• Alicia Leo

Ethics Thrown Into The Fyre

Updated: May 27

As someone who has studied storytelling and created content across different mediums, I can say with confidence that I gravitate toward narratives that are based in fiction but resemble real-life problems. But now I'm studying interactive media, and I have seen that when it comes to content marketing there is a line that must be drawn between storytelling and reality. In the digital age where people can create and manipulate just about anything on a screen, it is harder than ever to distinguish what is real. We're counting on authentic content.


I saw a documentary last year that made me think about this a lot. It's called Fyre Fraud.


In my humble opinion...


This line of ethics should be drawn when the message or story being supported by the content is manipulated to overdramatize or give false impressions in a serious way. I say "serious" because there is a difference between satire and telling an un-truthful story.


We willingly support satire, because it's all in good fun.



For example, we've all seen it while watching the show Late Night with Seth Meyers. The popular and highly coveted segment called A Closer Look takes a deep dive into the political news with both a satirical and informative standpoint.


This section of the show is highly informative but also is far left-leaning. That standpoint is what makes the jokes sell. People love to hate on our President, so having a video of him aimlessly walking around, or a cut-down bit of a statement he said placed into a different context is going to make the joke sell. It's not hurting anyone, and it's clearly not serious news. That's why I think satire is above the line of ethics.


On a Deeper Level...


There is the overwhelming idea that in the 21st century, we have technologies that can create content that is purely falsified but looks believable enough to trick the public. It's not satire, and it's not in good fun. I remember watching a PSA last year from Jordan Peele about not believing everything you see by creating a video of former President Barack Obama that looked entirely real but clearly sent that very message.



This technology could be used for harmless things like wishing someone a happy birthday, but also in harmful ways like making a political statement that does not align with that person's true beliefs. Something like this could cause great damage if the wrong person comes across it.


And in the age of social media, it's hard to come back from something as believable as that.


"Plug the fruits of this powerful technology into the speed and reach of social media, and before any professional source can debunk the broadcast, it’s spread too far to convince viewers of its inauthenticity."
-Henry Farid, Quartz

But social media is not only used for journalism and politics - It's also used for intense content marketing. If something goes viral, you can't come back from it.


So when it comes to content strategy and marketing, I feel similarly. 


There are more commercial considerations in content marketing and strategy that journalism does not have as much of. Both are all about credibility and authenticity, but with the commercial aspect of content marketing, you're essentially selling a product or idea directly to users.

From a company's standpoint when creating their content strategy, it's important to look at who the target audience is. From there, the company can make honest decisions as to who they want to approach to be involved with creating and posting content about your brand. If it doesn't seem authentic, it's not going to sell. An article from Izea stated:


One great thing about creating ethical content for marketing is that it also makes for more engaging content. And engaging, ethical content helps grow your sales and your brand.

People can tell if a post is an advertisement, so it's better for the people posting to just say it up front so their audience does not think they're trying to trick anyone.


Disclosure


People want transparency when it comes to products. So much so, that there are regulations put in place stating that the word sponsor or ad needs to be utilized in influencer posts who are being paid for their branded content. It's not enough that the content someone posts of a product says that they like it - we want to know if they're being paid to support it. Having that transparency is key to gaining the audience's trust and makes them want to engage.

The Advertising Standards Authority has a hard time tracking down everyone promoting products that don't mark them as an ad. According to The Guardian, it is hard for them to really keep a close eye because of the high volume in posting and the fact that Americans tend to pretend to be sponsored until they actually gain enough traction to be.


Ethics


Practice what you preach. People are not going to want to represent a brand that does not hold itself up to the same standards that they are promoting or asking for in clients. In the same way, a company should not have a person represent them if they do not adhere to those same standards. It builds trust and makes the deal go smoothly.


Fyre Fest


As I said earlier - I feel the line should be drawn when the message being supported by the content is manipulated to overdramatize or give false impressions in a serious way. And after all, content marketing is about building a trusting personal connection with a brand. In the case of Fyre Fest, this did not go over well. It ended in a huge content marketing disaster and Billy McFarland was the "mastermind" behind it.



Billy McFarland had a business idea for a luxury music festival in the Bahamas. Instead of utilizing his money properly and allocating it to the festival, he decided to pour his money into content to promote the event so that ticket sales would go through the roof and he could use that money to create the festival. But he dug himself a deep hole. An article from the Guardian touches upon how dangerous this content marketing and use of influencers were in this situation.


Major celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid promoted the festival on their social media accounts with content that they were paid to shoot and share. They didn't know it was going to end up how it did. And some of them even got in legal trouble for not labeling that their posts were an #ad. They should have had the initiative to make sure that the Fyre Fest brand they were supporting was legitimate.


These influencers' audiences lost trust in them because of this ethical mishap and that ruins their reputation for supporting a FRAUD.


Although Fyre Fest's outcome made for a good documentary, the content marketing for the festival was highly misleading and not only resulted in many people's money being lost, but also in injuries and sickness. In this case, content marketing hurt people. It gave extreme false impressions based on the dream of what Fyre Fest could have been.


It just shows the power that content has over audiences and shows the strength in the messages that we receive on the internet. There were serious implications from this content marketing disaster, and it's something that we can all learn from.


So in the end, we just have to be strategic in what messages we are sending. We need to be able to control an ethical narrative and know what we are promoting. 


When storytelling meets reality in content marketing, we have to be careful and make sure that the information we are sharing is ethical, factual, and something that we truly believe in. Reputations are at stake on both ends, and in order for a brand or a story to be successful, you need the authenticity that is going to bring in audiences and make them want to engage. You control your story. Make it a good one.

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