Alexa Dell, 24, is the daughter of tech billionaire and entrepreneur Michael Dell. She grew up in Austin, Texas on a sprawling estate called “The Castle” with her parents and four siblings, and her father gave her an at-home masterclass on building world-changing technologies. But as tech royalty, Dell quickly learned that she couldn’t use social media apps the way most teenagers do. Business Insider caught up with Dell at SXSW to hear the whole story.
When she was 18, Dell posted a photo to Instagram. Her younger brother, Zacahary, sat in the window seat of what appeared to be a small plane. A spread of fresh fruit, vegetables, charcuterie, and, of course, a Dell laptop, was laid before him.
“Snachary en route to Fiji @zachdell by alexadell #dell #privatejet,” Alexa Dell’s caption read.
Then the internet descended.
Rich Kids of Instagram, a popular Tumblr site that documents the adventures of the world’s wealthiest offspring, circulated the image. Within a week 0f the posting, Dell and her brother, Zachary, disappeared from social media.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek broke the story that Dell had been documenting her every move on Twitter, complete with GPS locations from her phone. According to BusinessWeek, Dell’s father’s security detail had her Twitter and Instagram accounts suspended. The article cited concerns over the family’s safety, singling out fears of kidnapping for ransom.
It’s worth noting that Gawker’s now-defunct Valleywag reported that Alexa Dell shut down her social media accounts without the Dell company’s intervention after the photo went viral. Dell was an 18-year-old Columbia University student and “W” magazine intern at the time. She told Business Insider her first response to the Rich Kids of Instagram posting was panic.
“That obviously took me completely by surprise. I didn’t even realize that account, or that blog-Tumblr-thing, was a thing,” Dell said. “It’s unfortunate because it obviously put my family at risk and our safety. It’s a shame that there are people out there who just are having fun exploiting others.”
In 2012, BusinessWeek reviewed proxy statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commision that showed Michael Dell spent $2.7 million annually on his family’s security. His company provides the security detail, and Dell reimburses the company for its protection. But the computer magnate didn’t know to check his daughter’s social media accounts.
“[Social media] wasn’t there when I grew up. It wasn’t something that I was taught how to do. It was something that we sort of taught ourselves how to use, and it sort of grew with us and became what it is now over time,” Dell said.
Dell returned to Instagram only two days after the BusinessWeek article posted, with a photo of the college student sitting poolside in a tropical location with a grove of palm trees behind her. Her posts to Instagram are no longer tagged with her location. Today, Dell runs a tech consulting business, and counts dating app Bumble as a client.
Dell said the experience of making it onto Tumblr’s Rich Kids of Instagram — and the safety risk it created — taught her a lesson that teens on social media platforms can learn from.
“I would advise younger people new to social media to be weary … everyone’s not so nice,” Dell said.
She encouraged teens to “think twice” and “be careful” before sharing personal information on the internet. She also warned that a person’s tone of voice can be lost in translation on apps.
“If you think you meant something in a fun and lighthearted kind of context, someone may spin that and take it from you,” Dell said.