Justin Bieber‘s Instagram exodus on Aug. 16, following a wave of negative comments directed toward his purported new love interest, model Sofia Richie, was only the latest in a series of social media send-offs.
Azealia Banks (554,000 followers) was suspended from Twitter in May after hurling racist slurs at Zayn, Iggy Azalea and others. Demi Lovato (37.7 million) briefly vacated Twitter and Instagram in June following fan blowback over her preference of Ariana Grande over Mariah Carey.* Fifth Harmony‘s Normani Kordei (1.8 million) left Twitter in August due to cyberbullying. And most surprisingly, Bieber is no longer posting photos to his 77.9 million Instagram followers.
In the age of trigger-happy trolls, artists are proceeding with extra caution. “We have an in-house digital team that monitors negative posting across the platforms,” says Nadia Kahn, director of U.S. operations of First Access Entertainment, which counts Zayn and Azalea among its management roster. “There is an understanding that not every post is going to be positive and that troll and spam accounts exist.”
Twitter in recent weeks has ramped up resources in combating abusive users cracking down on hateful conduct and upgrading temporary suspensions to lifetime bans for repeat offenses. Recently, conservative Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from the platform for a series of Twitter attacks, including one against Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.
“We have been in the process of reviewing our policies to prohibit additional types of abusive behavior and allow more types of reporting, with the goal of reducing the burden on the person being targeted,” a Twitter spokesperson tells Billboard. “We’ll provide more details on those changes in the near future.”
For some, those reforms can’t come soon enough as some threats have become a very real concern for artist representatives in the wake of singer Christina Grimmie‘s fatal shooting by an obsessed fan at her Orlando concert on June 10. Dina LaPolt, an attorney who represents Deadmau5, Steven Tyler and Fifth Harmony says she was recently able to get one of her clients a temporary restraining order against their crazed fan based solely on the person’s tweets.
Typically, LaPolt explains, restraining order cases require physicality or being in the vicinity of a person before they can be taken to court. But when the criminal defense raised the point about the crazed fan being only online, “I said ‘Bullshit, social media’s good enough, go [to court],” La Polt says. “And he goes, ‘Well, this has never been done before.’” The restraining order was later upgraded to permanent after the fan was able to penetrate the backstage area at the artist’s Chicago show, pretending to be a security guard.
Still, as scary as cyber-bullying can be, LaPolt doesn’t advise deleting a social account entirely. “You risk losing those millions of followers and, unless you hold a lot of power at Twitter, they won’t always give it back to you [intact],” she says, adding that reps often encourage a break rather than an all-out departure. “A lot of times [with] cyber- bullying, if you ignore it, it goes away,” she says. “If you start engaging, it gets worse. The problem is, it’s really hard for artists to ignore.”
The result is that artists like Fifth Harmony’s Kordei, whom LaPolt declined to discuss, announced her social media split as a “break” rather than an all-out departure — even Lovato’s exit was short-lived before she resumed.
Andrew Hampp is a vice president at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents.
An amended version of this article was originally published in the Sept. 3 issue of Billboard.
*Correction appended: The original version of this story erroneously stated Demi Lovato had upset fans by stating her preference for Mariah Carey over Ariana Grande but in actuality she said she preferred Ariana Grande over Mariah Carey. The story has since been updated.