Justin Bieber, the pop star who went from up-and-coming-darling to human-equivalent-of-Axe-body-spray to repenting, heartsick, young man enjoying one of the more successful second acts in American life, decided he liked a girl on Instagram,
On December 7, he reposted a selfie of her on his page with the caption “Omg who is this!!” He has nearly 50 million followers. His fans found her.
The girl is a private citizen. But thanks to Bieber, she’s a sudden celebrity. The Daily Mail has all but printed her home address, detailing the student’s full name and age (she is under 18), the neighborhood in which she lives and the rates she charges as a babysitter, even a past brush with law enforcement.
Here’s how Us Weekly gushes about the way Bieber’s “mystery girl” responded to his (very public, totally invasive and inappropriate) advances:
How does it feel when Justin Bieber enlists the help of his fans to track you down after liking the look of your photo? A little overwhelming, that’s how!
Actually, the girl responded by deactivating her Twitter and Tumblr accounts and posting an essentially blank image (a pink square) to Instagram, with a caption that read “I so do not know how to deal with this” and informing the public that “whatever other stuff people are finding” beyond her Instagram is fake. So, the girl’s been Insta-famous for thirty seconds and she already has to deal with people impersonating her online. Her Instagram, which is still up, is flooded with comments, many of which tag Bieber, some point commenters to what they say is her boyfriend’s Instagram, and the rest mostly call her lucky or debate whether or not she is hot enough to be the object of Bieber’s affection.
Both Us Weekly and People have oh-so-breathlessly reported on the teenager People calls Bieber’s “mystery woman” and the other anonymous Instagirls for whom Bieber has publicly declared his affection. Justin Bieber’s Random Instagram Crushes Revealed: He’s Got a Type!” one Us Weekly headline reads.
The message here is clear: Any girl would be fortunate — #blessed — to get this kind of attention from a guy like Bieber. That message is wrong, and dangerous. What Bieber is doing is not romantic. What Bieber is doing is harassment that borders on stalking.
Yes, he only posted one image. But he posted one image to his millions of followers, and he knows how those followers react to everything he says. He is aware of the volume of their fervor. And, as someone who literally just said the fame is so isolating and depressing, “I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone,” it is particularly reckless for him to thrust fame, temporary though it may be, on an unsuspecting, unwilling, and underage stranger.
Bieber has publicized this girl’s identity without her consent, siccing his millions of fans on her, shoving a spotlight into her face whether she likes it or not. Her reaction has been pretty calm, but that’s a smart survival tactic; if she said anything negative about Bieber, even though she’d be well within her rights to do so, she would probably get a battery of death threats for her trouble from the devoted pack of Beliebers that alerted Bieber to her identity in the first place. To consider Bieber’s actions here “romantic” is akin to considering catcalling a “compliment.” The irresponsible coverage by People and Us Weekly is appalling. (For the Daily Mail, it’s sort of a par-for-the-course situation. Still terrible, though.)
If in some Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!-type twist, Bieber really wanted to ask this girl on a date, he could have done that: He could have followed her on Instagram and messaged her privately. And then Bieber, who is 21 years old, could have found out that this girl was 17, and they both could have gone on their merry ways, separately. That would not have made her the target of so much attention and scrutiny; it wouldn’t have derailed her social media life. (Women who have dealt with online harassment, which is to say, any woman who has spent a decent amount of time on the internet, know that it is no small inconvenience to have your mentions flooded with the unsolicited, often graphic, sentiments of strangers.)
By calling attention to this girl in such a public way, Bieber forces her to acknowledge him. He denies her agency and privacy. He traps her on a stage of his creation.