Influencers are often thought of as living a carefree life filled with luxury products, comped vacations to exotic locales, star-studded events, and plenty of #sponsored posts. Sometimes, influencers take it a step too far, getting them in hot water with public opinion – or worse, on the wrong side of the law.
Table of Contents
- 1. The Fyre Festival
- 2. Kris Wu Sexual Assault Allegations
- 3. James Charles Grooming Allegations
- 4. Danielle Bernstein Is Accused of Copying Smaller Brands
- 5. Chrissy Teigen’s Cyberbullying
- 6. TanaCon: YouTube’s Fyre Festival
- 7. The College Admissions Scandal
- 8. Lavish International Wedding as a Marketing Scheme
- 9. David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad Sexual Assault Allegations
- Avoiding Influencer Scandals
These are 9 biggest influencer scandals of all time.
1. The Fyre Festival
No scandal list would be complete without the Fyre Festival, an infamous scandal that will likely be remembered for the rest of time.
Starting in 2016, entrepreneur Billy McFarland marketed his event, “Fyre Festival,” which was branded as a luxury music festival and the must-attend event of the decade. He paid plenty of top-level influencers to promote the event, including Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid.
The festival had one catastrophe after the next, including overbooking and scarce food, only to have the attendees arrive to a wasteland filled with disaster tents – not the lavish festival they were promised.
McFarland was embroiled in lengthy legal disputes and prison time, the famous celebrity influencers were subpoenaed for their involvement, and the whole experience was immortalized in a timely Netflix documentary.
2. Kris Wu Sexual Assault Allegations
Kris Wu, a Chinese Canadian singer, actor, and influencer, was dropped by multiple brands when claims of sexual misconduct and predatory behavior surfaced.
Wu was accused of infidelity and preying on underaged girls, including screenshots of alleged conversations between Wu and a 19-year-old girl, Du Meizhu. She claimed that Wu kept a special WeChat account to contact underage girls while posing as a recruiter or cast manager for music videos, eventually luring them into playing drinking games.
Wu’s team attempted to pay off Du – verified by videos of bank transfers. Several other girls also came forward, and Wu was formally arrested in August of 2021.
Prior to the scandal, Wu was the face of prominent luxury brands like Bulgari, Porsche, and Louis Vuitton – all of which dropped him after the news broke.
3. James Charles Grooming Allegations
In 2021, internet personality and makeup artist James Charles faced serious allegations of grooming boys online. A 16-year-old boy came out with accusations that Charles groomed and pressured him into exchanging explicit photos on Snapchat. Charles refuted the accusation, claiming that the boy was actually 18.
After that, multiple men came forward, one who was a minor at the time of the incident. He shared screenshots of his conversations with Charles, asserting that he knew he was underage while he flirted with him.
Amid these accusations, Charles was quiet on his social media and lost his job on “Instant Influencer,” a reality television show.
Shortly after, Charles faced another accusation from a 15-year-old. He shared a TikTok clip of screenshots of their conversations and photos, saying that Charles knew how old he was from the start.
Charles later came out with an unscripted statement taking responsibility for his behavior and saying that there was “no excuse for it.” Following that video, he lost some of his collaborations, including his collaboration with Morphe cosmetics and his role as a YouTube partner.
4. Danielle Bernstein Is Accused of Copying Smaller Brands
Danielle Bernstein, known online as We Wore What, was embroiled in controversy in 2021 when she was accused of copying a dress from We Are Kin, a sustainable, Black-owned shop in London.
The accusation came from Ngoni Chikwenengere, We Are Kin’s founder, who called her brand “the latest victim of @weworewhat and Danielle Bernstein’s crusade against small designers.” She explained that Bernstein had reached out in summer of 2020 to ask for one of her Silk Strappy Maxi dresses, which she sent.
Bernstein then shared a post of the dress, which caught Chikwenengere’s attention for its similarities to her own. This is compounded by Bernstein’s reputation for stealing ideas or “heavily borrowing inspiration” from smaller independent or POC-owned brands.
But according to Bernstein, this style is popular and from her own brand. In a statement, she said “I’m sick and tired of being accused of stealing designs or content that I ABSOLUTELY DID NOT. I am sick of screenshots of conversations without context or dates and part of something that looks similar. There will always be something that someone can say looks similar. These ridiculous claims for 15 minutes of fame are unfounded and unfair.”
5. Chrissy Teigen’s Cyberbullying
Chrissy Teigen is famous in her own right, but she gained a lot of attention for her outspoken social media posts – sometimes bordering on brash. As a result, she was accused of cyberbullying by multiple people in May 2021.
Courtney Stodden, who’s famous for marrying then 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchison as a 16-year-old in 2011, reported to The Daily Beast that Teigen directly messaged her and her husband with disparaging remarks. She even allegedly went as far as to tell Stodden to kill themself.
After the public accusation, Teigen chose to publicly apologize to Stodden, though a lot of the public questions how sincere that apology was.
6. TanaCon: YouTube’s Fyre Festival
In 2018, YouTube Star Tana Mongeau announced an alternative to YouTube’s popular VidCon event, which she named TanaCon. She promised her 3+ million subscribers an exclusive meeting, leading many fans to travel to Anaheim, CA, to attend.
Like the Fyre Festival, the event was overbooked, fell into disarray, and left fans with no shelter, despite the $2,000 ticket prices. The fans were mostly teens and left standing out in the sun, leading to severe sunburn.
Mongeau took a month to begin issuing refunds and a year to issue an apology, which read, “There were so many emotions, so many people involved, so many intentions, and so many things that it really is like a big thing to unfold and I think that’s why it took me like a year to unfold it all and pick it apart.”
7. The College Admissions Scandal
The college admissions scandal, which has been referred to as “Operation Varsity Blues,” made headlines when Lori Loughlin, the Full House actress, was accused of making payments to secure her daughters prestigious places at the University of Southern California.
One of her daughters is 19-year-old YouTube star Olivia Jade Giannulli, who got wrapped up in the scandal and legal battle. Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are currently facing up to 40 years in prison. Olivia Jade lost high-profile sponsorship deals, including one with Amazon.
8. Lavish International Wedding as a Marketing Scheme
In June 2019, banker Gabriel Grossman surprised his girlfriend, Marissa Carey, with a three-day international proposal and French wedding that would be broadcast on Instagram.
While this is a fitting affair for an influencer, the viewers quickly realized that the wedding appeared to be a big marketing scheme. The Atlantic shared a “pitch deck” that was used by the couple to attract sponsors for their wedding, and plenty of the posts were tagged with #spon.
A spokesperson for Carey maintains that she had no prior knowledge of the wedding.
9. David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad Sexual Assault Allegations
David Dobrik is a popular YouTuber with a boy-next-door charm and a famous “Vlog Squad” entourage. He’s been accused of sexual misconduct and a toxic work environment, which began with Seth Francois, a former member of the Vlog Squad who accused Dobrik of sexual assault. According to Francois, he was tricked into kissing Jason Nash, a 48-year-old man who belongs to the group in 2017.
After his public interview on the topic, Trisha Paytas, a controversial internet personality and ex Vlog Squad member, revealed her own experiences with Dobrik. She recounted a time when Dobrik hid while she and Nash were having sex and filmed her nude without her consent. She claimed that Nash was aware of the prank but she was not, and that Dobrik posted the video. It’s since been deleted, but it had over 14 million views.
Paytas also blamed Dobrik for ending her relationship with Nash once she was no longer needed for the Vlog Squad.
Business Insider published an article that revealed a woman who appeared on Dobrik’s group sex vlog in 2018 was actually raped. She claimed to be intoxicated and unable to give consent, which is when the Vlog Squad member Dom Zeglaitis raped her on film.
All of these accusations prompted Dobrik to upload a short YouTube video – on his smaller channel – in which he apologized and discussed consent. He also claimed to have distanced from some of his friends following these events and said he “learned from his mistakes.” Some of the allegations were not addressed, including the ones from Paytas. Dobrik lost several partnership deals, including ones from Dollar Shave Club, EA Sports, SeatGeek, HelloFresh, DoorDash, HBO Max, Facebook, and Audible.
Avoiding Influencer Scandals
Influencer marketing can be a boon for a brand, but it’s crucial that brands choose to work with the right influencers – ones who align with the brand’s mission, values, and ethics. As these scandals illustrate, influencer actions can reflect on a brand – and vice versa – leading to reputational damage for all involved.