Female Instagram influencers - whose livelihoods depend on their numbers of followers, views and likes - endure criticism and harassment both for being too real and for seeming too fake, says a new study.
Research from Cornell University has found harassment on Instagram can be common, particularly among those with a large following. And abuse is more prevalent - and potentially more harmful - for women and people from marginalised communities.
This leaves women on Instagram caught in what researchers have termed an "authenticity bind" - the nature of social media compels them to share details from their personal lives, but these details make them vulnerable to abuse or charges that they have "curated" or faked their online personas.
"People are compelled to be authentic and 'real' but in ways that are really narrowly defined," said study co-author Brooke Erin Duffy, Associate Professor from Cornell University.
"If they're too real, if they show too much of their inner thoughts or they express too much, they fear criticism. But if they aren't real enough, if they're highly curated and very performative, or idealised and aspirational, they fear blowback. So, a woman on social media, especially with a large following, essentially can't win," Duffy explained.
Yet few controls and restrictions exist on Instagram, leaving harassment victims particularly helpless when the success of their businesses depends on social media prominence, said the researchers.
For the study, the research team interviewed 25 professional or aspiring female Instagrammers in the areas of fashion, beauty and lifestyle.
They found the women tended to censor themselves in anticipation or criticism.
Women also said they noticed viewers were more engaged with posts confiding personal or private information about their lives, but they also said they felt reluctant to share anything "that's not elevated and inspirational/aspirational."
According to the researchers, the study calls attention to the lack of safeguards for female Instagram influencers, whose challenges are often disdained by a skeptical public.