The Toxic Misdirection of Online Influencers (Or: How Did We Get Here Part II)

Written By: Anton Sawyer

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For those of you who are used to commentary about the upper echelons of our society and how their powers are used to impact all class-levels, you're still going to get the same type of piece ... but from a completely different focus.


From "Dramageddon" to those who promote body positivity under potentially auspicious guises. From YouTube influencer scandals to the "Demise of Dawson."


Today, we are going to look at a major aspect of the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans—the internet and toxicity. But more important, how this toxicity has been weaponized en-masse in the western world.

Considering I have placed such an emphasis on public education and how that can contribute to adults living in a fact-free world, that's only seven to eight hours of the day for the average student (or more if you are in the workforce), but that leaves heaps of time during the rest of the hours of the day. But let's be honest, these numbers are a little off since everyone checks their Twitter feed at least once or twice a day on their cell phone at work.


First off, the psychological community has been studying social media and its impact on society as a whole since the turn of the 21st Century. A 2017 report released at Psychology Today had issued a grim report on how online influence had made us better as a society in some ways, but much worse in others.


"People may feel free to indulge in malice or mischief without fear of direct disapproval or consequence; they may be more ready to engage in bullying or deceit or other toxic behaviors," author Jean Kim M.D. wrote. Continuing, "aggravating matters is the clickbait media economy, where provocative stories in all major media outlets induce 'clicks' which drive revenue. Even worse are sites that serve up 'fake news' where misleading or even frankly erroneous stories are circulated as is. Overall, the information online becomes gasoline to the flames of human anger and anxiety." This last statement is going to be key in understanding how the large-scale manipulation used by those that not only our youth—but those who have been utterly sucked in by popular-internet culture—has had just as much of a disastrous impact on what people perceive as fact/reality as the nation's leaders.


There are two examples I've got up my sleeve for today: Dramageddon, and Tess Holiday and her message of body positivity.


For those of you unfamiliar with Dramageddon ... it's a lot to unpack.


It involves several different YouTube beauty influencers (though the main cast consists of Shane Dawson, Jeffree Star, Tati Westbrook, and James Charles), and involved a lot of accusations, mud-slinging, name-calling, videos, more videos, and then even more apology videos. Keep in mind these were videos that not only had a combined viewing of around 100 million plays, but helped in ending multi-million dollar careers and contracts.


Though everyone experienced negative consequences for all of this to one degree or another, I would have to say that Star and Dawson ended up losing the most overall. From both of them losing their contracts with multi-billion dollar makeup corporation Morphe, to all of Dawson's YouTube videos being demonetized—keep in mind this number is hovering around 4.5 billion views. There were other repercussions, but I think these specific incidents paint a pretty clear picture.


The thing is that if you look at the larger scale, it really didn't change much of anything. Sure Westbrook and Charles lost subs, but many see them as vindicated by the actions of Morphe. Star has been mired in controversy since day one, so he knows how to recover like a true pro. And I am sure that Dawson will be back in a few years and able to rekindle his career because, as he's illustrated with a bunch of his own documentaries, everyone loves a redemption story.


What this entire situation did do was allow people to pick and chose the facts as they saw fit. Did both Star and Dawson say and do some horrible things towards Westbrook and Charles? Oh yes. But neither Westbrook nor Charles were guiltless in the episode either.


The main difference lay in the past.


Star and Dawson had both said and done incredibly racist things in the past. Both have made vastly inappropriate sexual innuendo on public forums, these are both facts. But watching the battle between the cancel culture and apologists was ... mesmerizing.


The Star and Dawson apologists would come out of the woodwork online and harass those trying to bring up their past transgressions (the cancel culture activists—CCA) with statements like "(Person) has learned their lesson, let it go." Or, "it was a different time, haven't you ever made mistakes?"


The CCA would double-down and spread every quote and video they could into every nook and cranny of the internet. When it became too much, something had to give. Star and Dawson were the poster-child for the internet ills and had to be punished.


Though the back-and-forth bickering was bad enough, the fans were a thousand times worse.

Star and Dawson apologists would get harassed by those who wanted them held accountable, and vice-versa. Doxxing, threats of physical violence, video SPAMMING, it got very escalated very quickly. Lives were threatened. In reality, the fallout was much worse than the actual event.


Though they may seem unrelated, there are also a lot of similarities between this skirmish and issues within the body positivity community.


In a 2019 article about the subject of body positivity and its toxicity, there were many quotes about what it should mean. Mallorie Dunn, founder of the body-positive fashion line SmartGlamour said, "To me, body positivity means accepting the body you have as well as the changes in shape, size, and ability it may undergo due to nature, age, or your own personal choices throughout your lifetime." This sentiment was echoed by Kaila Prins, body-positive wellness coach, and burlesque teacher. "I like to think that body positivity's intention is really body acceptance. The idea that you can live comfortably in your body, as it is right now, or work on treating it right through nourishment and joyful movement and self-care without punishing yourself for looking the way you do."


Connie Sobczak, co-founder of The Body Positive had a message I feel cannot be glossed over when she said, "This doesn't mean you should ignore what your doctor or other health practitioners tell you." And this is where some of the controversy surrounding body positivity.


Maui Bigelow had always been curvy and built a social media presence by embracing herself. Over time, the worst happened. At nearly 380 pounds, her health took a dive. She was diagnosed with a blood cancer and multiple uterine fibroids that couldn't be treated due to her weight. That's when she decided to have bariatric surgery, a weight loss procedure.


Having a social media presence, with 67,500 monthly unique visitors to her site and nearly 40,000 followers on Instagram, had gotten a resoundingly positive response. She's down to 240 pounds, but she's struggling to fully accept her future of fewer pounds, both personally and professionally. "I was a bomb ass girl at almost 400 pounds," Bigelow said. "Some of these influencers, talk about being fat and how they love their plus-size bodies and how they're so empowered in the space that they're in, and they have all of these women who support them, who are cheering them on. Then fast forward, they lose the weight and you see the before and after pictures: Oh, this is when I was 350 pounds. I was so depressed. I felt so ugly."


One of the saddest examples of this mentality came when a Tess Holiday super-fan was punished by her idol.


JennyLee Molina in Miami did what's best for her body by losing 80 pounds in a year, trimming down to a size 8 after being told she was pre-diabetic. She did it without surgery, and lost one of her heroes, body-positive model Tess Holiday, in the process, after documenting her health and weight-loss journey on Instagram, where she has 11,900 followers. Because of the choice she made to better the quality of her life, she was unfollowed by her idol, Tess Holiday.


Molina recalled how much she loved Holliday's take-no-prisoners approach to fat acceptance as she gained popularity with a groundbreaking modeling contract and her "effyourbeautystandards" movement on Instagram in 2013. When Holliday unfollowed Molina, confusion set in. She said she sought out Holliday through private messaging after realizing Holliday had unfollowed her. "Your weight loss posts are too triggering for me, I'm sure you understand," Holliday explained in a private reply earlier this year. "It's not personal."


Sadly, this isn't something new. Peggy Howell, vice-chair and spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, thinks the fat acceptance and body positive movements have become muddled, with dieting and weight loss as a constant hot button. "It seems like hypocrisy," she said of fat-acceptance influencers who shed weight and attempt to hang on to lucrative careers. "A lot of people clap back within the community. A lot of people get upset. We support people making choices that will help them be healthier, but dieting is a losing battle."


Body positivity is supposed to be about being comfortable, or God forbid even happy, in your own skin—whether large or small, short or tall, people are people one and all. This, just like Dramageddon, illustrate the same level of misdirection as the big boys in congress.


From skewing facts to outright lies, it was all about numbers and the loudest voices on the internet.


Might is right.


Holliday fans would bombard "deniers" with quote after quote, video after video, showing how impenetrable the soul she had when it came to her struggles with acceptance. Some would make videos of how inspirational she is, while verbally berating the person with whom they disagreed.


Dramageddon took it to a different level, though.


There was definite evidence of racism, but Star had enough people in his flock to not only apologize for his racist past but also ensure that his career will flourish in one way or another regardless. Yet, I'm sure that not a single one of his apologists sees themselves as racist or in any negative way at all because of internal moral justifications. Same with those that did everything they could to succeed in crushing Dawson's career; internal moral justifications.


I just want to make this clear, racism, homophobia, bigotry of any kind is something I've just never been able to understand. I know it is a horrible scourge, and I'm not trying to minimize this at all. However, I also don't have the same level of arrogance to think that my morality is correct and should be forced on others.


If I disagree with an artist or the like, I won't buy their stuff (sorry Marilyn Manson, I used to love you so ...). If enough people agree with me, they won't buy their stuff either, and eventually, economics with either force a change in the product, or the advancement of humanity will deem what they're selling as obsolete. But I can't see how, in a country where everyone talks about how much they love the freedom of speech, actively threatening someone online with physical violence because the North on their moral compass is broken illustrates that Constitutional principle.


Whether MAGA, the Liberals, Star, Holliday ... it doesn't matter. Whether at school or online the levels of deception and misdirection have taken people to places where they defend racism openly, to where they will shame someone that lives across the country into suicide, all because of how many people you can get to agree to your point of view.


I didn't want to end this out on such a sour note. There are actually a few bright spots in this world of online treachery that I think are trying to, not only fight the good fight, but are completely legitimate in my views.


If you want body positivity, go watch Nikkie de Jager (NikkieTutorials). She's one of the most authentic people in this world of beauty and fantasy. It was never about the money for her—which, sadly, is evident by some of the bad business choices she's made. All she's ever wanted to do is use the medium of beauty guru as a kind of therapy for herself and others.


If you want to see the most-fact-driven YouTuber on the planet that can introduce you to this world of drama most effectively is D'Angelo Wallace. Like this publication, he's more concerned about being "correct," than being "right." If he makes a big blunder, he will follow up with an apology within 24 hours because his integrity is truly everything to him.


If you are not familiar with this online world as I have described, I encourage you to go down the rabbit hole—especially if you love politics. You will get the same flavors of deception and drama that permeate the American political system ... except instead of budgetary concerns as the main topic of contention, it will be vitamins.


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