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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.

 

Heaven

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.

Flickr: woodleywonderworks
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Lol enforcement: meet the man policing online joke theft

A story of revenge, retweets, and Kale Salad. 

A man walks into a bar and he tells a joke. The man next to him laughs – and then he tells the same joke. The man next to him, in turn, repeats the joke. That bar’s name is Twitter.

If you’ve been on the social network for more than five minutes, you’ll notice that joke theft is rampant on the site. Search, for example, for a popular tweet this week (“did everyone just forget about the part of 2016 when literal clowns would chase people with knives in public and nobody really did anything” – 153,000 retweets) and you’ll see it has been copied 53 times in the last three days.

One instance of plagiarism, however, is unlike the others. Its perpetrator is the meme account @dory and its quick Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V has over 3,500 retweets. This account frequently copies the viral posts of Twitter users and passes them off – word for word – as its own. Many similar accounts do the same, including @CWGirl and @FatJew, and many make money by promoting advertising messages to their large number of followers. Twitter joke theft, then, is profitable.

In 2015, Twitter promised to clamp down on the unchecked plagiarism on its site. “This Tweet from [user] has been withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder,” read a message meant to replace stolen jokes on the site. It’s likely a message you’ve never seen.

Dissatisfied with this solution, one man took it upon himself to fight the thieves. 

“I'm a like happy internet kind of guy,” says Samir Mezrahi, a 34-year-old from New York who runs the Twitter account @KaleSalad. For the last six months, Mezrahi has used the account to source and retweet the original writers of Twitter jokes. Starting with a few hundred followers at the end of December 2016, Mezrahi had jumped to 50,000 followers by January 2017. Over 82,000 people now follow his account.  

“I've always been a big fan of like viral tweets and great tweets,” explains Mezrahi, over the sound of his children watching cartoons in the background. “A lot of people were fed up with the meme accounts so it’s just like a good opportunity to reward creators and people.”

Samir Mezrahi, owner of @KaleSalad

I had expected Mezrahi to be a teen. In actual fact he is a father of three and an ex-Buzzfeed employee, who speaks in a calm monotone, yet is enthusiastic about sharing the best content on Twitter. Though at first sourcing original tweets for Kale Salad was hard work, people now approach Mezrahi for help.

“People still reach out to me looking for vindication and just that kind of, I don’t know, that kind of acknowledgement that they were the originals. Because all so often the meme accounts are much larger and their tweets do better than the stolen tweet.”

But just why does having a tweet stolen suck so much? In the grand scheme of things, does it matter? Did everyone just forget about the part of 2016 when literal clowns would chase people with knives in public and nobody really did anything?

Meryl O’Rourke is a comedian and writer who tweets at @MerylORourke, and now has a copyright symbol (©) after her Twitter name. In the past she has had her jokes stolen and reposted, unattributed, on Facebook and Twitter and hopes this symbol will go some way to protecting her work.

“It’s hard to explain how it felt... as a struggling writer you’re always waiting for anything that looks like recognition as it could lead to your break,” she explains. “When your work gains momentum you feel like your opportunity ran off without you.

“Twitter is a test of a writer’s skill. To spend time choosing exactly the right words to convey your meaning with no nuance or explanation, and ensure popularity and a chuckle, in the space of only 140 characters – that’s hard work.”

However, Mezrahi has found not everyone is bothered by their tweets being stolen. I found the same man I reached out to with a stolen tweet who said he didn’t want to speak to me because it felt too “first world problems” to complain. Writers like O’Rourke are naturally more annoyed than random teenagers, who Mezrahi says are normally actually pleased about the theft.

“If you go to [a teenager’s] timeline it’s always the same thing. They’re replying to all their friends saying like ‘I’m famous’, they’re retweeting the meme accounts saying like ‘I did it’… they don’t mind as much it seems. It’s kind of like a badge of honour to them.”

Sometimes, people even ask Kale Salad to unretweet their posts. College students with scholarships, in particular, might not actually want to go viral – or some viral tweets may accidentally include personal information. On the whole, however, people are grateful for his work.

Yet the Kale Salad account does have unintended consequences. Mezrahi has now been blocked by the major meme accounts that frequently steal jokes, meaning he had to create alternate accounts to view their content. But just because he can’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t see him – and he has noticed that these accounts now actually come to his profile to steal jokes he has retweeted, in a strange role-reversal.

“There are definitely times when they're picking up things that I just retweeted, like I know they're like looking at me too,” he says. “It feels like vindicated or validated that they come to me.”

Mezrahi now works in social media on a freelance basis, but would be open to making Kale Salad profitable. Earlier this year he set up an account on Patreon – a site that allows fans to pay their favourite creators. Some people didn’t approve of this, tweeting to say he is “just retweeting tweets”. So far, Mezrahi has three patrons who pay him $50 (£39) a month.

“I mean I spend a certain amount of time on this and I think it’s a pretty good service, so I've been thinking about monetisation and thought that might be a route,” he explains. He believes he is providing an important service by “amplifying” creators, and he didn’t want to make money in less transparent ways, such as by posting sponsored advertisements on his account. Yet although many online love Kale Salad, they don’t, as of yet, want to pay him.

“Twitter should buy my account because I’m doing a good thing that people like every day,” he muses.

Many might still be sceptical of the value of a joke vigilante. For those whose jokes aren’t their bread or butter, tweet theft may seem like a very minimal problem. And although it arguably is, it’s still incredibly annoying. Writing in Playboy, Rob Fee explains it best:

“How upsetting is it when you tell a joke quietly in a group of friends, then someone else says it louder and gets a huge laugh? Now imagine your friend following you every day listening for more jokes because people started throwing money at him every time he repeated what you said. Also, that friend quit his job because he made enough to live comfortably by telling your jokes louder than you can. Odds are, you’d quickly decide to find new friends.”

For now, then, Kale Salad will continue his work as the unpaid internet police. “As long as people like the service, I don’t mind doing it. If that's a year or two years or what we'll see how the account goes,” he says.

“Twitter is fun and I like the fun days on the internet and I like to help contribute to that.

“The internet is for fun and not all the sadness that’s often there.”

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

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