We’re continuing our series on mind viruses and how people and entities seek to manipulate your mind. Last post we looked at all the conflicting narratives surrounding the MAGA kids video, and how they are being propagated through regular and social media. Today let’s explore the seedy world of influencers and social media.
This issue really came to the forefront for me when I watched the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix. (There is a competing doc on Hulu, but I haven’t seen that.) But I’m sure whichever one you watch, you will be shocked, stunned, and saddened.
I knew the surface details. A couple hustlers promoted a festival in the Bahamas, with a line up of bands on Pablo Escobar’s old private island. It was supposed to be a luxury version of Woodstock, with ballers, beautiful people and high rollers. Instead it was cancelled before it even began, with festival goers stranded in makeshift tents, with no proper food, toilets or sanitation. But when I watched the film, there were three or four times I literally screamed out loud. (When they were kicked off the private island and moved the festival without telling customers, the first sight of the disaster relief tents people were given, people unwrapping the security lockers that were supposed to be provided for their valuables, etc.)
It was a partnership between rapper Ja Rule and NYC promoter Billy McFarland. McFarland is currently serving a six-year prison term for fraud, and Ja Rule says he was an unwitting victim as well. (Although the audio of him screaming things in a conference call after the debacle unfolded, doesn’t do him any favors. “No one died!” We didn’t commit fraud! It was just false advertising!”)
I could write a book on this, but better if you watch the film. The real topic I want to explore here is how so many people were so duped, at such a high level. McFarland appears to be a sociopath. (As soon as he got out on bail, he ensconced himself in a luxury penthouse and started a new scam, using the emails of everyone he screwed the first time.) But what he accomplished will go down as one of the most extreme scam jobs of all time, on a scale of Bernie Madoff and Enron.
And the whole thing was executed simply with social media influencers.
The festival reportedly paid Kendall Jenner $250,000 for a single Instagram post about the festival (since deleted). Then they arranged hundreds of other Instagram influencers, mostly models, to orchestrate a social media campaign hyping the festival. According to VICE, none of the influencers were paid less than $20,000 for their post. Many were flown to the island for a video shoot. From there the promoters built a website featuring all the beautiful people frolicking on the island, drawings of the luxury tents and villas, and descriptions of cuisine from celebrity chefs.
None of that existed. It was completely bullshit. Yet thousands of people paid outrageous amounts of money, apparently adding up to $27 million.
All from an Instagram campaign.
People can (and do) create alternate worlds on social media. And millions of people are manipulated by these posts. Here was the most remarkable thing in the whole situation in my view: There were millions of dollars spent on 400 plus power influencers, with a cumulated reach of millions of followers. And the whole festival crumpled like a cheap suit, by one tweet from an attendee who had 400 followers. That one tweet, a photo of the celebrity chef cuisine – which was actually two slabs of Kraft cheese on toast with some wilted lettuce in a Styrofoam tray – went viral and ricocheted around the globe.
Think about the power of influence and the potential for manipulation today. How much are you being programmed with FOMO in your social media feeds?
I’ve seen posts from couples mugging for the cameras on some exotic Hawaiian vacation, and two weeks later they are in an acrimonious divorce. (Same thing with some of those family portrait holiday cards you get.)
I don’t want to throw shade or cause hurt for families, so I won’t mention names. But think about famous people who committed suicide, then check their social media posts in the time leading up to that. Often those posts are a façade of health and happiness. Most social media feeds are about as real as reality TV shows.
We all have our confirmation biases that we view the world through. And we often create a feed of information to support those biases. And today, it’s fairly easy for someone or something to influence that feed to manipulate you like a puppet.
Worth some thought… Love to hear your comments below.
Then before we leave the Fyre Festival in the rearview mirror, on the next post I want to discuss what happened there, but from the perspective of poverty and prosperity consciousness.