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The real rich kids of Fyre Festival - the influencers - didn't suffer from its failure

The Fyre Festival debacle conclusively proves both that influencer marketing works – and that it shouldn’t be allowed to.

Bella Hadid is in heaven. Surrounded by her closest friends and fellow models, she is sitting on the clean, soft sand of a Bahamas beach, staring into the camera. Palm trees peek through the cool white sheet that is shading the 2016 Model of the Year – and although she refuses to smile, we know that she is happy. How? Her Instagram post about this moment says so. “Heaven,” Hadid captions the image on 11 December 2016, complete with a cat emoji.



A post shared by Bella Hadid (@bellahadid) on

Lamaan El Gallal is in hell. Surrounded by hungry and thirsty people who have begun to faint, the North Eastern University student picks up her camera and points it around the airport lounge in which she is trapped. The capped heads of security guards are visible just above the crowds – and although we cannot see Gallal’s face, we know she isn’t happy. “We have been locked indoors with no air NO FOOD and NO water,” reads the caption on her tweet, posted 28 April, sans emoji.

Hadid and Gallal are both attendees of the same event. Sort of. Five months ago, Hadid – along with a handful of other Instagram-famous models – was invited to give feedback on a brand new luxury event in the Bahamas. In return for free flights and accommodation, all Hadid had to do was share images of her trip on social media. With the help of her 12.5 million Instagram followers, the model instantly shed light on a then-relatively unheard of musical festival called Fyre.

You’ve heard of Fyre Festival now.

Organised by the rapper Ja Rule, Fyre Festival was billed as a “once-in-a-lifetime” event with luxury food and accommodation. Attendees, who paid anything from $500 to $100,000 for the festival, were instead met with bread and cheese, disaster relief tents, and cancelled musical acts when they arrived last weekend.


Fyre Island #mondaymood #foreveronvacation #Bahamas  @frankiefoye

A post shared by Alessandra Ambrosio (@alessandraambrosio) on

On social media, many gleefully celebrated the comeuppance of what they assumed were rich, spoilt millennials who paid $12,000 to attend a festival. Yet although headlines initially focussed on this price tag, media interviews thus far reveal that many – if not most – of this weekend’s revellers in fact bought the “early bird” ticket for $500. Although Ja Rule – and his Fyre co-founder Billy McFarland – are now facing a $100 million lawsuit, it is mostly not "rich kids" who are suffering. Many of the richest millennials – those who had an instrumental hand in promoting the festival to others – are thus far avoiding repercussions.

“What if we reimagined what it means to attend a musical festival?” reads an ironically prophetic leaked document outlining Fyre Festival’s business plan. The document reveals that the company recruited over 400 influential social media users – which they call “Fyre Starters” – to promote the festival, including models Emily Ratajkowski and Kendall Jenner. Allegedly, Jenner was paid $250,000 for a single promotional post. According to Fyre (which is also an app), these posts reached over 300 million people.

If Kendall Jenner told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it? Marketers know the answer is yes. Over the last few years, “influencer marketing” has overtaken the advertising world. Brands pay large sums to celebrities, YouTubers, bloggers, and the simply Instagram-famous to promote their products on social media. In response, the British Advertising Standards Authority and the American Federal Trade Commission have created new guidelines and laws requiring social media influencers to disclose when they are paid. Often they do so with a hashtag, #ad – short for “advertisement”.

Jenner didn’t use the hashtag in her since-deleted post, and nor did most of the other “Fyre Starters” (of the models on Fyre’s December trip, it seems only Ratajkowski used #ad). By pretending to have an organic interest in the festival, celebrities convinced teenagers and young adults into parting with their money. In doing so, they are morally – if not legally – responsible for the Fyre Festival disaster. Yet with the click of a delete button and a few cancelled flights, none of them appear to have suffered. 

So that’s the end of influencer marketing as a strategy, right? Wrong. Fyre Festival is, in fact, the ultimate example of just how powerful this type of advertising is. There were hundreds of warning signs about the event – from co-founder McFarland’s previous failed ventures to the fact the location was billed as a “private island” despite also being home to a Sandals resort – but many festival-goers ignored Google in the face of carefully crafted celebrity Instagram posts. A Twitter account, @FyreFraud, was one of the first to notice the luxury event was not as it seemed, tweeting on 29 March: “I'm telling you #FyreFestival is a fraud.”

Instead of freaking out over the event’s disorganisation, teenagers were assuaged by the Instagram famous. “I did not think that a team that made the beautiful trailers could flop on execution this hard,” wrote one festival-goer on Reddit - referring to the video that was promoted on influencers’ Instagram pages. The Fyre Festival debacle therefore conclusively proves both that influencer marketing works – and that it shouldn’t be allowed to.

Some theorise that the models themselves were conned. In her semi-apology posted on (where else?) social media, Hadid wrote: “Even though this was not my project what so ever, nor was I informed about the production or process of the festival in any shape or form, I do know that it is has always been out of great intent, and they truly wanted all of us to have the time of our lives.” At once, the model is claiming that she knew nothing about the event and yet also was sincere in her trust of it. It doesn’t, therefore, seem as though Hadid was scammed, but rather that she didn’t care too much about what her name – or bikini body – was attached to.

Hopefully, the very public and very spectacular debacle that was Fyre Festival will inspire both celebrities and the general public to distrust influencer marketing. It is unlikely, however, to dissaude advertisers themselves. Fyre Festival is an example of inflencer marketing at its most successful. But it was the public who paid the price for its success.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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From Darwin to Damore - the ancient art of using "science" to mask prejudice

Charles Darwin, working at a time when women had little legal rights, declared “woman is a kind of adult child”.

“In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females,” wrote James Damore, in his now infamous anti-diversity Google memo. “As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more co-operative and agreeable than men.” Since the memo was published, hordes of women have come forward to say that views like these – where individuals justify bias on the basis of science – are not uncommon in their traditionally male-dominated fields. Damore’s controversial screed set off discussions about the age old debate: do biological differences justify discrimination?  

Modern science developed in a society which assumed that man was superior over women. Charles Darwin, the father of modern evolutionary biology, who died before women got the right to vote, argued that young children of both genders resembled adult women more than they did adult men; as a result, “woman is a kind of adult child”.

Racial inequality wasn’t immune from this kind of theorising either. As fields such as psychology and genetics developed a greater understanding about the fundamental building blocks of humanity, many prominent researchers such as Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, argued that there were biological differences between races which explained the ability of the European race to prosper and gather wealth, while other races fell far behind. The same kind of reasoning fuelled the Nazi eugenics and continues to fuel the alt-right in their many guises today.

Once scorned as blasphemy, today "science" is approached by many non-practitioners with a cult-like reverence. Attributing the differences between races and gender to scientific research carries the allure of empiricism. Opponents of "diversity" would have you believe that scientific research validates racism and sexism, even though one's bleeding heart might wish otherwise. 

The problem is that current scientific research just doesn’t agree. Some branches of science, such as physics, are concerned with irrefutable laws of nature. But the reality, as evidenced by the growing convergence of social sciences like sociology, and life sciences, such as biology, is that science as a whole will, and should change. The research coming out of fields like genetics and psychology paint an increasingly complex picture of humanity. Saying (and proving) that gravity exists isn't factually equivalent to saying, and trying to prove, that women are somehow less capable at their jobs because of presumed inherent traits like submissiveness. 

When it comes to matters of race, the argument against racial realism, as it’s often referred to, is unequivocal. A study in 2002, authored by Neil Risch and others, built on the work of the Human Genome Project to examine the long standing and popular myth of seven distinct races. Researchers found that  “62 per cent of Ethiopians belong to the same cluster as Norwegians, together with 21 per cent of the Afro-Caribbeans, and the ethnic label ‘Asian’ inaccurately describes Chinese and Papuans who were placed almost entirely in separate clusters.” All that means is that white supremacists are wrong, and always have been.

Even the researcher Damore cites in his memo, Bradley Schmitt of Bradley University in Illinois, doesn’t agree with Damore’s conclusions.  Schmitt pointed out, in correspondence with Wired, that biological difference only accounts for about 10 per cent of the variance between men and women in what Damore characterises as female traits, such as neuroticism. In addition, nebulous traits such as being “people-oriented” are difficult to define and have led to wildly contradictory research from people who are experts in the fields. Suggesting that women are bad engineers because they’re neurotic is not only mildly ridiculous, but even unsubstantiated by Damore’s own research.  As many have done before him, Damore couched his own worldview - and what he was trying to convince others of - in the language of rationalism, but ultimately didn't pay attention to the facts.

And, even if you did buy into Damore's memo, a true scientist would retort - so what? It's a fallacy to argue that just because a certain state of affairs prevails, that that is the way that it ought to be. If that was the case, why does humanity march on in the direction of technological and industrial progress?

Humans weren’t meant to travel large distances, or we would possess the ability to do so intrinsically. Boats, cars, airplanes, trains, according to the Damore mindset, would be a perversion of nature. As a species, we consider overcoming biology to be a sign of success. 

Of course, the damage done by these kinds of views is not only that they’re hard to counteract, but that they have real consequences. Throughout history, appeals to the supposed rationalism of scientific research have justified moral atrocities such as ethnic sterilisation, apartheid, the creation of the slave trade, and state-sanctioned genocide.

If those in positions of power genuinely think that black and Hispanic communities are genetically predisposed to crime and murder, they’re very unlikely to invest in education, housing and community centres for those groups. Cycles of poverty then continue, and the myth, dressed up in pseudo-science, is entrenched. 

Damore and those like him will certainly maintain that the evidence for gender differences are on their side. Since he was fired from Google, Damore has become somewhat of an icon to some parts of society, giving interviews to right-wing Youtubers and posing in a dubious shirt parodying the Google logo (it now says Goolag). Never mind that Damore’s beloved science has already proved them wrong.