Op-ed: Do influencers get a free pass?


Illustration by Madison Boudreau Popovic

Influencers face being canceled after many scandals.

Alyssa Endres, contributor

The revolving door of social media influencers has been turning for a number of years now. The notoriety and wealth that influencers receive from their followings also bring big egos and privilege. However, no matter how popular they are, influencers should still be held accountable for their actions and face some sort of repercussion when they engage in inappropriate behavior. 

David Dobrik is one of the many internet celebrities who recently came under fire for his past behavior. He was accused of creating a plan to sexually assault his friend, Seth Francois, at the time for video content. Francois also said that Dobrik and his friends often took him to the police station and frequently labeled him as “their only Black friend.” As a result of these allegations, Dobrik was dropped from 13 brand deals including Honey, EA Sports and more. 

David Dobrik recently posted an apology video to YouTube, addressing all of the allegations against him and his friends. Although Dobrik shed tears in the video, it is difficult to determine whether Dobrik’s apology was truly genuine or just for damage control to save his remaining brand deals with major companies.

Beauty YouTuber James Charles was also recently exposed for engaging in inappropriate behavior with minors, after accusations of being a “child groomer.” Charles has allegedly been messaging underage boys on social media platforms, specifically Snapchat, asking them to send him nude pictures. Charles is 21 years old, while many of the boys he has been inappropriately messaging are around 16 years old. 

Charles addressed the allegations in a YouTube video called, “holding myself accountable.” In the video, Charles apologized for messaging the underage boys, stating that “it sucks, and it’s ridiculously embarrassing to admit this, but I’m desperate.” Although he vowed to stop this behavior, there is no way his audience can currently confirm whether or not this is accurate.  

Popular brands that Charles is partnered with, including the makeup brand Morphe, have recently decided to part ways with him after these allegations have been brought to light. Many were outraged, however, that Morphe did not end their partnership earlier after finding out about these accusations. 

And, I concur: Charles being held accountable starts with him losing certain privileges like brand deals. Morphe dropping their brand deal, as well as YouTube demonetizing Charles’s channel is a step in the right direction. 

Despite numerous scandals, some influencers, including Olivia Jade, have attempted to continue their careers on social media. Her resurgence back on the platform shows that influencers can pretend like nothing happened in pursuit of continuing their careers on the internet. Allegations against Charles and Dobrik have been swirling online for a while, but both only addressed it after intense pressure from the internet, as well as the threat of their brand deals being dropped. Is it acceptable to ignore their scandals, or is it important to keep these people accountable as public figures? 

Influencers should use their platform to do exactly what their job title says: influence people in a positive way. By this logic, influencers should be held accountable for their actions and inappropriate behavior. Dobrik bribing people to be in his videos, as well as knowingly pushing against their personal boundaries, constitutes inappropriate behavior. Dobrik’s brand deals were dropped when this scandal broke, and I agree that this was an appropriate punishment for such inappropriate behavior. 

Nevertheless, there should be nuance with punishing influencers. Some influencers do not deserve to be canceled forever, especially those that show an earnest desire to be better. “Canceling” someone forever deprives them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Instead, facing certain repercussions, like the loss of brand deals and subscribers, for inappropriate behavior allows influencers to reflect and grow. Losing subscribers would result in them being less monetized, as well as losing chunks of their platform and audience. Losing parts of their audience results in some loss of power as well. Through this, they will ideally act as a better example for their large followings in an attempt to gain back fans and show that it is possible for people to change in a positive way. If they are canceled forever and not given a second chance, there is no incentive for them to learn from their mistakes.

It is not right for influencers to profit off of their audience and viewers and then not take accountability when they do something that is wrong. Since influencers have become major celebrities in this day and age, it is important that they be aware of the impact they have on the people watching them. They do not have to bear the burden of being perfect role models, but they should do better by not engaging in inappropriate and harmful behaviors. If anything, this seems like the bare minimum, not just for influencers, but for everyone. 

Alyssa Endres is a second-year political science and communications double major. She can be reached at [email protected]