How the Fyre Festival ignited debate about influencer accountability

by | Feb 4, 2019 | Analysis, Public Relations

Netflix and Hulu recently released documentary bringing to light the events and people surrounding the disastrous Fyre Festival in 2017. With an inside and detailed look at what transpired before, during and after the event, the documentaries have inspired people to start talking about the ethical questions around influencer marketing—and whether influencers should be held accountable for what they promote.

The exclusive event that was supposed to be “bigger than Coachella” was scheduled to be held on a private island claimed to have been owned by the infamous Pablo Escobar, with Blink 182 as the headliner. The festival was sold as a high luxury event with luxury villas and food prepared by a world class celebrity.

However, the reality was very different

When the attendees landed on the island, they found themselves on an undeveloped patch on land with soaking wet natural disaster tents and no music. The five-star meals promised turned out to be two slices of bread with lettuce and cheese. On top of that, local Bahamians were left unpaid after continuous weeks of hard labor.

According to Netflix’s documentary, Kendall Jenner was paid $250,000 for a post about the event, and many other smaller influencers were paid smaller, yet significant sums of money. The “viral” campaign cost over millions of dollars. The documentaries brought to light the power of influencer marketing—as well as its flaws.

How the Fyre Festival ignited debate about influencer accountability

With almost no transparency or accountability, there is very little people can do to ascertain credibility

After the events transpired, most of the influencers deleted their promotional post and remained silent. Model Bella Hadid was the only one to come out and apologize for her involvement. Several of the influencers involved in the promotion have been sued.

“Using influencers to promote an event that was ultimately to launch an influencer-booking app makes a lot of sense. There isn’t anything new in that approach, the orange square was everywhere, and the festival sold out. It’s really the only bit that did work, which is part of the problem. Should influencers or creators who make money from partnering with brands be aware of the regulations and be honest with audiences? Absolutely.” said Katie Hunter, social media and influencer lead at Karmarama.

How the Fyre Festival ignited debate about influencer accountability

“Ideally, they should be well versed in what it is they’re promoting or partnering with. In this case, there was very little transparency around what they were actually being asked to promote, however if they were a little clearer about the endorsement it may have avoided implications once it all went tits up. In this case it was more likely bad judgement and naivety rather than a deliberate attempt to trick audiences, but that isn’t to say there isn’t a responsibility to make sure that research is being done up front.”

There are two sides of the coin

First of all, there’s the question of whether the influencers were led to believe what they were promoting was real. The other side pertains to having more transparency and accountability when it comes to the use of influencers. Whether or not this fiasco is going to change the rules of influencer marketing is yet to be seen.

Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian founded 5WPR, a leading PR agency..