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Jake Paul’s school for social media stars will teach you all the wrong lessons

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Jake Paul, like his brother Logan, is the personification of social media-driven success. He got his big break on the shortform video platform Vine, where he amassed over 5 million followers with his slapstick comedy and pranks. He briefly starred in the Disney social media comedy Bizaardvark, started a self-branded clothing line, and now vlogs on multiple YouTube channels, including one with 13 million subscribers. It’s no wonder so many young people look up to him — not just as a celebrity, but as a model for achieving online stardom.

At the start of 2018, Jake Paul quietly launched a new educational platform for up-and-coming influencers called Edfluence — a questionable portmanteau of “education from influential people” — to provide fans and aspiring social media stars with pro tips for social media fame. If you want to become an influencer, Edfluence asks, why not learn from one of the most popular rising social stars today?

It’s a savvy business move, given the huge influence of social media personalities on pop culture — and on its future. Kids are more interested in YouTubers than traditional celebrities, and there’s even a summer camp in Los Angeles where aspiring influencers can learn the ropes of social stardom.

Edfluence is far less immersive and uses a series of short videos to provide tips and tricks from Paul and the other members of Team 10, his influencer squad. “This roadmap lays out every step that I and Team 10 have taken to get to where we are today. It’s literally the roadmap to becoming social media FAMOUS,” writes Paul. With a little help from Edfluence, he promises, viral stardom can be yours.

Naturally, there’s a price for all this information — but that comes later.

Image: Edfluence

First, you need to take a quiz that determines what sort of Team 10 influencer you are, a four-category distinction divined through prompts like “my game of choice.” Your options are board games, Call of Duty, Angry Birds, or being social with friends. It’s a sorting hat crossed with a nonsensical BuzzFeed quiz, and it’s hilariously unhelpful in helping a would-be influencer chisel away at their specialties. The result doesn’t matter even in the context of the program. (It’s not like Paul tailors his lessons toward the four categories.)

Regardless of your answers, the quiz dumps you into the same promotional video to sell you on his program and his lifestyle. “It wasn’t always fancy cars and nice hotels,” the 21-year-old declares seconds after he hops out of a gold McLaren and strolls through the lobby of a fancy hotel. He was once just a regular kid in Ohio, Paul explains, who fell into making videos out of sheer boredom. Now he lives a glamorous life in Los Angeles with his best friends, and he’s quick to emphasize how much money he’s making. “I get to do what I want,” says Paul. “And I get paid millions of dollars to do it... We live in a new world now where you get to decide your destiny, where you create your own fate.”

Basic admission to this destiny-creating knowledge is $7, which earns you a video with a broad explanation of social media — and Paul’s success — that sounds more like an infomercial than an educational resource. “The people who will win are the ones who know exactly how to take advantage of social media in its early stages,” says Paul, going in for the hard sell. “Will you be one of those people?” He asks, pointing at the camera.

The $7 video involves a lot of cliché showboating about how “content is king,” and absurdly basic advice about studying popular influencers and keeping to a schedule. Paul tops it off with an over-the-top promise that is dishonest at best, and predatory at worst: “If you do social media right, and really take this course seriously, you can buy all of the things that you’ve dreamed of and make millions of dollars. It’s not a joke.”

Yes, only Jake Paul can save you from the horrors of an average life with a bad boss and a 9-to-5 job in a cubicle. But first, you need to pay him an additional $57.

Only Jake Paul can save you from an average life and a 9-to-5 job in a cubicle — but first, you need to pay him an additional $57

If it feels like you’ve just shelled out money to watch a glorified commercial for the real program, you’re not wrong. Full access to the Edfluence content, beyond the first section, is gated behind the “inner circle,” a package of 12 multi-episode chapters covering platforms like Instagram and YouTube, as well as video editing advice and broader tips dubbed “keys to success.” These chapters are made up of anywhere from four to eight videos, aka “episodes,” that delve into specific topics.

In one, he provides a shockingly inept lesson about the history of social media. “It all started with Myspace,” he declares. “This was the first generation of social media stars we saw.” Instead of mentioning people like Jennifer Ringley, aka Jennicam, who became the first “lifecaster” in the ‘90s without the help of Myspace, Paul name-drops Tila Tequila as an example of early online stardom.

He calls Vine the first wave of social media as it’s known today, because “this is when brands, Hollywood, and people and your moms and dads started to pay attention to what this was, because of how crazy the phenomenon of this was.” Nevermind that major YouTube influencers like PewDiePie rarely used this platform, and were getting coverage in The New York Times when Vine was still new to the scene.

He then skims across platforms like YouTube and Twitter, but instead of jaw-dropping tips that will help you achieve fame, his advice, even within specific categories, is a neophyte collection of basic information that often seems more common sense than clutch. “People naturally want to retweet and engage on super funny videos and memes,” he says in one of his videos about Twitter, proving only that he’s been on the platform for more than three minutes.

Other hot tips include: following as many people as possible to encourage them to follow you back, or sucking up to famous accounts in hopes of getting exposure. The majority of videos last for five minutes or less, though it often feels even less substantial as many spend up to a full minute on cold-open goofs and intro reels. This wasted time only gets more frustrating as time wears on, with each new gag becoming more and more like a modern “Oh, I didn’t see you there” opening. Here’s Paul making shadow puppets or sniffing his own shoe while pretending to not realize the camera is on. Wacky!

From a pedagogical standpoint, there’s no opportunity for would-be students to engage with his videos through comments, test what they’ve learned, or easily search for specific topics in text. If you can’t remember exactly what Paul said on a subject, you’ll have to go back and scrub through all the videos to find it. There’s also a lot of information that won’t be helpful to influencers who are just starting out, which is particularly frustrating given the abbreviated length and cursory coverage of the videos. It might be interesting to know that your asking price for brands should be in the $10K range for every 1 million followers, but it’s not very useful for an amateur audience since very few influencers will ever get there.

Even for 21-year-old Jake Paul, much of the advice already seems out of touch with the sort of everyday users he explains he once was. In one video, he talks about creating a video where he lit his pool on fire, which attracted cops and fire trucks. Is this a good idea for the average up-and-coming influencer? Not at all. He doesn’t mention safety precautions, accusations that he’s terrorizing his neighborhood, or even legal concerns.

This gets to the heart of the real problems with Paul’s Edfluence course, which spends no time on safety or harassment. In one video, he mentions that, as a Viner, it was normal for 4–5 fans to wait outside his apartment for a month to meet him; as a vlogger, he claims there are now 20–30 people outside his house at any given time. Paul breezily mentions this fact with no attention to the issue of security or the potential for stalking.

Pretending that viral fame is simply a matter of “deciding your destiny” isn’t just simplistic; it’s manipulative

There’s also no care given to making good content decisions, an especially timely lesson given the critical backlash to his brother Logan. Logan’s choice to vlog a suicide victim in Japan’s Aokigahara forest was met with immediate backlash and eventual consequences. (Logan has since been removed from YouTube’s Google Preferred ad program, and his YouTube Red projects have been shelved.) Jake has seen his fair share of controversy as well, from using racial slurs to questionable images uploaded as YouTube thumbnails, as well as the aforementioned neighborhood drama.

Like many celebrities, Jake Paul’s story of self-made success is aspirational for many of his fans. And there’s no doubt that Paul, like all well-known influencers, puts a lot of time and effort into his craft. But pretending that viral fame is simply a matter of “deciding your destiny” isn’t just simplistic; it’s manipulative.

Paul is selling a dream tailored to kids who want to escape their average lives in ways that prey on these naive, younger viewers. He wows them with promises of fame and millions of dollars, supported by the backdrop of his own lavish lifestyle, and tells them that all of this can be within their grasp. Even when he’s not namedropping his sports cars or bragging about his checks, the promise lurks unspoken against the background of beautiful resort pools, LA’s skyline, or his luxurious home. All this could be yours, these videos quietly promise, if only you work hard enough, if only you pay money to listen to Jake, if only you get on his radar.

Influencers, who often rise to prominence without any guiding editorial hand, desperately need experienced hands and educational resources to teach them about best practices — not just for achieving fame, but for doing so responsibly. But that person is not Jake Paul, nor is it Edfluence in its current state.

At the very least, YouTubers are getting something out of it: content. In the weeks since Edfluence’s launch, YouTube has been filled with creators speculating on whether or not it’s all one big scam. “It’s like a fricken pyramid, ponzi-scheme piece of shit,” says Taylor A, who posted a video of his experience. “This is a PSA to parents, I guess you could say: do not buy this,” says Scott Mulligan, noting that Paul’s audience skews young.

“There are so many different ways to learn about influencing and making YouTube videos — in fact there are so many on Youtube for free that you can watch in order to kind of step up your game,” says Miranda Mendelson pointing to Edfluence’s “shady” business model. “You don’t have to pay Jake Paul $7 to tell you what he could teach you for $57, that’s for damn sure.”