Whitney Danhauer

Spin Sucks Question: Should We Hold Social Media Influencers Accountable?

By: Whitney Danhauer | February 8, 2019 | 
0

social media influencersLast month, Netflix and Hulu released documentaries on the disaster that was supposed to be the Fyre Festival, an event heavily promoted by social media influencers. 

If you haven’t watched both documentaries yet—hoo boy!— you have some quality television viewing in your future.

Both Fyre Fraud (Hulu) and Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (Netflix) cover various ways in which the festival went up in flames (no pun intended), doing so in a way that’s thoroughly entertaining. 

Billy McFarland and Ja Rule are the instigators of the Fyre Festival creation.

But when it began to go haywire, neither of them let anyone know things weren’t looking good. This included the social media influencers they paid to promote the festival.

Supermodels such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single Instagram post advertising the festival.

While lesser known social media influencers simply couldn’t wait to buy their tickets to this music festival for the elite.

The Fyre Festival offered everything from glamorous camping experiences, drinks with celebrities, and (my personal favorite) swimming with pigs.

In the end, none of it happened.

Posts were deleted, tents were the opposite of glamorous, and the pigs had to swim by their lonesome in the crystal clear waters of the Bahamas.

The popularity of both documentaries begged the question:

Should social media influencers be held accountable if things they promote turn out to be a fraud?

We sent it out to the Spin Sucks community. No one can ever accuse you all of not having anything to say. You responded in force!

Yes! Hold Social Media Influencers Accountable!

Unsurprisingly, many believed yes, influencers should be held accountable if the items they promote are faulty or fraudulent.

Roger Friedensen pointed out taking responsibility is really the decent thing to do,

I see this as no different than taking responsibility for work you do on behalf of a client or your organization. Our job as professional communicators comprises the responsibility to conduct due diligence to confirm that what we communicate is accurate, verifiable and, above all else, ethical. If we make mistakes, it’s up to us to accept the consequences and apologize to whomever was wronged. This isn’t neurosurgery. It’s just basic human decency. Do what’s right, and as someone earlier in this thread notes, if you mess up, ‘fess up. Be a mensch.

Sara Hawthorn from Infusion was thinking along the same lines. If someone is going to promote it, they should know their product inside and out.

Social influencers should do due diligence into the products and services they promote if they’re being paid or booked directly. If you’re positioning  yourself as someone who can change minds and influence buying habits then you have a responsibility to ensure what you’re telling people is legal, ethical and not fraudulent.

Hold the Company Responsible, Too

Katie Robbert thinks responsibility lies with influencers, but the company they’re promoting should also be held responsible for their claims to the influencer.

It’s two-fold. The influencer should do their due diligence to ensure what they are promoting is legit and on brand for their account. And the company/person which originates the post also needs to be held accountable for creating fraudulent content. Too often, influencers, companies, and regular people share content because it’s a catchy title or they just skim and it seems “good enough.”

Some people were more in the middle of the road on whether or not influencers should face repercussions.

It Depends on the Circumstances

Doug Haslam believes that sometimes the influencer is duped just like the rest of us when it comes to the product they’re promoting.

Depends on their level of involvement. Typically, I should think the actual fraudster should be responsible.  But, if the influencer is simply a dupe (“useful idiot” probably applies in many cases), it’s hard to blame them as much.

Agree that influencers should do due diligence.

But most cases, their accountability should come with the decrease in influence based on the association.

Nate Masterson had a little bit of a different take. Just because someone in the influencer’s audience doesn’t like the product, it doesn’t mean it’s the influencer’s fault.

Essentially, influencers who choose to advertise different goods or services simply because they like and believe in these things should not be held accountable if others are displeased with the results. However, and this is a big however, influencers must be clear with their followers if they are receiving any sort of compensation for their endorsement.

And, in the event that they receive money for their posts, they should be considered a sort of employee of the company and potentially be included in any lawsuits relating to what they advertised. If these social media influencers are using their platforms to earn their livelihood, they must do their due diligence and be prepared to suffer the consequences if they make a mistake.

Some believe influencers shouldn’t receive punishment if what they promote isn’t what the company leads them to believe.

It’s Not the Influencers’ Fault

David Reischer chimed in with some legal advice from his perspective.

An influencer should not be liable for any fraud perpetrated by a company unless they made material false statements and/or had knowledge of the underlying fraud.

In the Fyre case, the influencer had no ‘actual knowledge’ of any material misrepresentations regarding the product.

Unless the influencer is recklessly indifferent to the truth of his statements or was aware that fraud was highly probable and intentionally avoided the truth, then there is likely no liability. 

Matt Ross agreed with David in saying it’s the company’s fault for lying, not the influencer’s fault for believing those lies.

Ultimately, I don’t think influencers should be held liable when companies commit fraud. At the end of the day, it’s not the influencers job to conduct robust due diligence on the financial health of every company they work with. It’s just not possible. To us, it’s just another transaction, just like any other vendor.

However, with that said, if influencers are paid for a post or a video, they should absolutely disclose that information so consumers are aware of the relationship. This is a must, no doubt about it. But that’s where you should draw the line. You can’t hold an influencer liable for the fraudulent acts of a CEO that the influencer doesn’t even know.

What Do You Think?

Now, it’s your turn.

Have you watched either of the Fyre Festival documentaries?

Do you think the influencers should face lawsuits because of their involvement in promoting this giant dumpster fire? Do you think all the blame lies with Billy McFarland and Ja Rule?

Sound off in the comments!

Or if you prefer the Spin Sucks Community, you can tell us there.

Maybe Twitter is your cup of tea? Make sure you add #SpinSucksQuestion to your tweet so we see it!

In the meantime, I’m going to look into swimming with those pigs in the Bahamas.

About Whitney Danhauer


Whitney is living in Central Kentucky with her husband, Michael and her daughter, Evie Rose. She's an avid reader, an even more avid movie watcher, and loves nothing more than a well-placed pop culture reference. By day she writes about all things communications for Spin Sucks, by night she writes about whatever she wants. Her first novel, Good Riddance, was released in October of 2015.