Justin Bieber's new startup intends to bring positivity to the world through selfies. But is Shots of Me the right investment for the pop star?


I sometimes wonder what I would do if I were extravagantly rich. Having money is never its own end, but something always needs to be done with it. Like discovering a newborn baby on your doorstep, possessing money implicitly commits one to an on-going effort to nourish and protect it. For this reason, being rich almost never leads to generosity, but empowers a person to use generosity as a mechanism to spread ideological values they’d like to see everywhere, blurring the boundaries between philanthropy and investment.

Justin Bieber’s sudden accumulation of huge amounts of wealth in the last few years has begun to turn him into an entrepreneur and investor, able to make the miracle of money happen to anyone who’s got the right values. Bieber’s latest investment is in Shots of Me, a miniaturized social network for exchanging selfies with people in your friends list. Developed by RockLive, the iOS app is meant to take advantage of the surging popularity of the selfie, and the voluminous rhetoric surrounding them.

The app is centered around an ethic of anti-trolling positivity. In place of public comments, Shots of Me uses a direct messaging system that requires both parties to follow one another before a message can be sent. “The commenting thing was something [Bieber] really cared about,” CEO John Shahidi said in an interview with TechCrunch. “Not just for himself, but for the kids. He said ‘I want a platform where my fans don’t have to deal with [harassment and negativity].’” The app will hopefully become a catalyst for a less antagonistic and more mutually encouraging world, and when hostility must appear it will be tightly controlled.

The app is centered around an ethic of anti-trolling positivity. In place of public comments, Shots of Me uses a direct messaging system that requires both parties to follow one another before a message can be sent.

There is nobility in this concept when taken as a way of protecting young teens who maybe don’t need to hear from sour old men with a malevolent taste for confusing anger for play, nor those in their peer group who are practicing growing into that role. But the selfie is already a form in open defiance of these inevitable attacks, a display of vulnerable artifice that is self-conscious of how impossible it is to squeeze any meaningfully true part of one’s self through the keyhole of digital media.

There are few celebrities more visible than Bieber, and the fantasy of insulation in Shots of Me must surely have resonated with him. For whatever traumas an earnest social networker can experience in a day, someone of Bieber’s omnipresence must surely experience those cuts at a horrifically accelerated rate, hundreds of thousands of hate posts per minute, baiting him on Twitter, lashing out on Facebook, tagging him on Tumblr, accompanied by a league of professional writers and photographers stalking him in hopes of finding some transmissible weakness or vulnerability.

The irony is Bieber’s proposed counter-measure to use his wealth to simply build another kind of pedestal, an attempt to promote an app that only seems to exploit a popular phenomenon that will very likely become an anachronism in a few years.

In the same way that wobbly financial advisers lead the majority of professional athletes into bankruptcy after squandering their wealth on chain restaurants and car dealerships, the investment in dubious social media gambits is a byproduct of the fact that wealth must always seek to immortalize itself in structures of perpetual growth. Those who stumble into it at an early age must always second guess their instincts to use money in the simpler ways—giving it to people who ask, doing something with no expectation of remuneration—and instead look to invest in businesses whose profit structures mask the visions for how the world might be changed a few degrees to better suit the beliefs of the person doing the investing.

You can change the world just a little bit, but only if you do your research and invest in the right company. Funnily enough, this self-perpetuating practice of trying to turn emotional hunches into mass-market social structures starts to feel like an alienating imposition for everyone else, something that calls an ever-ready army of trolls into action. 

Michael Thomsen is Complex's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, n+1, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.