A new trend on Instagram has thousands of teens using thread pages to share advice. But experts warn that the tips given on these pages could do more harm than good.
Over the past year, Instagram has been taken over by a trend known as “thread” accounts. Usually run by teenagers, they feature screenshots from other social media platforms, like Twitter, and are focused on sharing life advice with the millions of young people flocking to Instagram. The owners of these accounts post about things like skin care, beauty tips, weight loss, and mental health, and have racked up hundreds of thousands of followers. They’ve become mini content empires all their own, and earn thousands of dollars in ad revenue.
These accounts have also become a breeding ground for unvetted, inaccurate, and at-times dangerous health guidance. Health experts might dispute a post suggesting a diet of eggs, yogurt, salad, oatmeal, and blueberries to lose weight, or have qualms about a page promoting a two-week summer tone-up routine that promises results if you stop snacking, work out, and jog for 30 minutes a day, while also featuring the disclaimer “please don’t overwork yourself or miss meals.” Another page appears to promise abs by just doing basic core exercises. And another seems to recommend face masks that contain apple cider vinegar for acne, an ingredient that can cause burns. BuzzFeed News has reached out to these accounts for comment.
All of it comes packaged up with high-res aspirational photography of young women and branded with the vague banner term of “self-care,” a catch-all popular phrase for a generation of teenagers who grew up on the internet talking openly about mental health awareness and who have never know any other world than our current post-Kardashian sponcon nightmare.
Andi, who requested that her last name not be included because she said she prefers to keep her personal life separate from Instagram, is the 16-year-old owner of skincarethreadsis. The account has over 265,000 followers and it’s one of the most prominent self-care thread accounts right now. She posts up to several times a day and the content is largely uniform: Instagram carousels that start with a screenshot of a tweet like “Reasons why your skin keeps breaking out.” Then as you swipe through the carousel, subsequent tweets list things like “you’re scrubbing your skin too hard,” “eating spicy foods,” or “you pick at your pimples.” Andi also includes ads in her threads.
Andi’s page, like many of these accounts, bills itself as a skin care account, but as it’s become more popular, she has expanded it to cover every subgenre of “self-care.” Another thread post starts with a tweet that reads, “Snapchat Message Hack,” then if you click through, there’s a video showing how to view snaps without the sender knowing. Her Snapchat hack thread includes promos for her other Instagram accounts and an ad for an app that an app that promises to pay users for walking. The post has over 8,000 likes and 200 comments.
“I sort of consider Instagram as a job for me,” Andi told BuzzFeed News. “I make money from my account as I do promotions where someone pays me via PayPal and then they send me what they want me to post.”
While Instagram’s Terms of Service do not explicitly ban users from making money on the app, it does state in its commerce guidelines that selling unsafe supplements and health products under its shopping tool is prohibited. When asked about self-care threads and the concerns around them, Instagram provided the following statement to BuzzFeed News: “Keeping Instagram a safe and supportive place is our number one priority. Anyone can report content they think is against our community guidelines using our in-app tools and we have a team of reviewers working 24/7 to remove material that violates our policies.”
The “self-care” branding Andi and the majority of these accounts use started as a reaction to the wellness movement of the 1960s. The modern interpretation of self-care has ballooned out in the last decade to define a constellation of health concerns like exercise, healthy eating trends, and self-led personal care, all of it usually emphasizing a do-it-yourself ethic and anti-science skepticism.
Recently, companies like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and even the far-right media network Infowars have used the concept to push products that promise to better their loyal followers’ lives. And separately, the term has become attached to trends like clean-eating and plant-based movements that say that better lives are those without pollutants like meat or “chemicals.” Both of these are pushed on social media platforms by influencers with large followings and sponsored content posts — Kim Kardashian promoting appetite suppressant lollipops, or British YouTuber Zoella sharing a pictureof her side table stacked with premium products, while talking about her sleep routine.
Everything shared to an Instagram thread account follows a rigid aesthetic. Andi doesn’t use her own picture for the account or any photos she’s taken herself. Instead, she prefers to use photos lifted from places like We Heart It, Pinterest, or other Instagram accounts. She said she tries her best to credit the sources of her images, or asks specific influencers for permission. A makeup artist called Sarah Paulsun said she was aware Andi had used her image, and she supported her.
Andi’s account, like others of the same genre, is littered with images of women with cheeks glistening with highlighter, gripping flowers and embodying a “carefree” vibe. The carousels are photo-heavy and the advice is almost always written out in short sentences or bullet points. Most are prefaced with some sort of cheery disclaimer: “this may or may not work for you! different things work for different people <3”