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The dark side of Insta bragging

Boity Thulo. Picture: Instagram

Boity Thulo. Picture: Instagram

Published Aug 15, 2021


So-called “Insta-braggers” are being targeted for flaunting their luxurious lifestyles online.

Social media is a platform for sharing the ins and outs of everyday life. But, while the average person may share selfies with friends or cute pictures of latte art, influencers and celebrities have far more glamorous lives - and it’s most apparent from their social media accounts.

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From the pristine Louis Vuitton boxes tied with blue ribbon and nested in the back seats of convertibles to snaps of fresh manicures featuring diamond-encrusted watches and tagging the location of 5-star hotels when travelling - scrolling through the profiles of celebrities and influencers, is somewhat always comparable to paging through a catalogue boasting the most coveted luxuries.

Platforms like Rich Kids Of The Internet (@rkoi), pull content from the Instagram accounts of influencers around the globe. The feed is dotted with an accumulation of pictures featuring wealthy socialites parading luxury cars, the damage caused by lavish shopping sprees, mansions, superyachts and wads of cash all over social media. James Ison, a 28-year-old Brit from humble beginnings, set up the account in 2012. It has since boomed in popularity, amassing 370K followers, and spurring on the Insta-bragging behaviour as it’s grown to become one of the most sought-after spaces to be featured as well as envied by those who enjoy the most ostentatious displays of affluence and privilege online.

Copy-cat accounts have cropped up in other regions too with pages dedicated to specific regions. In March this year, South Africans created their own place to flash their wealth with the profile @the_rich_kids_of_mzansi, that has 27K followers already. Brenda Mhlongo, the multi-talented actress, dancer, and singer, makes an appearance on the page in leather pants and a blouse complete with a black Gucci handbag and belt. TV personality, rapper, actress, businesswoman and model with over 5 million followers also featured on the grid in head-to-toe designer gear, a Louis Vuitton belt, Christian Dior headband and statement red Prada handbag were just a few of the items donned in her preppy blazer and plaid skirt look.

Brenda Mhlongo

Of course, this online behaviour, or is only encouraged by publicists and marketing agencies for the power it has to draw in fans and attract new followers (and trolls) who swarm to their pages to peek into their fabulous lifestyles. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only one's who are watching.

Recently, “Insta-bragging” has brought about far more threatening consequences for social media stars. On August 4, Wesley Pessano Santarem, a teen crypto trader who displayed his wealth on Instagram was shot dead at the wheel of his red Porsche Boxster. In a post shared with his 130K followers earlier this year, Santarem alluded to the journeys of his success. The picture was of a computer screen displaying a candlestick graph with a caption that read: “At 16 I discovered this market, locked in a Telemarketing office and earning R$400 [about R14 00] per month. At 17 I had lost all the money I had, at 18 with my GENIUS I developed my own strategy, at 19 I am a millionaire and helping thousands of people to change their lives.”

Last Instgram photo posted by Wesley Pessano Santarem.

The comment sections of crypto trader’s Instagram which were once filled with praise have accumulated messages of condolence in the past few days. However, some took to Sntarem’s page to caution others about the dangers of flaunting their wealth online. An Instagram user by the handle @_jonathanbeatrice said, “This [is] where everything is wrong!!..stop flashing your money on a poor country!..R.I.P..hope people take things seriously about flashing wealth.”

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One of the most high-profile cases of “Insta-bragging” occurred in October 2016 when reality TV star, Kim Kardashian was targeted by a gang of robbers allegedly after posting about a R71 000 000 engagement ring on her social media. The thieves entered the apartment on Paris' Rue Tronchet after fooling the concierge with their policemen disguises, then broke in and held a gun at the businesswoman, before also binding her hands together and locking her in a bathroom.

Kim Kardashian diamond engagement ring by Lorraine Schwartz.

Although high profile influencers and celebrities are greater targets due to their massive audience reach, cases are not limited to this group. In a 2016 study by NBC New York, where 500 convicted burglars in New York and New Jersey were interviewed, several thieves said they had used social media to profile targets for break-ins. More than 10% of those 57 respondents said they had logged online to search for potential victims as well as scope out the best times to strike.

Criminals have been known to use social media to survey potential burglary targets in elite neighbourhoods. This was the case in 2019, Houston, Texas, where upscale houses were looted of precious artwork worth hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as jewellery, computers, and guns. Detective John Varela of the Houston Police Department said, “If someone bragged about what they had in their house, (the criminals) would do research on that house and they would target that particular house. They might go by the house several times before (the burglary)."

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This article was first published in Sunday Insider, August 15, 2021.