The most inadvertently bad thing I have ever done on the internet was in 2015, a time when I was naive to the lasting power my own simple words could possess in the comment section of Taylor Swift’s Instagram. She posted an innocuous photo of herself playing guitar on stage, and beneath it, I wrote: "This is the real Taylor's cell phone! Call it, she answers!" followed by my then-boyfriend's phone number. (Don't worry, he was in on the joke. I'm not a monster.) Of course, the texts and calls from Swifties the world over asking if it was, in fact, the real Taylor came rolling in. It was funny for a day. But what I could never have predicted is that the phone continued to ring — for weeks. People, I have learned, pay attention to celebrity comment sections. And as it turns out, their contents reveal a lot more about us as fans than about the celebrities in question.
The comment section of almost any celebrity Instagram post is like a party at 3 a.m. once they turn on all the lights and there's a half-eaten cake on the floor: a cornucopia of dripping thirst, messy bros who want to punch stuff, and drunk girls who have declared themselves best friends despite having just met in the bathroom line. Which is to say, it’s fun to hang out there. The imagined intimacy between all parties — celebrity and disciple, troll and stan — leaves much to be analyzed: Who are the laypeople among us commenting on celebrity Instagrams and DM-ing them, and what drives them to do it? Why do people I know comment single fire emojis beneath Busy Philipps’s vacation selfies? I posed the question on Twitter, and the responses came back in droves.
"Instagram makes me feel closer to celebs because you see so much of their lives documented. I know so much of it is a show, but I definitely feel a greater sense of 'connection' to celebrities who are on Instagram than those who aren't (a la J. Law)," Meghan, a 26-year-old marketing manager who often DMs the men of the Bachelor universe, tells me via DM.
"Ideally, it'd be the dream if they saw my DM, looked at my profile, and then thought I was just the girl they were looking for. I assume they won't see my DMs, but every time there is a little sliver of hope that maybe *this* time will work and kickstart my love story."
My coworker told me of a time a few years ago when she unabashedly commented "I had a sex dream about you last night" on one of Pete Davidson's Instagram photos.
My coworker told me of a time a few years ago when she unabashedly commented "I had a sex dream about you last night" on one of Pete Davidson's Instagram photos, which her brother immediately discovered, screenshotted, and called her out on. While she felt embarrassed by the exposure — she didn't know that her comment would be so easily visible to the people who followed her — she didn't delete it, because she did have a sex dream about Pete Davidson, and she still wanted him to know.
Another such response I got was from Christina, a 25-year-old student who showed me a screenshot of her drunk DM to Timothée Chalamet, which she first followed up to him with an apology blaming her behavior on a strong Aperol spritz, and then rounded out with a compliment on how good he looks in the Little Women trailer (very good).
Of course, while this unprecedented accessibility affords us the opportunity to slide right on into any celeb’s DMs, it also provides a prime pranking environment. Andrew, a 26-year-old in the entertainment industry, told me that his favorite platform on Instagram is Live, where he often comments ridiculous things with the hope that the celebrity hosting the Live story will recite them out loud.
"I think it's funny to make up a funny name and try to get them to say it. So I'll get, like, a cast member on Are You the One? to say 'Hi Jabooly, hope you feel better.'" Andrew also pulled a stunt, not unlike my Taylor Swift comment, where he wrote, "Hey Justin, see you on set tonight" on Justin Bieber's photo, and in return, got many teen followers who then DM-ed him asking: "Hi sir, do you really know Justin?"
No matter your motive — whether to entrap additional followers through trollery, bathe the object of your desire in thirst, or gas up Busy Philipps for her post-vacation glow, he synthesizes all of these behaviors by stating simply: "If you comment on an Instagram, it's to be seen."