Hubert Burda Media

Social Media and the One Percent

What happens when you give privileged offspring a diamond-encrusted smartphone and let them loose on the Internet?

These days, it’s a common habit to take a picture of the spectacular dish you’ve enjoyed at a restaurant, or the stunning view you encountered while on vacation, both of which will inevitably end up shared on a social media website such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You rack up a few “likes”, garner a few envious comments from your peers, and that’s the end of the story.
Unless you have the good fortune of referring to someone on Forbes magazine’s World Billionaires list as “daddy dearest”; in which case, your pictures end up on Rich Kids of Instagram (RKOI), a website dedicated to uploading images of wealthy excesses accumulated by silver-spooned, and occasionally, blue-blooded millennials.
Since its creation in mid-2012, the Tumblr-hosted site reached instant notoriety for exclusively showcasing images posted by privileged kids onto photo-sharing application Instagram. A quick scroll through the website shows images set in an ornate frame, no doubt in cheeky reference to ancient portraitures hung in drawing rooms at sprawling mansions.
Many of them detail vacations on mega yachts, sprawling holiday estates in the Hamptons, shopping sprees at designer boutiques like Hermès and Louis Vuitton, private jet travels and purchases of more supercars than you can poke a jewel-encrusted pimp stick at.
One of the more recognisable faces you’ll find on RKOI is Harry Brant, the younger 16-year-old son of billionaire American industrialist Peter M Brant and former supermodel Stephanie Seymour. Apart from selfies (pictures taken of yourself) with supermodels like Milla Jovovich, Brant posted a picture of himself in a gilded Saint Laurent jacket on Instagram, announcing his departure for the Met Ball. The ultra-exclusive gala and high-fashion social event — that was thought to exclude Kim Kardashian on the invite list simply because Anna Wintour (who is part of the event committee) thought she was tacky — will have you part with US$25,000 for a single seat and six-figures for a table.
But Brant’s photos are tame compared to other postings you will eventually come across. A few young Arabs eagerly upload pictures of their well-stocked garages full of Ferraris, Bentleys and Lamborghinis, while one particular shot shows shopping bags of Tom Ford menswear occupying both seats in a two-seater Bentley convertible with the tagline: “Where’s my trusty G wagon when I need it? #shittyfirstworldproblems”.
Barron Nicholas Hilton II, brother to infamous reality star Paris Hilton, and great-grandson to the founder of Hilton hotels, clearly flaunts his jet-setting lifestyle with pictures of him getting on or off a private jet, which only complements an earlier image of a young footballer documenting his descent into Saint-Tropez in a privately chartered helicopter; or a photo of a nightclub bill in Geneva that ran up to €36,000 that included 101 bottles of Moët & Chandon rosé and five Belvedere magnums.
It seems that encouraging widespread voyeurism into the habits of the wealthy is nothing new. Like watching an exotic African wildlife documentary, the modern world has displayed a disturbingly high level of interest in how the rich raise their young. In 2003, a film directed by Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson featured him interviewing a carefully curated cast of trust fund babies about their experiences being born into such insanely wealthy families. Born Rich was nominated for two Emmy awards.
In 2005, MTV produced the first reality series that offers a closer look at the young and privileged with My Super Sweet 16, where children of media moguls and famous rappers are seen throwing tantrums at their parents, all to ensure that their 16th birthday party is immortalised in the memories of their impressionable high school friends. Each episode usually ends with the parents giving the child a brand new Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz. The series ran for three and a half years.
Perhaps the ambition behind the images on RKOI can be credited to Paris Hilton, who gave rise to the term “celebutante” — a combination of the words “celebrity”, and “debutante”, usually destined for people born into wealth and not known for any other identifiable reason to be in the limelight. Hilton, who broke all rules of polite society by publicising her sex tape, glamorised her status with the hard-partying, limitless cash flow lifestyle of being a hotel heiress, peppered with the occasional police arrest.
But instead of waiting for a contract from a TV network to gain fame, the latest smartphone-toting generation is taking advantage of the spontaneity social media affords, to directly publish their Ace of Spades- and Dom Pérignon-laden antics on the Internet. And thus a new aspirational stereotype was born, one commonly manifesting itself on RKOI.
It is safe to assume that the Six Degrees of Separation theory drastically shrinks when you’re among the world’s one percent, so is RKOI then a potential form of social validation? It could be seen as a form of bonding that takes place via a pixel exchange on their dad’s sleek Benetti yacht, or the musings of how practical a Ferrari is for a grocery run. But does this then simply make RKOI a manifestation of poor taste and a childish playground one-uppance of “my dad is richer than your dad”?
Yet the public finds this vulgar display of excess positively spellbinding. It reaffirms the most important fact we gleam from the media — that money buys you a stupid amount of nice, shiny things (but let’s not get into the psychosomatic aspects of growing up without limits, that’s an entire social anthropology topic). It offers a keyhole glimpse into the habits of a society that the other curious 99 percent can only begin to imagine.
In a strange way, it also offers hope. That small sliver of anticipation that all of this — the beach houses, the shopping sprees, the fast cars — is possible, if one had a great idea, a good work ethic, sharp business acumen, great contacts and the favourable alignment of stars.
Or else, be born a billionaire’s infant in your next life.
Needless to say, the website has its fair share of wannabes and it’s safe to say that inclusion onto the page usually warrants a few ground rules: A car that costs as much as a Plebeian home; premium champagne being drunk (or disposed of) in copious amounts; extensive property in an exclusive holiday location; recent abundant purchases from an Italian or French luxury goods house.
But here’s a tip: For an easy 15-minutes of fame, just tag your pictures with the hashtag #RKOI on Instagram and wait for it to pop up on the site (if you’ve actually made the mark of course).