Scared Straight on social media

The world can be a spooky place. Whether real or imagined, there’s a lot to be scared of. The icy feeling of a ghost haunting your home. Suddenly coming onto a nest of poisonous snakes. A tornado ripping its way through your hometown. Even more frightening, someone unqualified actually winning the presidency.

It’s a dark place out there, full of unimaginable terrors. If you’re not careful, you could just run into your worst nightmare. To see what real-world fears are making people’s hearts pound, we analyzed posts on Instagram that used the hashtag #scared. What are states most afraid of? Are people’s nightmares filled with sinister creatures or something more realistic but not any less scary – like raised taxes? If you’re brave enough, continue reading. But beware, you may not like what you see.




From spiders to guns, thunder to demons, the U.S. is crawling with bone-chilling and hair-raising frights. When it comes to the top fears across the U.S., people on Instagram fear the unknown more than anything else – whether it’s haunting apparitions, mean-spirited poltergeists, or mischievous spirits, a majority of the states are most afraid of ghosts. And while it can be terrifying to hear things that go bump in the night or see inanimate objects move on their own, it can be even more terrifying being in a place where you don’t want to be.

Prison – with its sterile walls, cold handcuffs, and tough inmates – is the second-biggest fear on Instagram. Considered the stuff of nightmares all across the U.S., it seems people are really getting scared straight on social media. And when it comes to actual nightmares, Utah, Indiana, and New Hampshire are doing everything to put off sleep. 




With so much to fear, it might seem as if every day is Halloween in the U.S.. Knowing what keeps people up at night, we decided to see which states are shaking in their boots the most. Looking at the total number of Instagram posts including #scared, it turns out that Maine is the most frightened – per 100,000 residents, it contributed 15.8 percent of these posts. This makes sense considering that many of Stephen King’s novels take place here. Whether it’s rabid dogs, evil clowns, or undead animals, there’s nothing innocent about the Pine Tree State.

Instagrammers in Washington, D.C., are also shivering with fear, most likely due to the insane politics taking place there. It had 6.69 percent of #scared posts. Even tough New Yorkers are petrified by something; it followed closely with 6.54 percent. Seeing shadows, Nevada and Florida make up the rear, with 4.98 and 4.62 percent, respectively.

Make no bones about it, everyone’s got a bogeyman.



If you’re looking to visit any of the above cities, enter at your own risk. As it turns out, Florida and New York aren’t just the most #scared states; they’re also home to some of the scariest cities. And when it comes to California, there’s a ghost of a chance that you may never return.

When we looked at U.S. cities with the most #scared posts on Instagram, per 100,000 residents, Orlando, Fla., eerily came out on top.  Perhaps it is Universal Studios: Halloween Horror Nights that has people lying awake at night in Central Florida.  It was then creepily followed by Buena Park, Ca.; Miami Beach, Fla.; Melbourne, Fla.; and Santa Clarita, Ca. When it comes to New York, however, nature might be more terrifying than rush-hour traffic – coming in at No. 6, Instagrammers in Niagara Falls seem to be incredibly spooked. Any unfortunate souls feel like barrell rolling?

Interestingly, the cities that made this list all reside in some of the most populated states in the country. Just goes to show, you can’t trust anyone. 


Monsters – Some hide under the bed or in the ancient tombs of Egypt. Others haunt the spaces they died in, while more live under the fiery gates of Hell. Some even have an uncontrollable urge to drink blood or brains. Although not real, these creepy creatures haunt our psyche; our imagination often getting the better of us. But what’s scarier: these mythical creatures or the monsters that actually exist in real life?

According to our findings, the top 10 most feared creatures on Instagram extend into both fiction and reality. Featured in 60.1 percent of #scared posts, Instagrammers are extremely terrorized by ghosts. While the existence of ghosts continues to be questioned, there’s no denying that people are truly afraid of something they can’t see. Even zombies, which were in 10.2 percent of these posts, are dragging up terrible feelings. Surprisingly, demons are of major concern; they possessed 10 percent of the posts.

In regard to the creepy crawly, people on Instagram are also terrified of spiders (7 percent) and snakes (3.4 percent). Imagine them slithering and crawling all over you. Notably, while a real threat, sharks don’t illicit quite the same response – they only appeared in 2 percent of posts containing #scared. More people seem to be concerned about being abducted by aliens.



Ghosts, goblins, and ghouls, oh my! Next, we looked at the top 10 creature mentions by state.

Floating in at No. 1, Montana may need to call the Ghostbusters; it posted the most about ghosts alongside #scared.

And Maine might want to watch “The Walking Dead” and “The Exorcist” – nothing gets rid of zombies and demons quicker than a sharp blade and holy water. At the same time, Vermont posted the most about spiders, while Mississippi seemed pretty concerned about its snake population.

Vampires are sucking the blood from Arkansas, and aliens are abducting Instagrammers in New Mexico. Surprisingly, sharks seem to be a big issue in Nevada.  Though there aren’t many man-eating sharks in Nevada, there are plenty of “card sharks” who would love to swim away with all of your money.  Down in Tennessee, people are running away from mummies, while ghouls are causing mischief in Maine. 



Truth may be stranger than fiction, but reality can be horrifying. As the above graph shows, nightmares don’t only exist in our dreams. When it comes to real-world fears, loneliness and death loom everywhere – out of the Instagram posts that we looked at, they were the subjects of more than 24,000 posts each. Oddly fitting, considering that social isolation kills more people than obesity.  Loneliness and death may just go hand in hand.

Even war, which continues to rage on in certain parts of the world, is striking fear in the hearts of Instagrammers. It had a little more than 13,000 posts. Prison was a hot topic in almost 10,400 posts, while fire burned on in nearly 6,000 Instagram posts. Interestingly, failure appeared in about 2,800 posts – who wouldn’t want to hide underneath the sheets knowing you’ve let yourself and others down? Finally, coming in with 2,300 posts, Instagrammers are shooting more than just bullets; they’re sweating them too. 



As previously mentioned, whether real or imagined, there’s a lot to be afraid of. As our results show, fear isn’t just limited to the make-believe. Almost anything can be scary, including everyday life.

In fact, one of the biggest fears people seemed to express on Instagram was being poor – when it came to money, almost 87 percent of #scared posts included this fear. People are also afraid of loneliness (43 percent) and death (42 percent), and certainly don’t want war (45 percent) to arrive on their doorstep.

And as silly as it sounds, spiders (about 35 percent) are more terrifying than lions and bears (oh my!). While it makes sense that no one wants to get burned by fire (about 47 percent), we may just have to accept that ghosts (70.6) will always be a supernatural part of life – whether or not it’s Halloween.


Every day gives a bit of a fright. Whether it’s ghosts or prison, demons or spiders, people are taking to Instagram to talk about the things they are most #scared of. Real or imaginary, monsters plague Maine and Montana. Instagrammers in Nevada are afraid of sharks, New Mexico is having “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and when it comes to loneliness and being poor, even death doesn’t seem so bad.

If you’re looking to have a spooktacular Hallows Eve and scare a few pairs of pants off, Halloween Express offers the largest selection of tried-and-true (and incredibly trendy) costumes. In no time, you’ll be prowling the streets and giving even the toughest of people a terrible fright.


For this project we looked at posts on Instagram tagged with #scared to determine where and what people are posting and talking about related to this tag. Evaluating 396,925 posts from May 16,  2015 to July 18, 2016.


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