From scamming their followers out of all their money by convincing them to give up their bank account information to spamming their followers with giveaways to making questionable trips to the Hamptons, influencers have been coming under fire a lot recently. And the latest influencer controversy is probably one of the saddest yet, since it involves an innocent child and a family who adopted him, literally profited off of him, then gave him up. Over the past few weeks, people on Instagram, Reddit, and other forums have speculated that Myka Stauffer, an influencer and YouTuber with 170k followers on Instagram and 715k subscribers on YouTube, gave up her adopted child. The vlogger and her husband recently confirmed in a new video on her YouTube page that the family had, in fact, sent the child to live with a new family.
Myka Stauffer is, according to the “about” section on her website, “a Mommy of 4 from Ohio” who loves “sharing videos about Mommy life, DIYs, Organization, fitness, cleaning, lifestyle, and Day in the Life videos!” She has four children with her husband James, and in October 2017, she and her husband adopted a baby from China, Huxley. Even before he was adopted, she would post about the process on her family’s YouTube channel (which now has 330k subscribers), and even did a fundraiser for his adoption on their YouTube channel. In total, she and her husband made 27 videos about the adoption process, and more than one entitled “China Adoption Journey.”
But things weren’t as easy and breezy as her content would make it seem. In June of 2019, she gave an exclusive interview to Moms.com where she talked about the challenges of adoption, saying she was “really nervous and scared” when she found Huxley’s adoption file and found “he had brain damage and brain tumor”, but she “prayed for a sign” that the adoption was meant to be. Sure enough, she learned, “our birthdays are very close. I just felt like and knew that he was supposed to be a part of our family.” Yeah, that’s definitely the quality you should be looking for when considering if you have the resources, knowledge, and patience to adopt a special needs child: if your birthdays are close together.
Once they took Huxley home, she would post about him pretty regularly on her Instagram, putting up pictures of him with her other kids, photos on Santa’s lap, even using him in ads.
View this post on Instagram
There’s nothing better than bonding with my little bear 🐻 I will take you as my lunch date, any day of the week! Today we made the world’s most delicious cucumber, cilantro and mustard sandwiches. Using Brownberry Organic 22 Grains & Seeds bread, and everyone loved it including Huxley! This organic bread from @brownberrybread is one that we trust as a family! It’s also a perfect snack for an on-the-go busy Mama that is trying to make nutritious choices for your little ones! #SliceofAdventure #ad
But she said in the interview that early on, they noticed developmental issues, and after testing, she revealed in an article for The Bump, they learned he had autism.
But still, over the next two years he remained in their home, she continued posting him and her other children pretty regularly, usually with upbeat captions that talked about being grateful for her family. Typical influencer stuff. Sometimes, she would allude to challenges, like in a January 24 caption, where she accompanied a picture of her, her husband, and their children with, “Every day has new struggles, and new hardships but, there isn’t anyone else I would rather experience this with!” (She ended the caption with hashtags including #blessed #dontsweatthesmallstuff, though—again, typical influencer stuff.)
On February 16 of this year, Myka posted a picture of her and Huxley, writing in the caption, “The last couple days have been hard I don’t want to sugar coat anything. We have had a lot of melt downs, and lots of behaviors that have had us on our knees begging god for guidance! On social medial and YouTube we rarely show the behaviors or the hard stuff, because we try our best to respect our sons privacy and dignity. We have hard days, lots of them. I wish autism and adoption trauma had a manual to direct you through it all.”
Despite the challenges, Stauffer said in her June 2019 Moms.com interview that the difficulties she faced “made me want to fight for him more. That’s my personality. I’m a perfectionist. I’m a fighter. I am an advocate. If you tell me no, I’ll say yes, and find a way to make it work,” and it seemed like, despite the issues that came with raising a child with special needs, the Stauffers were committed. But ultimately that wasn’t the case. Soon after that February 2020 post with Huxley, followers started noticing he was absent from Myka’s photos, and started wondering where he went, even accusing Stauffer of deleting comments questioning his whereabouts.
On May 26, Myka and her husband put out a YouTube video titled “an update on our family” addressing the situation (which doesn’t appear on the home page of her YouTube channel under “newest videos”, you have to navigate to the “videos” tab to find it). In the video, Myka and her husband explain that they were unaware of a lot of Huxley’s needs when they decided to adopt him. Ultimately, Myka says, “after multiple assessments, after multiple evaluations, numerous medical professionals felt that he needed a different fit in his medical needs,” so they made the decision to send him to a new home.
Can you really just do that, give up your kid like a bad puppy or a designer bag you don’t want anymore? According to a 2018 report in The Atlantic, although accurate statistics are not really available, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that between 1 and 5% of the 135,000 adoptions that are finalized in the U.S. every year end up being legally dissolved. And, no sh*t, children going through second adoptions are at risk of significant trauma.
As for Huxley’s sudden disappearance from their social media feeds, James explains in the video, “We haven’t made this video yet because we’ve been trying to protect his privacy, his rights, and try not to mess up his future that was laid out in front of us.” Myka adds, “and that’s why on Instagram and stuff I tried to let you know as little as I could, but I couldn’t tell you any more because I didn’t want to mess anything up with what’s going on legally.” At one point, Myka said that she intentionally “never publicly aired” “99, 95% of the struggles” they faced, but may have shown her followers “a teeny like, struggle or hardship when I was trying to be really raw and real.”
They both reiterated that, to protect his privacy, they did not and would not go into the details of what ultimately caused them to make their decision, but they did say that Huxley has found a new home, and the adoption agency placed him with “literally a perfect match.”
I am neither a parent nor an adoption or parenting expert, so I will not comment on the process of rehoming an adopted child, except to say that even if Huxley no longer lives with them, the Stauffers should still be actively looking out for his best interests since they publicized the first two years of his life on their huge platform. But I wonder where that concern for his privacy was when they were giving interviews to websites, going into detail about his developmental issues, posting about their struggles with parenting him to try to be raw and real, and literally using him for ads?
While Twitter is hardly the best temperature check for unbiased or balanced takes, users took issue with the fact that Stauffer earned money while posting about the child and his adoption, and then later gave him away.
They may have their reasons for sending Huxley away, it’s heartbreaking, it truly is, but regardless of their reasons, the fact her Instagram posts carried on as if nothing happened, glorifying motherhood just makes me feel a bit ill.
— Beth_jw (@Bethjw3) May 27, 2020
im sick 😷 @MykaStauffer adopted an autistic child from china and after years of having him, she gave him up for adoption because he had “bad behavior” after using him for $$$ on her youtube channel of almost 1mil subs. people like this do not deserve followings or children
— lydia love 🦋 (@generichoe) May 27, 2020
Some of the more… shall we say… cynical users go so far as to accuse Stauffer of adopting the child strictly for views.
I mean he’s not wrong. She adopted a child for views and then got rid of him and treated him like a brand deal..
— Makenzie Ann (@Kenzie2013x) May 27, 2020
After the video went live, people on Instagram have taken to the comments of Stauffer’s brand partners, including Fabletics, urging them to reconsider their partnerships or expressing their intent to stop supporting the brands.
A change.org petition has also been started, demanding that YouTube demand the Stauffers (yes, in that order) remove all their monetized content with Huxley from their channels.
I’m predicting that once this backlash reaches a high point, Myka Stauffer will lose a good number of followers and brand deals, at which point she will “quietly” “take a much-needed break” from social media, and return in about 21 days with a post of her biological children talking about gratitude in the caption, and Huxley’s presence will be thoroughly scrubbed from all their channels, as it should be.
The problems with this entire heartbreaking situation are too many to count, but it highlights a serious issue with parent bloggers/Instagrammers and those who make content about their kids: they build their brand and career off of real people who can’t really consent to or understand what is happening. The internet lives forever (or at least until the end of 2020, because I’m not convinced the world is going to make it through another year), and all these children of these influencers are going to find the things their parents said and wrote about them, for better or for worse. This case is most definitely for the worse. Maybe the only time the Stauffers did right by Huxley was when they refused to go into detail about the specifics of what led to him being rehomed, and hopefully, they will do whatever they can now to protect his privacy.
Images: fabletics, Myka Stauffer / Instagram; Myka Stauffer / Youtube; @kenzie2013x, generichoe, Bethjw3 / Twitter
These days it feels like there’s no group with a bigger target on their back than influencers (aside from white men over 50, of course). There seems to be a new form of entertainment in the form of watching influencers being dragged online, exposed on accounts and forums dedicated to influencer muckraking, and labeled with the scarlet C: COVIDIOT.
We’ve witnessed many influencer scandals before, but our current quarantined status has turned influencer dragging into a digital gladiator ring, with accounts such as @deuxmoi and @influencerstruth exposing influencers and calling out markers of privilege. These markers include private travel (in the case of @tanyazuckerbrot getting criticized for leaving NYC on a private plane in the midst of the pandemic) and promotions of expensive clothing (in the case of @mamaandtata calling an $850 dress reduced from over $1,1000 a “steal” in a since-deleted post). These accounts also feature full dissections of past drama (like that between @ariellecharnas and @amandakloots, who haven’t trained together in years) and family backgrounds, often by culling information via unverified but assumed-to-be-true DM submission. Basically, a special counsel investigation of whose dad can pay for what, but told via screenshots and Instagram story fonts. I know because I’ve been devouring these accounts with a feeling that can only be described as glee, and also some relief that I don’t have extremely rich parents.
View this post on Instagram
Well as long as @tanyazuckerbrot had a private plane it doesn’t matter that she decided to leave NYC, right? 😏 Keep in mind, this is the same person who openly supported Arielle Charnas on her Instagram page. Two of a kind. #COVIDiot #pagesix #ffactor #covidiots #ariellecharnas #tanyazuckerbrot
In many cases, the criticism is well-deserved but more vitriolic than ever, so my question is: why now? Why this thirst trap? You might argue that it’s the influencers’ own tone-deaf behaviors that are the only cause of the recent draggings, and in some cases you’d be absolutely right. But in other cases, where what counts as a social distancing faux pas is a little bit unclear (the recent Morning Toast controversy over a family rooftop birthday that led them to mute their own Facebook group because of what they called “toxicity” comes to mind), the commenters have still been extra quick to wield their pitchforks with criticisms of privilege and accusations that the person thinks they’re above the rules, a murderer, etc.
If sunlight isn’t the antidote for coronavirus, it certainly is for influencers, because it finally feels like people are becoming aware of what has enabled the influencer industry from the start, which is a bubbly pink cocktail of privilege and entitlement. Or at the very least, people are starting to become unsettled by the status quo. Unlike florals for spring, it really isn’t groundbreaking that in order to become a top fashion influencer, you very likely started with a significant amount of financial subsidy from your family in order to fund the lifestyle required to photograph yourself in high-end clothing, and also that usually with family money comes access to connections. You know, rich people.
None of this is news and has been the reality since influencers became a “thing”. It’s not that hard to have great styles to photograph every day if you’re thin and attractive with a luxury wardrobe and a large bank account attached to it. I’m old enough to remember that’s how the earliest—and to this day, some of the biggest—fashion influencers stood out. I mean, no hate to these people for their given life circumstances, and it’s notable that many have adapted their platforms to spotlight causes and raise money alongside their favorite hair mask recs. Having worked in the media industry for years, I’m also fully aware that being an influencer is a legitimate full-time job, and that money and connections only get you so far. But still, let’s not pretend we hit a triple when we were born on third base, or that we’re just meeting our Bachelor in Paradise co-contestant for the first time when we hooked up in NYC three months ago.
The thing that’s changed is that now swaths of the general population are losing their loved ones and family members, being laid off, living in cramped environments or at home with their parents, dealing with an array of serious life stressors. When that’s your reality, it’s no longer a pleasurable experience to watch someone parade around their generational wealth-funded mansion in a pajama set that cost $200 (but 10% off with code RICHBITCH!), seemingly unaware of (or at least, unaffected by) the mass suffering going on around them. From watching the most boring era of their lives, you see the wealth that allowed these accounts to start and continue with a safety net. A lot of the time, influencers can take the “risks” to go out on their own (i.e. quit their job to become an influencer) that most people never could, and they are hardly risks anyway because in many cases they are well connected enough to ensure success, or at least enough success to convince yourself you did it all on your own.
For the audience, in the absence of having this for oneself, it feels good to be mad about it, especially when one of these privileged individuals makes a misstep that’s insensitive, unsafe, or even objectively wrong. They have it all handed to them, they should be perfectly considerate and self-aware of everything they have! If I were them I would NEVER act this way! There’s a whole showtune dedicated to this feeling: schadenfreude. And we feel it because we’re humans, and humans can be jealous, petty creatures, especially when manipulated by an internet algorithm designed to rile us up because what the f*ck else are we supposed to do, our jobs??
At the same time, as humans we also have a desire for things to feel “fair”, and it’s the extreme contrast between our experiences that may be the source of so much internet anger—especially when everything about this virus and the havoc it is wreaking feels so unfair. We’re more likely to lean into this anger now than ever, when we can’t go about our plans to do things that help us feel like we’re a little better or more aspirational than we really are. When we’re all stripped down to our most basic lives, it becomes obvious that our favorite “relatable” influencer was actually not relatable at all.
View this post on Instagram
I’m sorry, what? “They took a road trip for some much needed air.” So @kendalljenner traveled 478 miles on a road trip to Sedona because she needed some fresh air? Because LA isn’t sunny and 75 every day and you live in a mansion where you have plenty of outdoor space! They are the epitome of horrible humans. Hey @suns @nba – are you okay with one of your players breaking the rules like that? #COVIDiot #kendalljenner #kardashians @people @usweekly @pagesix @espn @nba
Unlike the average person’s life, it appears on social media that influencers’ lives have barely changed. Same sh*t, different OOTD. Same skin care, different wrinkles (due to the fact that botox is not yet deemed an essential service). It also doesn’t help that they can’t seem to help but continue to post everything they do, when reading the room would be better than reading a Kindle book for the sake of posting it on Insta story.
People are suffering right now, and they’re craving the connection that social media once promised us. We don’t want discount codes (although discount codes happen to be influencers’ most material contribution to my life), we want real human contact and empathy. Since no businesses are open, it’s become so much easier to appreciate nature, just being outside in sunshine and open air, having a simple interaction with friends and family we haven’t seen and still can’t hug. That’s the page it feels like most people have gotten on, while many influencers appear to be on another planet. Or maybe just on their private flight from Palm Beach to East Hampton that they just couldn’t help but flaunt for the hate-views.
This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the nature of @deuxmoi’s content
Images: Rob Kim/Getty Images for Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet; influencerstruth / Instagram
How many days have we been quarantining? I stopped counting weeks ago—it got too depressing—but it’s officially been long enough for a public figure to be canceled, take a few weeks off of social media, then make their PR-approved reappearance into the public sphere. You love to see it. Or do you? I don’t know anymore. Of course, I’m talking about Arielle Charnas, the fashion influencer who was universally dragged last month for her bizarre choices after testing positive for COVID-19.
After a couple weeks of confusing posts, sh*t hit the fan for Arielle when a Twitter thread breaking down the timeline of her actions went viral. The issues centered around her decision to travel with her family from New York City to a rented home in the Hamptons while she was likely still contagious. There’s a lot more to the story, and I recommend reading this article for a full refresher, but none of it made her look great.
View this post on Instagram
After the backlash became too much to ignore, she took to Instagram on April 2nd, with a written apology post so long that I still can’t force myself to make it to the end. Actually, I’m not sure “apology” is the right word, because it reads more like an extended justification, but I think that’s what the intent was. Along with that post, she addressed the controversy in a series of Instagram stories of her hysterically crying.
Anyway, since those posts on the 2nd, it’s been radio silence from Arielle Charnas, which was probably a smart move. To her credit, she didn’t turn off comments on her “apology” post, and some of them are… intense. Arielle definitely made some dumb decisions, but I think anyone would need a break from social media after that.
On Friday afternoon, the three-week drought came to an end when Charnas posted a photo with her two kids. For the record, it is very cute, and I would expect nothing less. In the caption, she thanks her followers for “letting me take time to reflect”, which is a classic celebrity apology go-to. I love when celebrities say sh*t like this because it’s like, what’s the alternative—her followers go to her house and demand that she post something? Don’t get me wrong, I would be hiding out after getting virally shamed too, I just love that it’s always rebranded as if it’s done by choice.
View this post on Instagram
We missed you guys so much!! Thank you for letting me take time to reflect and be with my family. It has opened my eyes in so many ways both personally and professionally and it is this growth that I am extremely grateful for. Can’t wait to reconnect with you all – love you guys. 🤍
She continues, saying this time “has opened my eyes in so many ways both personally and professionally and it is this growth that I am extremely grateful for.” Ah yes, the textbook sentiments of eyes being opened and painful growth and, above all, gratitude. Arielle finishes by saying that she “can’t wait to reconnect” with her audience, and I don’t doubt that at all. Imagine being a professional Instagram personality stuck inside your house, and for three weeks you can’t even post on Instagram? That sounds like absolute torture.
It’s pretty clear that this relatively short Instagram caption was crafted within an inch of its life by a PR team, and that’s pretty much what I would expect. It’ll be more interesting to see, in the coming weeks and months, if Arielle Charnas actually seems to change anything about her content, or how she lives her life, or if she’s just saying what a publicist told her to. It will be equally interesting to see if this scandal will continue to put her future actions under a microscope, or if our collective memory span is too short to hold people accountable for prolonged periods of time. Only time will tell, and at this point, it’s not like I have anything else to pay attention to.
Images: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Fossil; ariellecharnas / Instagram (2)
It’s a new year, but to the surprise of absolutely no one, influencers are still on their bullsh*t. 2019 was full of influencer scandals ranging from stolen handbags to shilling actual poison, and based on today’s story, 2020 won’t be any different. This week, a Canadian influencer was ordered to pay her ex $145,000 for spreading false rumors that he had STDs, which like, oof. The decision was a landmark case in the laws surrounding defamation in British Columbia, and also a landmark case in proving that your ex might not be that bad after all.
At the center of this case, we have Noelle Halcrow, a Vancouver influencer with an astounding 17,000 followers on Instagram. In the age of mega-influencers, that’s not a lot, but whatever, it’s still more followers than I have. Sadly, her page is private (waiting to see if my follow request is accepted), but all of the reports about the case call her a “style blogger and influencer”, so I guess at one point she like, posted her outfits on Instagram. One time, I influenced my friends to get Taco Bell when we were drunk, so truly anyone can be an influencer.
According to court documents, Noelle Halcrow “began an on-again, off-again relationship with a business consultant named Brandon Rook in 2015,” but he broke things off for good in 2016. The fact that this was an “on-again, off-again” relationship from the start is definitely a bad sign, but sadly, the court documents don’t give a detailed summary of the entire relationship. It’s really rude of them not to paint a full picture of the red flags in this situation, but either way, the relationship didn’t last.
According to a statement from Rook’s lawyer, after the breakup, Noelle “went on and published time and time again, over many days—actually a year, or maybe more than that—various versions of the same statement that the guy was a dog, basically.” Okay, so Noelle was maybeee a little obsessed with this dude. Given the timeline from the court documents, they weren’t together for more than a year (and they were on/off during that time), so she kept posting sh*t about this dude for longer than the relationship even lasted. Yikes.
Just to get a little taste, here’s the text of an Instagram post from Halcrow that was shown in court: “Known cheater, proud of it! STDs and spread them…” Cute! There were over 100 messages like this shared as evidence, and not just from her own account. According to the court documents, Halcrow made multiple Instagram accounts for the rumors, as well as websites such as “cheatersandbastards.org” and “stdregistry.org”. (Before you go checking that second domain, it’s not a site that actually exists.) That’s commitment. In a classic move, Halcrow tried to pretend she wasn’t the one who posted all of these messages, but that her friends did it. Suuuure. A “friend” whose name is Shmoelle Shmalcrow? Sadly for her, the posts were all traced back to Noelle’s IP address, because she was not exactly Mr. Robot.
And even worse, after initially deleting some of the messages, Halcrow TEXTED ROOK threatening to post them again. This text is truly deranged: “I told you second I posted pics. This time you need to search for them and figure how many people I tag. Stupidly I took down but easy get back and I own this account names. And only thing you can get deleted on Instagram is porn. My account people say bad things I own it so I can take down two seconds and alerts my phone.” Okay, this woman needs to get a f*cking grip (on her sanity, and the English language). Not only is she unhinged, but she’s also wrong. You can get plenty of stuff taken down off Instagram as long as it gets reported, as evidenced by the time I made a joke about how people who drink extra-strength Five Hour Energy should just grow up and do cocaine, and Instagram removed it for “promoting drug use”.
In the judge’s decision against Halcrow, he called her smear campaign against Rook “relentless” and “out of spite,” which sounds like how my stomach reacts after I eat too much Chipotle. Sorry, TMI. The judgment for $154,000 is one of the largest defamation awards in the history of British Columbia, and legal experts say it sends an important message in the age of people saying whatever tf they want on social media. Media consultant Katie Dunsworth-Reiach said that even when messages are deleted, “Google is a powerful tool, and it does live on and it’s very expensive to clean up.” Basically, don’t spread false rumors that your ex has STDs, in Canada at least, because that sh*t could come back to haunt you. It might feel better in the moment, but the $154K judgment against you sure won’t.
Images: mooshny / Shutterstock.com
By now we’ve probably all witnessed the infamous influencer mating cry to their followers at least once: Turn on notifications! The algorithm is hiding my posts and depriving all of you, my amazing Insta fam, of my latest collagen lube ad. Hit those three dots in the top right corner ladies!!
Here’s the thing: maybe it’s not the algorithm, maybe it’s you.
Ever since Instagram stopped showing posts chronologically, which was a long f*cking time ago, it’s clear that not all of your followers see all your posts, and that the posts we see most frequently are from people we follow more closely and whose content we like. It also shows us the “better” posts of people we follow more casually. For example, even if you don’t follow someone closely and usually don’t see all their posts, you will probably still see when they graduate college or get engaged. So you can wish them a Congrats!! heart heart heart before muttering some commentary about their outfit to yourself.
In addition to liking and following an account closely, we have to talk about one of the metrics that Instagram uses to “push posts up” in the algorithm: hover time. Hover time means the amount of time that viewers of a post spend looking at it, zooming in, rereading the caption until it’s committed to memory, etc., before scrolling on by. Let’s say some Kardashian does a really egregious Photoshop job and lots of people are zooming in to check out how badly she botched the background. No yacht has curved edges like that! That post may end up getting more impressions than her average thanks to all the people (me) zooming in, thinking of all the ways I’m going to sh*t talk this photo while staring at it. Or let’s say you just got engaged. You know every girl within six degrees of follower separation is zooming in on the left hand.
We all remember that Facebook did something similar as it evolved, when it went from showing you every inside joke people posted on each other’s walls to only showing you milestone events, like every freaking baby that’s been born in 2019 so far. It seems like an obvious and possibly even necessary evolution. So what’s with influencers complaining that Instagram is hiding their posts?
If you’re an Instagram Influencer who doesn’t have a picture of yourself in a sea of wildflowers, can I even trust your dry shampoo recommendations? SMH.
— Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) March 22, 2019
While the algorithm may naturally limit impressions on posts (aka the number of people who see it), it seems that the reason might be one of an account’s own making—either in general, it just doesn’t have as many people engaging regularly in order to “earn” being shown in more people’s feeds, or the particular post is not so great (according to social engagement metrics) that it earned enough engagement from whoever saw it when it was first posted. So even though the algorithm does have an effect, it’s probably not innately biased towards your account specifically. And if it feels biased, that would be based on data of your past engagement.
(By the way, it’s not just influencers who’ve fallen prey to blaming the algorithm. Who among us hasn’t questioned whether our post was “showing up” and immediately spiraled into self doubt. Was it my caption!? Am I in the right time zone? I usually at least break 75 likes!)
Even if the algorithm is hurting you, complaining about it to your followers seems a bit desperate. They probably didn’t even notice that your posts were getting low engagement before you pointed it out. What are you going to blame on the algorithm next? Your breakup? Your weight gain? Your general sense of existential discontent? Donald Trump’s presidency?? (Actually yes, that one is partly thanks to the Facebook algorithm.)
If Suzie is a social media influencer with 125,000 followers and Shane is an influencer with 130,000 followers, how many checks do you have your parents write to buy 200,000 fake followers to surpass them both? #SATQuestionsForRichKids
— lauren warren (@iamlaurenp) March 19, 2019
Instead of begging followers for attention, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your content, and post fewer, more unique posts. Think of it like you’re always between dates two and four with your followers; if you’re too available and constantly in someone’s face, they may not be as interested as when they have to wonder what you’re up to and seek you out a little bit.
On some level, it seems obvious to me that individuals who spend large chunks of their time photographing, editing, and captioning their greatest work of art—themselves—are the same individuals who would first blame a global tech platform for their drop in popularity, instead of briefly considering that their posts and/or life might just not be that interesting. Maybe we don’t need to see the 100th time you post a wide-legged stance on a quaint West Village side street. Maybe that third solo shot of the same backdrop in Mykonos just isn’t destined for greatness the way that say, the Mona Lisa or Kendall’s Insta with her hair in a heart shape was. Maybe just ask yourself if your posts are really worth seeing the next time you’re getting ready to publicly cry algorithm.
Images: Kat Garcia / Unsplash; iamlaurenp, ConanOBrien / Twitter
At this point, we all know about influencers. Whether you follow them religiously or think they’re total jokes, it’s no longer a novel idea that fashion bloggers and generic hot people are making a living off of Instagram. At this point, the influencer market is honestly pretty saturated, because we can only have so many people getting paid to shill their FabFitFun boxes. So if there isn’t room for any more actual influencers, where do we go next? Why not make fake influencers? Apparently someone already thought of this, because there are actually a surprising number of CGI influencers. Yup, it’s an actual thing. Who are these “people,” and just like, why? Let’s unpack.
In this bizarre corner of the Instagram community, the queen of the CGI influencers is undoubtedly Lil Miquela. Miquela is based in LA (just go with it—it’s easier not to ask questions), and has been on Instagram since 2016. I don’t know if she was officially the first of her kind, but she definitely got in the game early. She’s easily recognizable by her freckles, Princess Leia hairstyle, and the fact that she’s um…not real. Miquela has 1.6 million followers on Insta, which is probably a sign that we should all just give up now.
View this post on Instagram
Not even going to try to spout some fake body positivity influencer BS bc I’m skinny and ethnically ambiguous sooo it’s not like this thirst trap is groundbreaking but enjoy these lil robot tiddies ?? Also I’m shooting something so special today but I can’t say what it's for yet ~ head to my story for clues ??
Miquela may be popular on Instagram, but she also works hard. She has half a dozen singles on Spotify, which are actually complete bops, and she also is involved with a clothing company called Club 404. For someone who literally doesn’t exist, she stays busy.
If you’re still confused about why the f*ck this is even a thing and how it happened, it’s understandable. At first, no one knew who was behind Miquela, and initially people weren’t actually sure if she was real and just heavily edited her photos, or if she was a bot. Now we know that Miquela is run by an LA-based startup called Brud. The company was founded by Trevor McFedries, and has now raised millions of dollars in capital from investors. Brud has carefully cultivated a world of these CGI influencers and personalities to get millions of people watching.
Last year, Miquela’s Instagram was apparently hacked by another CGI persona named Bermuda, and McFedries initially blamed the incident on “some Redditor idiot,” but it turned out that he was just playing into an elaborate scheme. Bermuda is another Brud creation, and they faked a “hack” on Miquela’s page to generate media coverage. It worked. At the time, one Brud investor acknowledged that the company was “using conflict to introduce new characters…same as the Kardashians always have.” This might sound stupid at first, but it’s also a TV show I would definitely watch.
After the “hack,” Miquela and Bermuda are now friends, and they’re no longer alone in their CGI version of Los Angeles. Brud has also introduced another character named Blawko, and both he and Bermuda have over 100,000 followers now.
I don’t know what Brud’s end-game is, but I have a feeling with millions of dollars from Silicon Valley investment funds, they’re planning something bigger than a bunch of imaginary people wearing trendy sunglasses on Instagram. First Miquela, then world domination? Honestly, I’m ready for our society to be run by CGI influencers, who even cares anymore?
While Brud is definitely the most dominant force in the world of CGI influencers, they’re not the only ones in the game. Knox Frost, who is a 19-year-old living in Atlanta (again, bear with me), is another CGI personality who’s cultivated a following of over 600,000 people since launching his account earlier this year. Honestly, I’m concerned for my personal well-being, because Knox is kind of hot. Brb, deleting all social media and going to live on a desert island.
Knox’s CGI is a little less realistic than the Brud crew, and his background is also more mysterious. No company has taken ownership of Knox Frost like with Miquela, so we still don’t know who’s behind his page. There’s also this hilarious Reddit thread of someone asking if he’s a real person, to which someone responded that he looks like a character from an NBA video game. Honestly, true.
Knox’s captions are also a lot to get into, as a lot of them are lengthy, brooding messages about life. He also has an email newsletter for updates about his “life”, which I haven’t signed up for because I don’t need to get any more emails that I’m just going to delete without opening.
I mean, that caption is honestly a nightmare. Less is more, and Knox Frost is doing THE MOST. To be honest, Miquela and Co. are much more my style than Knox, but I respect whatever hustle has gotten him to 600k followers.
So I guess now you probably understand more about what CGI influencers are, but I’ll be honest, I’m still a little lost when it comes to the why. With a major account like Miquela, the creators have obviously been able to profit off of side projects like the music and the clothing company, but it’s a lot less clear what the goals behind someone like Knox Frost are. In most cases, the people who run these accounts are probably just trying to build up more of a following before pivoting to something that is going to rake in the cash.
No matter how stupid you think CGI influencers are (and, admittedly, they are pretty stupid), they’re probably not going anywhere. Anytime one person is able to build a huge following and profit off of something, you know lots of other people are going to hop on the bandwagon. Granted, to run a CGI influencer’s page, you have to have someone who knows how to do CGI, so that’s probably why there are still only a handful of these popular accounts. But I’m sure there are at least a few more animators and graphic designers who are going to throw their hats in the ring of CGI influencers sooner or later.
Images: lilmiquela (2), blawko22, knoxfrost / Instagram
Instagram is f*cking crazy. Even though this app malfunctions on a broad scale every damn week, it’s still incredibly lucrative. Kylie Jenner earns over a million dollars just for one post, so it’s no surprise that these days, everybody wants to get a piece of the pie. But that’s lead to some pretty crazy strategies by wannabe influencers. For instance, there are users who will buy themselves a product and post a picture with it indicating they received it for free or are working with the company. There are also people who will take the farce one step further and buy robot followers who will like and comment on their posts, all in the hopes of getting that sweet, sweet #ad money. And, while this is so hilariously try-hard and silly, it can actually have bad consequences—mainly for the brands who advertise with these influencers. That’s because a new report from Cheq, a cybersecurity company focused in digital media, found that fake followers and likes cost advertisers $1.3 billion this year alone.
And let me just say: ha. Hahahahaha.
This is a huge amount of money, which Cheq says they concluded “through an analysis of its own data, a review of services that exist to provide fake social media engagement, and research and surveys on the subject.” So, let’s trust them that this $1.3 billion figure is accurate. That’s a lot of money being spent on which brands are not getting a return on their investment. These findings are not entirely new—an April 2018 study found one advertiser paid an influencer whose following was made up of 78% percent fake followers (that unlucky advertiser was the Ritz-Carlton). That same month, a report from Launchmetrics found that mega influencers (ones with 501,000-1.5 million followers) were less valuable to advertisers than micro influencers (those with 10,000-100,000 followers). That could be in part because having a smaller community that’s more engaged is more valuable than having a large passive community. So it’s been clear for a while now that fake followers pose a problem to advertisers and can cause them to lose money (or just not efficiently recoup their spending).
But, should any of us really feel that bad that large companies like the Ritz-Carlton are losing money on Instagram?
what do these influencers influence
— fiddy (@fputerana777) July 25, 2019
Most millennials who can work their way around an Instagram account can figure out when an account bought followers. (It’s really not that hard—do the likes and comments they get on a post match up with the number of followers? If not, they’re likely fake.) Insta Single, who runs a meme account with 4.9 million followers, claims he’s never bought fake followers but says he’s been approached to many times, adding, “it’s pretty simple tbh” to tell who has bought bots. “Certain genres have higher engagement percentages,” he explains. “If you’re in a genre with a 5-15% engagement average and you’re hitting 1-2%, it’s kind of obvious lol. I don’t want to name names, but there are some big accounts with fake followers out there that are easy to spot.”
It can be tempting to buy followers as a quick fix to earning Instagram money, but when it comes to monetizing your account, it should really about playing the long game. For one, you can end up in a bidding war with other influencers at your level. But undercutting your competition because you know you don’t have the followers to back it up will often turn around and bite influencers in the ass. Insta Single, who recently started doing ads within the past 6 months, says, “One thing I noticed is that if someone beats you on a price, the company will always come back when the account produces a low amount of engagement.”
Popular memer Slutty Puffin, who runs an account with 169k followers and also works in brand research, echoes the sentiment that buying followers isn’t worth it in the long run. “It makes me feel bad because people have lost sight that having a smaller group of more engaged followers is the real goal (for advertisers and in general).”
When you see an org with tons of followers but find out half of them are fake pic.twitter.com/4RIuS75CpN
— Exce11s (@Exce11s) July 22, 2019
And it’s not just influencers that are duping people by buying bots, he says—brands are doing it too. “It’s funny,” he says. You ever see a random clothing company on your explore page that you’re sure is a scam until you check out their profile and are surprised by how big their following is? Yeah. It works both ways, says Slutty Puffin. “I have seen people be like, ‘What is this stupid company… oh actually they have 60,000 followers maybe they are legit.’ The power of follower affirmation is very real.”
So why are people buying fake followers in the first place? In short, to get their accounts off the ground. Like Slutty Puffin says, just having a few thousand followers can give an account a sense of legitimacy, even if it’s false. And the idea is that once you buy a few fake followers, it will get the ball rolling and you’ll get real followers. “I think the majority of people are using the boost in followers as a fake-it-till-you-make it strategy,” Slutty Puffin explains. “But if your content is good you should be able to connect with followers and potential followers in a real way.”
And you’d think that if a company was preparing to drop big bucks on influencer marketing, they’d do their research. In reality, it depends. Some brands approach Slutty Puffin for a one-post-and-done deal. Those types of brands may be less likely to have vetted their partners—smaller reward, smaller risk. But even with those types of deals, buying followers can still backfire, since a brand that doesn’t get its ROI would be unlikely to work with an influencer/account again, and that influencer may also earn a reputation that would dissuade other brands from wanting to partner. But, Slutty Puffin finds, “Most clients will ask for metrics on the ads they run, most likely to navigate these types of pages that have fake followers.”
But the best way to avoid fake influencers might be to seek out long-term relationships with advertising partners as opposed to one-off posts. Slutty Puffin says that he is beginning to see more clients who want a true ROI on influencer spending. “Companies (especially startups) are over sending their stuff out for free with no return,” he says (though the proliferation of FashionNova posts by every Kylie Jenner lookalike on Instagram seems to say otherwise).
There’s no doubt that the Instagram landscape is changing, and advertisers need to adapt. Slutty Puffin advises, “I think advertisers need to get smarter about working with influencers who understand the complete vision for the brand they are selling and how to incorporate it into their account in a real and meaningful way,” and not just throw money at people with a large following who don’t care about the product they’re shilling. He adds, “I feel brands should pay more for ongoing, deeper relationships with influencers that actually know their stuff.” At the end of the day, it’s about loyalty and accountability—which, ironically, should be what the influencers are trying to cultivate amongst their followers, too.
Images: Maddi Bazzocco / Unsplash; exce11s, fputerana777 / Twitter
Another day, another instance of Instagram influencers being stupid. God, they just never stop, do they? Not that I’m complaining, because it gives me endless article fodder. Carry on, you naive fools! The most entertaining thing about influencers (and wannabe influencers) is the lengths they will go to in order to capture a photo. Legitimately, last weekend, my friends and I watched as this girl stood in the middle of a house party, fake laughing to herself as if she were in the middle of an actual photoshoot, while her friend stood there with an iPhone, snapping pics for Instagram. If you just did that, not in front of a camera, you would look insane. A lot of the time, the dumb sh*t influencers do is pretty innocuous. But sometimes, it can be dangerous—like the Instagram couple who fell to their death while taking a selfie, or the “bikini hiker” who died of hypothermia on a hike. And you would think terrible, tragic stories like these would stop people from doing blatantly dangerous sh*t simply for the ‘gram, but you would be wrong, because PEOPLE recently reported that the newest Instagram destination that influencers are flocking to for photos is… a toxic blue lake.
Say it with me now: yeesh.
Russian government officials are apparently warning tourists to stay away from a body of water that’s been dubbed the Novosibirsk Maldives, after the bright blue water that’s reminiscent of the islands in the Indian Ocean. And, at a glance, it looks like a beautiful place to visit, swim, maybe snap a few pics.
View this post on Instagram
Look at this guy! On a floatie, living his best Instagram life.
View this post on Instagram
Another great shot! Look how blue the lake and the sky are! I want a picture like this for my feed, should I go to the Novosibirsk Maldives? The guy above was in the water! What could go wrong?
Answer: a whole lot! To start, this isn’t a real lake. It’s a manmade pond, basically, and its name in Russian translates to “Lake Ash Dump.” Yikes! That’s because, you guessed it, the “lake” is a dumping site for a nearby coal plant. Even the company that owns the plant is urging people not to go swimming in or fall into the water. “We beg you not to fall into the ash dump in the pursuit of selfies!” they said. “That is the biggest danger.” When the actual company who runs the plant is telling you that it’s just not worth a selfie, you should probably listen.
And if you don’t want to just take the coal company’s word for it, one visitor told the Siberian Times that, after filming “a dreamy video as if she was on a tropical beach,” her face was “covered in a small rash” and she suffered from “a dry throat and nose”. Other visitors have reported the soles of their sandals flaking off after walking along the shoreline, so just imagine what that would do to your skin! The company itself warned, “skin contact with such water may cause local allergic reactions due to high mineralisation.”
Even more alarming, the Siberian Times alleges reports of “poisonous vapour, shrivelled plants and alarmingly-tinged blue seagulls,” though the company running the plant denies any harmful radiation.
So basically, this is the nuclear power plant from The Simpsons. And yet, people are still treating this like it’s the next go-to travel destination.
View this post on Instagram
Guys, come on. This is so not worth it! I get that the waters look really blue and pretty, but this is not necessary. Especially in a day and age when you can just edit your photos or buy presets to make any old image look like it was taken in front of bright turquoise water or completely Photoshop yourself into a different location anyway. See:
I found this post a few days ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Technology is f*cking amazing. If you must get pictures with bright blue water, be like Michaela. Don’t go swimming in a toxic lake. Do. Not. Do it. This has been a friendly PSA.
Images: michaelaokland, maldives_nsk / Instagram