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Ja Rule’s music festival disaster is a good reminder not to trust Instagram sponcon

Ja Rule’s music festival disaster is a good reminder not to trust Instagram sponcon


If it looks too good to be true...

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If you’ve been on Twitter the past couple of hours, you may have heard of something called Fyre Fest, and you may have heard that it’s already a disaster, even though it technically wasn’t supposed to start until today. The music festival, which was billed as a luxury experience in the Bahamas, has been “fully postponed,” which is fancy festival speak for “canceled.” The ticket holders who made it to the fest are currently stranded on the island of Exuma, living in what some have called a “tent city.” Others never even left Miami. The festival’s website is currently just a placeholder for an apology letter.

Fyre Fest was the brainchild of Fyre Media, a startup owned by Ja Rule and Billy MacFarland. Tickets reportedly cost between $450 and $12,000 dollars, and the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism was coordinating with the festival to provide catering, Jet Skis, and transportation via yacht. Now guests are apparently signing pieces of computer paper hoping to get refunds.

Here, sign this blank piece of paper

It’s not clear exactly how many people bought tickets Fyre Fest. The festival organizers barely did any promotion (its official Twitter account only features eight tweets, the first of which was sent last night, once things started going wrong). Instead, Fyre Fest relied almost entirely on popular Instagrammers and models to spread the word.

In Vanity Fair, Kenzie Bryant writes:

To announce a festival without name recognition or a finalized lineup, McFarland and Ja Rule personally invited 400 influencers in various sectors. Their only job, besides attending the festival when it came time, was to post an orange square (orange like fire) to Instagram at a certain time on on a certain day in December, announcing Fyre Festival to the public.

Bryant notes that these “influencers” included professional surfers, DJs, and a bunch of models — almost all of whom seem to have deleted the Fyre Fest announcement from their Instagram pages.

Back in December, a group of supermodels including Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, and Hailey Baldwin posted snapshots of a photoshoot for Fyre Fest shot in the Bahamas. Ratajkowski was, according to Vanity Fair, the only one who labeled the post with the hashtag #ad, although she has also since deleted the photo.

Obviously the festival’s untimely end is a result of poor management, planning, and probably a bunch of other things, but it’s also a good reminder that Instagram is still full of sponsored content (“sponcon”) — and the impossibility of constant oversight means it’s often not labeled as such.

Last year the Federal Trade Commission claimed it was going to get tougher on celebrities who posted sponsored content. The FTC said that the hashtag #ad worked as a disclaimer only if it appeared at the beginning of a caption, and that #sp and #spon were not sufficient, according to Bloomberg. But many sponsored posts are still not properly labeled. Just last week the FTC said it sent warnings to 90 “influencers and marketers” about disclosing sponsored content. In the announcement, the FTC called out Bella Hadid, Rihanna, and Michael Phelps as examples of celebs who had failed to properly disclose.

Of course, an unlabeled fit tea ad probably won’t get you stranded on an island, and this isn’t the first time a poorly organized event has spun out of control, but Fyre Fest organizers appear to have spent more time wooing influencers than actually planning anything.

And the repercussions of that could be more than just a bad reputation for Fyre Media. One Twitter user who has already nabbed the handle @FyreFraud is now threatening a lawsuit, saying they “know where the bodies are buried.” At least some of those bodies might be on Instagram, if a few rogue influencers failed to delete.