Earlier this month, rapper Bow Wow instagrammed an image of a private jet with the caption: "Travel day. NYC press run for Growing Up Hip Hop. Lets goo. I promise to bring yall the hottest show EVER. May 25th on @wetv." Shortly after, a reverse image search revealed it was an image ripped off the internet. The public embarrassment only increased when a Snapchat user posted a behind-the-head view of Bow Wow on a commercial flight at the very moment of his post. The damage was done.
Revisiting this incident, I felt the need to look at Bow Wow's Instagram choice with more forgiving eyes. Rather than judge, I've come to believe that myself and Bow Wow aren't all that different. In fact, we're all very much alike. Not on a level of pretending to be on a private jet in front of millions but from the lure of the filter; the kind that makes us look good when a flex can easily turn into an L.
Frontin' has been a long-used urban term for bolstering your appearance, putting up facade, and presenting yourself as more than you are. When done virtually, the practice holds no biases from class, creed, income, or appearance. We all do it, and in this respect Bow Wow is just acting like a regular guy, even if he's rich and famous. Despite the temptation to say, I'd never lie about a damn jet, we're not so different from Shad Moss (Bow Wow's real name).
According to Dr. Michelle Drouin, a psychology professor at Indiana University Purdue Fort Wayne, everyone lies on the internet. (In fact, she wrote a paper called "Why do people lie online? Because everyone lies on the internet.")
"Almost everyone lies. Some people say we lie as many as one or two times per day," she told VICE.
Drouin's research surveyed 272 US adults about how often they were honest across different online venues, and how they viewed the honesty of others.
"I was really surprised that a lot of people lie even on places where they could be found out," Drouin said. "On social media, a lot of people said that they'd change things like their appearance, which seemed like a pretty easy thing to verify. For many people, online was just a fantasy. You could be whoever you wanted."
Argus,* a 24-year-old sex worker told me a number of tales of men frontin' online, only leading to IRL embarrassment.
"I had a guy come over here and I'm almost certain that all of the pictures he sent of himself were pictures of his friends," she told me over the phone. "He presented himself as some super rich guy, but then when he shows up, he complains about a $10 pack of cigarettes."
"But I think the funniest story I ever had was, I met a guy from PlentyofFish once, who on his profile said he was 6'2, and he shows up and was literally 5'4. That's a really big difference. So I saw him and I said, 'you're a lot shorter than I expected,' and he said, 'It was a joke.'"
It is here that I must admit that like everyone else on the internet, I too did my share of frontin'.
My Black Planet page from 2003 is my great shame. At the time I just didn't get the simple concept of being myself.
Becoming memorable only gets easier through social media, making the temptation to replace honesty with hype and talk several levels more simple through a filter.
My self-image on this mess of a profile was born from infatuations in movies like Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, New Jack City and the gangsta rap of the 90s. I wanted to give off the same vibe as the things I thought were cool.
It's a pretty direct line from there to your Instagram page, filtered to whatever angle makes your life look best. It all amounts to flex; light ones comparatively to Bow Wow, but with the same intentions.
"For Bow Wow and those like him, that's just part of the image that they need to construct and to a certain extent, they're being pressured to construct that image from their fans," Drouin said. "And it's also a pressure from other people collecting fans, because everyone likes to see a private jet. No one wants to see people like him sitting in a commercial airline." Becoming memorable only gets easier through social media, making the temptation to replace honesty with hype and talk several levels more simple through a filter. It's why I gave Bow Wow a pass for the occasional front, there are so, many, other, things to clown him on, rather than the one thing most of us are guilty of on different levels.
For Drouin, her way of frontin' comes in the way she presents herself online she told me—the image of the constantly happy professional. It's the reason why she can identify with people like Bow Wow.
"I'm an empathetic person," Drouin added. "Everyone wants a chance to be special, everyone wants a chance to have a great life and if it's only online, why begrudge them that opportunity."
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