Magazine article Variety

A Safe Place

Magazine article Variety

A Safe Place

Article excerpt

When the time came for Ansel Elgort to promote "Baby Driver," he dutifully embarked on a global press tour in support of what ended up being one of the brightest spots in an otherwise dreary summer at the box office. But the 23-year-old believes it wasn't the media coverage that fueled the movie's success as much as it was his Instagram account, where his 9 million followers get a more unmediated view of the actor. "I feel less filtered on Instagram, honestly," he says. "Young people would rather see content directly from me than a publication."

Instagram has become the default social app for celebs and top digital influencers - reaching a robust average audience of 500 million people on a daily basis in the third quarter of 2017, more than double that of Snapchat or Twitter (each has fewer than 200 million daily active users).

The core of Instagram's appeal for stars, average users and advertisers alike is its visual roots as an app for sharing lovingly curated photos. It also has scored by blatantly poaching Snapchat's Stories feature - a way for users to share ephemeral moments that vanish after 24 hours - and by piggybacking on the resources of parent Facebook.

But Kevin Systrom, Instagram's CEO, says another key factor for the app's popularity is less appreciated: The company strives to create a safe, happy environment - a quality Instagram rivals, from its big-sister brand to Twitter, have come under increasingly strident criticism everywhere from Capitol Hill to Wall Street for lacking.

"I've seen how other companies have misstepped in managing communities," says Systrom, who founded In - stagram in 2010 with fellow Stanford alum Mike Krieger. "People say Instagram is super positive and optimistic. In fact, we have a ton of negative stuff, but we're going after it before we have a problem."

Instagram has invested in machine-learning technology to strip out nasty troll comments and bullying. It has introduced tools to let users block comments based on keywords or hashtags. The service also allows comments on a post to be disabled entirely, a move its senior team had debated making, since that reduces overall engagement.

Instagram dubs the initiative "Technology for Kindness," and Systrom compares it to the broken-windows theory of reducing crime by maintaining a neighborhood's aesthetics. "If you're the one guy who is going to be mean in a list of comments, you feel totally out of place," he says. "We're trying to remove the bottom 1% of really awful stuff."

That's not just marketing BS. Instagram hasn't been plagued with the level of harassment and abuse problems that dog Twitter, which uses the same open-follower model (versus the friend-based paradigm of Facebook and Snapchat).

Part of the reduced level of abuse is due to design choices: For example, Instagram doesn't have a built-in re-posting feature, which puts a damper on flame wars. "When you post something on Twitter, those tweets get retweeted and they take on a life of their own," says Kira Kosarin, who stars in Nickelodeon's "The Thundermans," about a family with superpowers. "Instagram lets me show a truer picture of myself."

It's true that nastiness and negativity exist everywhere online. But "out of all the platforms, Instagram is doing the best [ job of making] it a safe, clean place; it's better than Facebook, YouTube or Twitter," says Scott Fisher, partner and founder of talent agency Select Management Group, whose clients include Eva Gutowski ("MyLifeAsEva" on YouTube) and transgender star Gigi Gorgeous.

Ultimately, Instagram's generally upbeat and aspirational culture flows from the app's visual-dominant vocabulary. Instagrammers are more likely to post the perfect selfie, sunset or latte - in other words, stuffthey love - rather than, say, feud and fume about Donald Trump, terrorism or mass shootings. "Instagram is so beautiful. People want to go there to get a break from reality," says Colleen Leddy, head of communications strategy at ad agency Droga5, which is minority-owned by WME. …

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