One point we often try to make here at NMR is that there really is no such thing as a “social media star.” Designations like “YouTube Star” and “Vine Star” may be helpful in understanding what it is someone does to make themselves notable, but at the end of the day a star is a star and many so-called social celebrities have a wider reach and more devoted followers than what we think of as traditional mainstream stars. However there’s another important designation that needs to come into play. Because social media fame often happens to the young, savvy, and hyper connected, many of our biggest internet celebrities are also “child stars.”
Actress Lindsay Lohan is the poster child for former child-star flame-outs
The term “child star” is a loaded one. It suggests fame achieved at a young age due to some exceptional talent, but it also immediately evokes famous personal and professional flameouts from Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes all the way back to Judy Garland. The takeaway from all of these examples is that too much fame too early in life can be damaging, even more so in the new media world where there are fewer checks and balances and far less accountability. Take for example the boys of Magcon, the currently defunct traveling roadshow of Vine and other social stars that played host to some of the biggest names in teen Vine. Names like Nash Grier, Cameron Dallas, and Carter Reynolds are synonymous with the meteoric power of social media fame. They’re also synonymous with various scandals and instances of bad behavior that suggest a troubling trend.
A video of Nash Grier’s now deleted homophobic vine WARNING: Contains Offensive Language
At some point in their relatively short history, both on the internet and on earth, most of the Magcon headliners have been involved in some sort of scandal. Nash Grier famously released a Vine in which he used a homophobic slur while blaming gay people for AIDS. Last winter, Cameron Dallas was arrested for vandalism after a prank gone wrong lead to substantial damage to his apartment building. Most recently Carter Reynolds came under fire after a leaked video showed him pressuring his then girlfriend into performing oral sex against her will. In each of these cases, and dozens more concerning less prominent social media stars, fame insulated the perpetrators from any consequences, a dangerous precedent to set for young people just embarking on what are likely to be influential careers.
Fans rallied behind Cameron Dallas after his arrest for vandalism
After each incident of wrong-doing went public thousands of fans rallied in support of Nash, Cameron, and Carter. As of press-time, the hashtag #WeLoveCarter is still trending and Reynolds continues to retweet and respond to fan support. With millions of dedicated young fans willing to excuse even the most blatant bad behavior, and networks, management teams, and other stakeholders willing to clean up the mess, it’s unlikely these young social stars will ever learn from their mistakes.
Reynolds later tweeted this “apology” that ends with a fairly blatant plea for support from his fans
— Carter Reynolds (@carterreynolds) June 23, 2015
The same scenario is played out time and again in the relatively short history of digital entertainment. The last year has seen a string of sexual abuse and assault charges leveled against YouTube and Vine creators many of whom are barely out of their teens. In each case, the perpetrators saw an upswell of fan support that they could easily interpret as excusing their actions. When Vine star Curtis Lepore was accused of rape by then girlfriend Jessi Smiles he actively rallied his fan base against her, going so far as to tweet “You wanna see me fail? Convince 4.1 million people to unfollow me.” In his bravado Lepore unwittingly defined the problem.
You wanna see me fail? Convince 4.1 million people to unfollow me. #GoodLuck ???
— Curtis Lepore (@curtislepore) March 23, 2014
Lepore, of course, is more or less a full grown adult. He had presumably clocked some life experience before taking a turn into social media fame. For younger people, like the Magcon boys, who have been famous in some cases since their preteen years, the effect could be far more dramatic. What happens to kids like that, lacking a moral compass and convinced their every impulse is justified, when the music stops. No one stays famous forever and as looks fade or maturity sets in some of today’s Vine superstars are going to find themselves left behind. In the YouTube scene, there are already plenty of examples of former top tier creators who once drew millions of views now struggling to break the 50k mark. Times and tastes change and it’s only a matter of time until the new media space has its first Lindsay Lohan or Drake Bell. Perhaps more importantly, what happens to young stars of today who continue to win? The media, ourselves included, have taken to referring to these young social stars as the future of entertainment. If that future is dominated by people raised without accountability, empathy, or impulse control, it may not be a future that any of us want to live in.