Two days ago, convicted drug smuggler and/or boogie board enthusiast Schapelle Corby did what anybody experiencing their "moment" in 2017 would do—she set up an Instagram account. Ten posts deep, Corby has already racked up some 152,000 followers in just 48 hours. That's the kind of influence much of Australia's constellation of health bloggers, fit girls, and IG models could only dream of.
But Corby's newfound Instagram fame reveals a truth about celebrity in 2017—you don't really need to be some otherworldly hot figure holidaying in exotic locations. Your photos don't even need to be in focus. All you need is for people to care about what you'll do next, and give them absolutely no clue what that will be. And despite the fact she's been behind bars since before Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram even existed—back when Facebook was just a bunch of Harvard students trying to catfish one another—Corby somehow inherently knows this.
There is literally no other explanation why her most recent post is an oil painting of her riding a pink mystical creature captioned "FREEDOM."
Although the "hashtagoiloncanvas" suggests there are perhaps a few minor things she still needs to pick up.
Other than this amazing weirdness—and a few boring family and dog pics—right now most of Corby's feed is blurry videos of her journey from the parole office to her plane home. Squint and she could be a Hadid sister: Sliding out of big black SVUs into an awaiting media pack, jostling through crowds surrounded by security. You just have to ignore the intentional drabness of Indonesia's prison system that's the backdrop for each one. And that's the biggest problem with Corby's "personal brand."
Of course every designer, company, and make up label wants their brand associated with the smooth, youthful glamour most Instagram celebrities project. But what does Insta-fame mean for a 39-year-old convicted drug smuggler who's spent nine years in one of the world's toughest prisons? Could Schapelle Corby really evolve her infamy into something sustainable?
To find out, I reached out to Genevieve Day, a talent manager at Day Management who works with up-and-coming influencers to shape their online persona.
"For Schapelle, it'll be interesting to see how many of the 150K will stay following, stay commenting, and stay engaging with her," Genevieve says. "The majority of my influencers have built up a strong and loyal following over a number of years." Whether or not the obsession blows over, for the moment there's clearly a huge amount of interest in Corby's next moves. Genevieve's advice is to keep giving the people what they want—offering the sort of intimate glimpses into life that tabloid newspapers could only dream of capturing.
"People want to see how she's grown, if she changed, and her next steps. If her content is authentic and allows an insight into her new life back in Australia, then she may be able to keep—if not grow—her audience," Genevieve says. "However, this also opens the floodgates for negative comments and trolls. I'm sure her first social media steps will be scrutinised with way… not all 150K of her followers will be there to support her."
These trolls are definitely already there. The comments section of Corby's Instagram has opened a direct line for her critics, the scores of Australians gripped by an intense hatred of her that's never entirely made sense. She's despised in a country that's fairly blasé about weed, where 56 percent of people either support or are undecided about marijuana legalisation. Perhaps it's not so much about the smuggling of 4.2 kilograms of cannabis though—maybe it's more their belief Corby continually lied to the Australian public. Or that she singlehandedly turned boogie boarding from a wholesome past-time to a red flag.
But the media clearly played a role in fuelling the feeding frenzy around Corby too. She's been a tabloid mainstay for the past 13 years—her family, friends, and relationships all under a microscope. "Given her history with mainstream media, I wouldn't be surprised if [Schapelle] wanted full control over her statements and public image," Genevieve says. "Platforms such as Instagram and Twitter definitely allow that."
Even if Corby wants to use her newfound Insta-fame to finance her life back home though, Genevieve thinks that might prove tricky. Back in 2007, some $267,500 made in sales from her autobiography My Story were seized because Corby is legally not allowed to profit from her crime. Ten years later, those restrictions still limit what she can monetise and how she can leverage her infamy into income.
"While social media is an idea platform for Schapelle to share her side of the story, it's dangerous territory when, or if, brands start getting involved," she explains. "[Given] the negative connotations around her case, I'd be surprised if brands jump on board her Instagram game. It's just too risky for companies to align themselves with her."
"I would recommend Schapelle solely using the platform as an exclusive look into her life back in Australia, and sharing her side of the story. Rather than as a commercial outlet for sponsored posts," Genevieve advises. Well I, for one, am very ready to see Schapelle hocking Skinny Tea and charcoal peel-off masks. That's true freedom.