Kevin Sacco isn’t a celebrity, but on Instagram he is famous for flaunting his wealth, like the time he took a picture of himself bathing in an outdoor Jacuzzi in his penthouse suite overlooking the French Riviera.
Or when the 20-year-old son of a real estate mogul in Italy spent 10,000 euros, or nearly $14,000, with friends at La Maison Blanche in Paris for his most recent birthday.
“I’m showing off my parties, my bottles, my clubs, my travels, and people love this,” said Sacco, who is known as @PrinceOfItaly on Instagram. Sacco said his followers’ comments remind him how lucky he is. “When people say, ‘What a fantastic life,’ I say to myself, ‘You have a good life — just enjoy.’”
Sacco is one of several wealthy teens and young adults who have gained large followings on Instagram for spending a lot of their parents’ money — driving million-dollar sports cars, enjoying 24-karat gold bathtubs and having Dom Perignon instead of milk with a bowl of Lucky Charms.
Their exploits spawned a popular Tumblr blog called “Rich Kids of Instagram” that aggregates all their photos. The blog then inspired a TV show on the E! channel, #RichKids of Beverly Hills, which airs Sundays at 10 p.m., transforming the spoiled rich kids from an online phenomenon to a Hollywood reality show.
Their popularity has grown — the premiere of the TV reality show drew more than 5.5 million viewers — despite harsh criticism from viewers.
“You’re what’s wrong with this world,” one Instagram user commented on a photo of a $60,000 dinner bill.
Morgan Stewart, who is one of the five featured in #RichKids of Beverly Hills, said she posts pictures on Instagram because she’s part of a generation who live a large portion of their social life on social networks.
Stewart, who often takes photos of herself in front of private jets she travels in, said she doesn’t care how many likes or comments her photos get. She posts pictures because she likes the way she looks in them, and the only thing she cares about is that her friends like the pictures.
“It’s not supposed to make sense. It’s just supposed to make you feel good,” said Stewart, who has more than 200,000 Instagram followers. “If my eyebrows look good that day, I’m going to show you that they do.”
Karen North, a social media expert at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said the Instagram rich kids are no different from other young people who use social media: “What kids do is they share pictures and thoughts in a way that promotes who they want people to think they are.”
“If the image you have and want to promote is that you’re the rich kid and you fly off to the Alps to go skiing for the weekend, you can tell a lot of people about that at school, I suppose, or you can post it on social media and reach a lot more people,” North said.
And while rich kids use it to shape their identity or remind themselves how blessed they are, followers want to vicariously live and engage in activities that are beyond their reach.
“If you went to the Oscars, went skiing in the Alps or had tickets to Wimbledon, then when you post that, the rest of us get to feel a little bit like we got to do that too,” North said. “If we’re following, then we got to share that experience with you.”
Timothy Drake, 20, an Instagram rich kid with 45,000 followers, says people are fascinated by the things he posts, such as a picture he took recently of a receipt for a $48,982.80 bar tab that included a $23,000 bottle of champagne and an $8,163 tip.
“I think Western society in general is pretty amused and absorbed in this lifestyle that might seem so glamorous that they don’t have and might seem unattainable to them,” he said.
But although thousands of people follow Drake, who goes by @thetimothydrake, he and other rich kids of Instagram sometimes face backlash from users who disapprove of the way they flaunt their wealth.
“People are very much interested in the 1% lifestyle,” he said. “It’s almost like they don’t like us, but they love to hate us.”