YouTubers, Instagram devotees and other vaguely influential social media “influencers” don’t have the greatest reputation as of late. That’s with fairly good reason, because whenever one of their controversies explodes into the real world it’s usually some kind of horrifying thing like Logan Paul’s Aokigahara forest video, brand endorsements that flirt with the FTC’s patience, or worse, anything involving PewDiePie.
An incident this week isn’t likely to help that perception. Per the BBC, a “huge row” has erupted over British YouTuber Elle Darby, who reached out to the Dublin-based hotel White Moose Cafe requesting a free stay in exchange for publicity via her 87,000 YouTube and 76,000 Instagram subscribers. According to the Independent, Darby wrote an email touting her occupation as a “social media influencer, mainly lifestyle, beauty & travel based,” adding that she “would love to feature you in my YouTube videos/dedicated Instagram stories/posts to bring traffic to your hotel and recommend others to book up in return for free accommodation.”
Darby told the BBC that the email was “a very normal thing to send if you work as a social media influencer.”
White Moose Cafe owner Paul Stenson, who is the kind of guy who sells shirts mocking gluten intolerance, did not take the request well. He posted an acrid (but name-redacted) response to Facebook, where he generated thousands of likes and shares writing, “Thank you for your email looking for free accommodation in return for exposure. It takes a lot of balls to send an email like that, if not much self-respect and dignity.”
“If I let you stay here in return for a feature in your video, who is going to pay the staff who look after you?” Stenson continued. He added:
Lucky for us, we too have a significant social media following. We have 186k followers on our two Facebook pages, an estimated 80k on our Snapchat, 32k on Instagram and a paltry 12k on our Twitter, but Jesus Christ, I would never in a million years ask anyone for anything for free ... The above stats do not make me any better than anyone else or afford me the right to not pay for something everyone else has to pay for.
The row predictably escalated from there, with Darby posting a video claiming to have been humiliated and bullied online on January 16th, shortly followed by an alleged flood of negative online reviews for Stenson’s hotel. On January 17th, Stenson retaliated by banning all vloggers from his business.
“The sense of entitlement is just too strong in the blogging community and the nastiness, hissy fits and general hate displayed after one of your members was not granted her request for a freebie is giving your whole industry a bad name,” Stenson wrote. “... If any of you attempt to enter our premises from now on, you will be ejected.”
“I’ve had people telling me to top myself, asking me to go play in traffic and die—just for literally doing my job,” Darby told the BBC. “That email is something that every single blogger has sent out.”
If there’s anything we can agree about, it’s that this is a fight where no one emerged looking particularly great. Social media may not be turning us all into narcissistic jerks per se, but it is certainly giving many of those among us endless opportunities to broadcast how efficiently they can turn minor quibbles into headache-inducing online controversies.