Fyre Festival influencers face subpoenas

I can’t say I’m a big fan of festivals. I like my home comforts too much, but even I might have been tempted by the Fyre Festival. As you no doubt know, this was billed as a luxury immersive music festival and it took place in April 2017 in the Bahamas – or rather it didn’t really take place.

There are a couple of documentaries about it out at the moment, including one on Netflix which is subtitled ‘The greatest party that never happened’, and unfortunately the reality turned out to be no live music, disaster relief tents instead of luxury villas and, famously, pre-packed cheese sandwiches instead of gourmet food.

A lot of people lost a lot of money, not just the would-be festival-goers, but local businesses too, and I’m sure the whole experience must have been devastating. Those who bought a ticket – and prices started at the equivalent of £1200 – have my sympathy, because the advance publicity made the event look absolutely fabulous and, as I say, I might even have been tempted (well, if I was someone else, anyway).

Last October the US authorities sentenced festival organiser Billy McFarland to six years in prison for fraud and, although there is no money left and his company, Fyre Media, is bankrupt, he was also ordered to repay $26 million. There are currently several other lawsuits in the pipeline, but there was an interesting legal development recently and (in case you wondered) that’s why I’m talking about this now.

Fyre was originally promoted on social media by a number of high-profile influencers, including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Elsa Hosk and Emily Ratajkowski, and it’s been widely reported that 25 models, or the agencies representing them, have been issued with subpoenas asking for information about Fyre’s financial affairs. Ostensibly, this is because the records are rather sketchy and investigators want to understand exactly where the cash went.

Apparently, only Hadid publicised the festival using #ad (the rules in the US are similar to those in the UK, although the regulator, the Federal Trade Commission, can impose tougher penalties than the ASA). However, Women’s Wear Daily reports that of those subpoenaed no one was paid less than $90,000 to promote Fyre and according to the Guardian Jenner may have been paid $250,000 for just the one Instagram post announcing that ticket sales were open and supplying a discount code for her followers.

The Guardian suggests that the women may be made to return their fees and I suppose it’s possible that they could be fined for not disclosing they were being paid to promote Fyre, but the point I want to make is that being an influencer is a serious business. If you’re being paid, and indeed even if you’re not, you have a responsibility towards your followers. It’s not enough to take a trip to a tropical island and lounge around in swimwear posing for pictures which you then post and therefore, implicitly or explicitly, endorse.

I’m not suggesting these influencers knew the Fyre Festival would fail to catch light. I’m sure they didn’t realise it was all going to go up in smoke and they would get their fingers burned, but it’s a cautionary tale for influencers and those of us who work with influencers: disclosure protects the public because it signals there are vested interests at stake and doing the due diligence protects everyone.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist. 

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