“Taylor, Mackenzie – stop it. NOW! You two are driving me nuts!”
I was in the produce aisle of the grocery store when I heard a frazzled-sounding mom scolding her children. At first it didn’t faze me — as a parent of 6-year-old twins, I’ve certainly raised my voice once or twice… or a thousand times.
But then I realized that I knew this particular mom (our daughters are the same age). Before I could tactfully slip away, she saw me, and her expression quickly morphed from exasperation to embarrassment. She started to formulate an explanation – “Sorry you had to hear that. It’s been one of those days…” – but I stopped her, saying, “Please don’t apologize! I get it, believe me. Why do you think I’m so happy to be going food shopping by myself?”
Frazzled Mom seemed somewhat assuaged, but I could tell it still bothered her. You see, she and I are friends on Facebook, and although I like her as a person, I don’t like her social media persona. In every post I’ve seen, her kids are smiling, their outfits are coordinated and wrinkle-free, and their faces are clean. It’s eerie, to be honest. There are no sarcastic hashtags (#mylittleangels is a favorite of mine), no piles of laundry in the background, no unflattering selfies.
However, she is far from alone. For many of us, Instagram is more of a highlight reel than a realistic depiction of life. But every now and then, we abandon the filters and show the unedited version.
We have to; otherwise, we’re putting something out there that’s not just unrealistic, but unattainable. And for those of us who haven’t seen the bottom of a laundry basket in years, and whose kids insist on making weird faces every time they see a camera, it can be disheartening when all you see are posts with hashtags like #blessed, instead of more honest ones like #whenishappyhour. It can make us feel like we don’t measure up.
And although I’m an active user, I had no idea how powerful the machine is until I watched ‘Fyre,’ a Netflix documentary that tells the story of a failed “luxury music festival.” Only, it didn’t just fail — it imploded in Titanic manner.
For those who are unfamiliar, Fyre Festival was launched by entrepreneur Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule to help promote an app for booking music talent. The vision was to recreate South by Southwest, but on a private island in the Bahamas. With millennials as the target audience, they generated interest not through traditional ads, but Instagram posts from ‘proven influencers’ like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid. Rather than provide any substantial information about the venue and accommodations, Fyre’s team relied on a barrage of images featuring models on yachts (which, not surprisingly, racked up thousands of Instagram likes).
And although the festival – and the app, for that matter – lacked substance, its organizers “brilliantly utilized influencer marketing as their smoke and mirrors to drive ticket sales and hype,” according to a Forbes article. The concept of ‘influencer marketing’ may sound a lot like smoke and mirrors, but in fact, it’s expected to exceed $2 billion this year, all by “tapping into the public’s desire to emulate what they saw on social media.”
But while most companies that utilize this trend have an actual product to sell, Fyre was selling a concept — a pipe dream. And, as is often the case with projects that are poorly planned and lacking in leadership, the dream never materialized. “Instead of champagne and concerts and luxury villas, ticket-holders encountered FEMA tents, empty beaches, and a transportation crisis. McFarland left behind a trail of unpaid debts, notably to the residents of the island, and ended up in jail for wire fraud,” a New Republic piece stated.
Yes, that’s right — wire fraud. Instead of pulling off “the ultimate convergence of social media influencers, venture capital and entertainment,” Frye’s founders pulled off nothing but a high-profile scam.
And the models whose images were splashed all over the festival’s website and social media outlets? They weren’t actually scheduled to attend the event. They were, however, paid generously to plug it on their Instagram accounts (Jenner reportedly earned $250,000) – something they failed to disclose initially. And although a former Frye staffer was quick to defend the “influencers,” arguing that they shouldn’t be held accountable for the lack of transparency that permeated the entire event, I beg to differ. I believe there’s a responsibility that comes with accepting money to promote a product, whether it’s a skin care line, or an “elite experience.” There’s a responsibility to do a little homework before cashing a six-figure check — or at least, there should be.
But as consumers, we can’t rely on socialites and entrepreneurs to look out for our best interests. As long as there’s money to be made ‘influencing’ people (and clearly there is), they’re going to cash in. The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. We can accept some responsibility by being more skeptical of what we’re being sold, and not letting FOMO (fear of missing out) dictate our decisions.
We can decide not to play with Fyre.