I’ve been away from here for a while due to job hunting (stressful) and trying to get out and see New York. But, there has been a story in the news over the last week and a half that has sparked a lot of debate, and it’s something I’ve been following, so I thought I’d write about it for today’s post. I’m talking of course about the #bloggergate scandal involving the White Moose Café and the Vlogger Elle Darby. It’s sparked quite a bit of backlash toward both sides online, but if you haven’t heard about it, here’s a little summary.
Basically, Elle Darby, a 22-year-old UK based beauty and lifestyle Vlogger, contacted Paul Stenson, the owner of Charleville Lodge/White Moose Café in Dublin offering to feature the hotel on her social media platforms in exchange for a free 5-night stay over the Valentine’s Day period. Stenson, incensed at being asked to provide free accommodation, shared the email (with Darby’s name and details blacked out) and his response on his own social media accounts, which launched a war online from supporters of both sides. Many have sided with Stenson’s view that bloggers and “influencers” are only after freebies, don’t actually contribute anything worthwhile to society, and should just get real jobs. While supporters of Elle Darby have argued that there was nothing wrong with the email she sent, that people above the age of 30 are out of touch when it comes to how social media and digital marketing works, and that she is the victim of cyber bullying led by Stenson.
Many have picked their side in the scandal, launching numerous hashtags, Twitter threads and arguments online in the process. But personally, I don’t think it’s as easy as picking one side over the other in this instance, as both sides are at fault in some way. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter and on the blogging industry in general:
Firstly, I don’t subscribe to the idea that all bloggers are freeloaders and fakes, but it can’t be denied either that a lot of them are fake. They are projecting a false image of themselves, lying about their following and falsely profiting off the businesses they work with. I’m writing this on a blog obviously, but I know I don’t have a huge following, nor am I actually making any money off my blog. I started it for a bit of craic (meaning for fun, not drugs, for anybody who isn’t Irish that may be reading this and thinking WTF?), for a chance to improve my writing, to share my view on topics and some stuff that I’m up to and to use it as a talking point when interviewing for jobs, as it can show prospective employers that you are passionate about something and committed.
I know that many of the big bloggers out there put in a lot of time and effort to building their brand and cultivating relationships with businesses so as to collaborate and make a profit. They do it honestly, and more power to them. But as some have pointed out, like the bullshitcallerouter page on Instagram that gained huge popularity over the last number of weeks, many are not putting in the hours and effort. They are heavily editing pictures of themselves to project a false image, which is not only damaging to the brands that think about working with them, but also the people that follow them, who believe that it’s possible to look that way naturally when it isn’t. They are also using their supposedly huge following as a reason why brands should consider working with them, when in actual fact they don’t actually have those numbers. Many are buying thousands of fake followers for their social platforms on sites like InstaBoostgram and Buzzoid to make it appear like they are an in-demand influencer (a term I detest btw), when the opposite is true. So, I can see why lots of businesses might be wary to work with bloggers for these reasons. It’s one thing to pay out lots of money to a blogger with a genuine following that can lead customers in your direction, but many are likely put off nowadays for the reasons listed above.
One aspect of this whole story that has really irritated me is the way that some people are acting like Elle Darby is a child (herself included) that is being attacked by a “grown man”. It seems to have escaped some people’s notice that being 22 also means you are an adult. You can’t claim to be a business woman one minute and then throw the toys out of the pram when things don’t go your way. Had Darby been a teen or younger, I would agree then that it’s wrong for a grown adult to be getting into a dispute with a child. But this was a situation between two grown adults. Whatever your opinion how Stenson should have handled the situation is, you need to stop acting like this grown woman is a little girl. I by no means condone some of the nasty things that have been said to Elle Darby, she doesn’t deserve nasty abuse, and the people leaving comments like this are idiots. But leaving a comment that simply doesn’t agree with what she did is not attacking anyone. It’s stating an opinion, and in the line of work Darby is in, you need to be able to take the good comments with the bad.
It also drives me crazy when certain individuals strive to turn every single issue around to women being undermined by men. I’ve seen so many comments online of people saying that Stenson wouldn’t have acted the same way had it been a man who emailed him, and that Stenson and his supporters have a problem with women. This is complete and utter nonsense. Even the tiniest piece of research into Stenson and his café/hotel would show you that that is not the case. He gets into disputes with whoever annoys him, regardless of gender. This constant turning of everything into a feminist issue is in fact damaging to the true intention of the feminist movement: to inspire equal treatment for all. Just as this incident wasn’t a case of a grown man attacking a child, neither was it a case of a man seeking to undermine a woman. It was a dispute between two grown adults, regardless of their gender. Some people need to stop seeking to always paint woman as victims because it solves nothing. Especially in a time where the #metoo and #timesup movements are about empowering women, rather than victimising them.
As for the email that Elle Darby sent, I think she came across polite and complimentary, if not particularly professional. I don’t care what some people working in the industry are saying, approaching a business in a first email and asking for free stuff isn’t a good idea. If she had simply emailed and asked whether they would be interested in collaborating and if they could brainstorm a few ideas, I am certain that there would have been a different outcome. Doing it that way would have been a great way to introduce yourself and start building a working relationship. Also, I think if you are going to suggest that you have worked with a huge tourist attraction like Universal Orlando and state that it has been “amazing” for them, you should be offering some statistics or feedback from Universal Orlando as proof. Anyone can say they have worked with a place and that is was amazing, but without stats, figures and facts, it means nothing. Also, going back to my earlier point, there is absolutely no guarantee for the business when someone contacts them and says they have a large following, that that following is real. For example, a prominent Irish blogger who supposedly had 17,000 followers on Twitter was exposed a couple of weeks back. It was found that they in fact only had 10,000 (still good) but a whopping 7,000 were fake accounts that they had purchased. Far be it from me to suggest that Elle Darby’s following isn’t genuine, but without any sort of verification of your followings authenticity, of course businesses are going to be wary.
In fairness to Paul Stenson, I don’t think he intentionally set out to expose her, as he did make the effort to black out her name and contact details. I believe he was looking to highlight something that irritated him and I’m sure a lot of business owners would feel the same. He didn’t expose her initially. Someone else figured out that if you increase your phones brightness and zoom in on the message that you could see Darby’s Instagram handle. An error on his part of course, but not maliciously done. I also don’t think Elle exposed herself, like people have suggested after she released a video on her Youtube channel. Her name was out already at that point. But, I’m sure making the video didn’t help either, as it only made the whole thing blow up more. I do think that Stenson has perhaps taken the whole thing a little too far now though, what with posting a video of a fake press conference about it all and launching T-shirts in connection with the row. But, it’s how he markets himself and his business, and it’s clearly working as he is quite successful. I do wonder though if Darby is entitled to a cut of the proceeds from those t-shirts seeing as she contributed to the incident they are about?
Going back to the video she made for a second, I don’t take great issue with it. She is entitled to tell her side of the story if she wants to. I don’t agree with her assumption however that anyone over the age of thirty doesn’t have a clue how social media works these days, because it’s simply not true. I’m 26 and there are people 10 or 20 years older than me that have a greater knowledge on the subject than me, and probably lots older than that as well. In the same way that you can’t brand all bloggers as wasters and freeloaders, you can’t say that millions of people of a certain age aren’t clued into something because they don’t agree with you or your methods.
Final point, all those bloggers that were supporting Elle, there is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s their opinion and they’re entitled to it. But this gang mentality that was displayed amongst some of the blogging community, including calling themselves a force to be reckoned with, declaring if you disapprove of one, you disapprove of all, and leaving 1 star reviews on the White Moose Cafe Facebook page despite never having been there, was frankly, embarrassing. Much in the same way that the people who were leaving overly nasty, depraved comments to Elle Darby need a reality check, so do these people. As the saying goes: be the Shepard, not the sheep.
Phew! Didn’t think when I started this I’d have so much to say, but it is a story that has been on my mind the last few days for a number of reasons. I think ultimately it’s been a learning experience on both sides, and let’s be honest, there is no such thing as bad publicity these days, and both parties have definitely benefited from the situation, if not emerging from it particularly unscathed.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment