Attack of the "Hit-and-Run Selfie": When Child Stars' Social Media Followers Get a "Little Creepy"
Instagram and other platforms are giving young actors such as the 'Stranger Things' cast and 'Fresh Off the Boat' star Hudson Yang a tighter bond than ever with loyal fans, but at a price: "Their privacy is almost nonexistent."
American Vandal star Griffin Gluck was on vacation in Japan when he posted a video from his hotel on Instagram. Two days later, he came down to the lobby to find five girls lined up with letters and presents in hand — they'd waited for six hours the day before, too. "It was really sweet," he says, "but also a little creepy."
Of course, Gluck isn't the only young star to have a social media-driven fan interaction that borders on disturbing. A Quiet Place's Millicent Simmonds was shocked when someone secretly took pictures of her and her friends on an escalator and posted them on Instagram. Fresh Off the Boat's Hudson Yang stopped responding to Instagram DMs from a viewer in Italy who had tracked down his home address. And Moonlight's Alex Hibbert has a follower who messages him, "Good morning," every single day. "She thinks I'm her boyfriend," he explains, clearly annoyed. "I just don't respond."
While stars growing up in the social media age have a more direct connection with their fans, they also face unique pressures, especially because studios and networks encourage posts to drum up interest. "Celebrities didn't used to have to deal with this. There used to be a sense of mystique around them," says Kristelle Lavallee, a content strategist at Harvard Medical School's Center on Media and Child Health. "With these children being expected to post constantly, their privacy is almost nonexistent."
The relentless stream of demanding fans leaves many child actors, including Dora the Explorer star Isabela Moner, somewhat envious of "regular kids" who are "not constantly being put under a microscope by the whole world," she says. Take It star Jack Dylan Grazer: The 14-year-old had to issue a public apology after he posted a video of himself smoking marijuana on Snapchat in January. "We've all done things in our childhoods that are embarrassing later on," says Lavallee. "You'd hope these child actors have a PR person who is doing the due diligence to say, 'These are the things we can post on your profile …' [but] sometimes PR people are more focused on the fame and notoriety as opposed to the child's safety and mental health."
The Stranger Things stars, who together boast 54 million followers on Instagram, have fended off more than their share of overzealous fans. "One time at an airport, I went into the bathroom and this guy tapped me on the shoulder while I was peeing and asked to take a picture," says Noah Schnapp. Gaten Matarazzo had a couple lick his neck when hugging him. And Finn Wolfhard was "literally horse-collared in Manhattan for a selfie within seconds of my dad giving me some terrible news," he says. "It was like a hit-and-run selfie."
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.