence is a must for a young model, said Rattigan, who has been keeping a firm hand on her daughter’s career. Rattigan said social media opens up opportunities as a model increases her visibility to those in the fashion or entertainment industry.
Social media may expose the young models to the important players in the fashion industry. But, it also exposes them to the darker side of humanity.
Avaryana, a model on Instagram, has built a sizeable audience on Instagram. (At her parents’ request, her last name isn’t being published.) The 14-year-old has 262,000 followers on Instagram. She is also a fashion influencer, sharing and promoting her views on Instagram about assorted clothing and cosmetic brands.
But, turn to Avaryana’s YouTube channel, where she shares behind the scenes videos of fashion shoots and more of her fashion influencer efforts, you will find crude sexual comments about the teen made by apparently adult men –hiding behind fake screen names.
Avaryana recently walked at New York Fashion Week and worked with fashion photographers from the world. Some of those images have turned up on “sketchy” Instagram accounts and sites without permission, her mother reported. One account where a fashion image was reposted is run by a man who has become obsessed with the teen, Avaryana’s parents say.
For Avaryana, her parents said this behavior by outside agents is not an oddity in an otherwise smooth career trajectory.
“Our child has definitely received inappropriate messages and pictures,” said Avaryana’s parents.
“We usually reach out and try to get them to remove them or report them to Instagram and then if they will not do that we remove the tags and hide them from her profile,” said her parents.
“There have been several fake accounts made of her and it’s harder to get them removed via Instagram but Facebook usually complies very quickly,” said Avaryana’s parents.
One mother, who also asked to remain anonymous to protect her children, said her daughters who model also have been targeted by adults with less than honorable intentions.
The mother said she submitted her daughters’ photos for a contest where the winner would be photographed for a calendar. “Over 20 of our friends submitted their children, so we all collectively thought it sounded fine.”
“Come to find out after some research that the person organizing this shoot was a registered sex offender,” the mother said. “I immediately blocked him and told anyone I knew who also submitted their children (what I found out).”
Rebecca Edwards is a security expert at Safewise, a company that looks at security and safety issues, including internet safety. She also is a mother who had a daughter who modeled.
Sexual predators thrive on the internet because of its anonymity, said Edwards. “It’s difficult to quantify statistically how many photos that parents have innocently posted are being co-opted by pedophiles and other bad actors. But the sad truth is that nothing you post on the internet is invulnerable to corruption by sick individuals.”
“Some stats that are out there include a report by statisticbrain.com that there are 2.38 billion Facebook users active on the site each month, and about 81 million fake profiles are active. Also, the United Nations estimates that there are around 750,000 sexual predators scouring the internet at any one time. Plus, there are more than 200 new images of underage kids circulated online every day,” said Edwards.
“Some of that is child pornography, but more and more it’s seemingly innocent photos that parents have posted to share with friends and family,” Edwards said.
Aislinn Ennis, 15, has been featured in fashion editorial spreads across the country and has walked runways in New York City and Paris. Her social media presence at this time is relatively smaller than Avaryana or Tianna St. Louis just over 7,000 followers on Instagram.
But, her mother Margaret Vu Ennis said, “Both Aislinn and I have been contacted in inappropriate manners.”
“I’m pretty sure all model friends have to deal with that,” said Ennis.
Aislinn has not received any threatening messages, said her mother. However, they have opted to ignore and block those who have been inappropriate.
“Aislinn has learned to handle social media pretty well,” said Ennis. “I don’t have to monitor her account as much any more.”
“She knows not to address the creepy comments and how to block off predatory followers,” said Ennis. “She’s used to people taking her pics and too busy with school to really focus on the stalkers, which I’m sure there are plenty out there; but I prefer them to be out there rather than be (nearby) and within contact distance.”
Tianna St. Louis has not had any problem with inappropriate behavior or messaging from her social media followers, said her mother. But that doesn’t mean Rattigan hasn’t taken precautions.
St. Louis’s phone is equipped with a GPS that allows Rattigan to keep track of her daughter when she is not by her side. “This has helped because you can see in real time what your child is doing and where your child is.”
“It’s for peace of mind,” said Rattigan.
Avaryana’s parents have taken precautions as well.
“To protect our child, we have removed all of the location and metadata from any photo that is posted,” they said. “We monitor every (direct message) that comes in and we try to keep up with every comment and post. We regularly go through her followers and block creepy or inappropriate looking accounts.”
“We also never give out any personal information and never put our actual address anywhere,” said Avaryana’s parents.
“Most importantly, as parents, we fully support her and never let her out of our sight on any photo shoot ever for any reason and will protect her at all costs,” said Avaryana’s parents.
When it comes to promoting a child’s career in modeling or entertainment, Edwards advised parents to defer to the experts.
“When my daughter was modeling, all promotion and online presence was conducted by her agency, so I didn’t have to worry about managing risky social media accounts–and I constantly checked in on what the agency was posting on her behalf,” said Edwards.
If parents want to take a lead role in promoting their child’s career on social media, Edwards cited several actions to take, some of which the parents interviewed already are doing. This includes monitoring the child’s accounts, checking messages, not sharing locations or personal information invitations, and blocking anything that looks suspicious. Also, she recommended removing tags placed on photographs by people you don’t know.
“Post just one or two photos from their portfolio as public and make the rest of the account private, so that you can vet who gets permission to view,” said Edwards. “I don’t think most legitimate professionals would object to parents protecting their kids in this potentially treacherous environment.”
As for signs of questionable behavior in direct messages to your child over social media, Edwards said to watch out for: excessive direct/instant messaging; someone sending photos, gifts, etc.; someone being overly complimentary or giving too much flattery; someone urging meetups or urging a child to keeps something secret from parents; someone making a lot of promises—whether it’s for work or promotion or anything else; and someone making “creepy” comments on photos or posts.
“If it gives you a bad feeling, trust your gut and delete it, then report it,” said Edwards.
Also, Edwards said, “Watch out for any changes in your child’s online habits—are they being secretive, are they talking about a new online friend that you don’t know, do they respond differently to online engagement – anxiety, crying, anger?”
The mother of the two sisters said her biggest concern as she promotes their career in modeling is someone using their photographs inappropriately. “I’ve seen it happen to many of our modeling friends.”
As they try to protect their daughter, while still promoting her rising modeling career, Avaryana’s parents said, “Our biggest nightmare is our child being harassed, threatened, attacked or stolen.”
Rattigan fears that one day someone will hurt her daughter. But she knows those types of people are out there.
“At times,” said Rattigan, “parents can’t do anything but talk with our kids and teach them how to be street smart.”