6 Major Influencer Marketing Scandals Shaping The Industry

influencer marketing scandals controversy
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6 Of The Biggest Influencer Marketing Scandals Of All Time

For many businesses, influencer marketing has become a go-to technique for accomplishing their marketing goals online. From raising brand awareness to driving sales, to long-term partnerships with some of social media’s biggest stars, influencer marketing continues to deliver positive results for businesses. However, as the space has developed over the years, influencer marketing has experienced its fair share of growing pains.

In the post below, we’ll look at how six of the biggest scandals, ranging from issues with fake followers to stars posting inappropriate content to FTC violations by brands and influencers, have shaped the influencer marketing landscape as we know it.

1. Logan Paul’s Suicide Forest Scandal (2017)

Logan Paul is one of the biggest social media stars in the world, boasting more than 50 million followers across Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook combined. Known for creating comedic vlogs and skits, Paul is constantly pushing the limits of online entertainment.

Paul may have just found that limit when he posted a video on his YouTube channel that showed a dead body in Japan’s “Suicide Forest.”

While the now deleted content began with a disclaimer about the content therein, and Paul warns his viewers that “this is the most real vlog I’ve ever posted on this channel,” he’s been widely criticized for publishing the video. Many suggested that the content was inappropriate for Paul’s audience, which is reportedly comprised of many teenagers and children. Furthermore, Paul has been lambasted for making light of suicide in the video, where he reportedly suppresses a laugh.

Paul claimed the video was about suicide awareness. For its part, YouTube said the content violated their terms and apologized to the victim’s family. Paul has also posted several apologies on social media, where he talks about his lapse in judgement, urges those who are defending his prior actions to stop, and promises to do better in the future.

2. Fake Followers (Ongoing)

Fake followers and engagement on social media have plagued the influencer marketing industry for years. Numerous scandals in the past year have brought the magnitude of the issue to light.

In August 2017, Mediakix created two entirely fake Instagram accounts and signed them up for popular influencer marketing platforms. The accounts successfully fooled brands, with each “influencer” receiving offers amounting to hundreds of dollars worth of paid deals.

Furthermore, later in 2017, Australian beauty YouTuber Chloe Morello took to her channel to expose and criticize influencers who leverage fake followers and engagement. Morello claimed that the disingenuous numbers boasted by unethical accounts were stealing sponsorship opportunities from real influencers.

Most recently, the New York Times ran an investigative piece exposing celebrities, athletes, and politicians who use bots to artificially inflate their Twitter followings.

The use of bots and fake accounts isn’t going away anytime soon, but brands can protect themselves by working with a reputable influencer marketing agency to properly vet the influencers they’re looking to partner with.

3. PewDiePie’s Racially and Culturally Insensitive Remarks (2017)

With over 60 million subscribers on his channel, Felix Kjellberg of PewDiePie is the number one YouTuber in the world. However, the gamer, comedian, and vlogger’s life as a top social media influencer has been embroiled in much controversy.


Kjellberg has a history of including anti-Semitic remarks and imagery in his videos. Though he has defended various actions as satire in the past, Kjellberg has also later apologized for some of his content. His string of unacceptable content led to the loss of his sponsorship with Disney’s Maker Studios as well as the end of his YouTube show Scare PewDiePie.

In late 2017 Kjellberg broadcasted another offensive video in which he uses the n-word during a gameplay. Kjellberg’s apology video for the incident starts out, “You probably won’t believe me when I say this,” as he goes on to talk about improving and bettering himself for his followers. Only time will tell if Kjellberg is committed to cleaning up his content and what the ultimate fallout from his online audience and other sponsors will be.

Related Post: 5 Infamous YouTube Scandals That Shook The Industry

4. FTC Warns More Than 90 Influencers & Brands (2017)

In April of 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent more than 90 letters to celebrities, influencers, and brands for violating guidelines around sponsored content. The notice called out specific posts, showing that the commission is indeed looking at paid promotional activity on social media.

Moreover, the letter outlined what constituted proper disclosure, including using “unambiguous language,” ensuring that disclosures are in close proximity to the promotional content and that the hashtags #ad and #sponsored are not otherwise buried in other content.

Mediakix’s own study revealed that up to 93% of paid celebrity posts may not be FTC compliant, and action by the commission makes it apparent that these violations will not be ignored. See our updated infographic showcasing the latest guidelines for brands and social media influencers to see if your sponsored content is FTC compliant.

 click image below to view our infographic on top celebrities disclosing sponsorships on Instagram 

ftc celebrity influencer instagram disclosure

5. CSGOLotto Scandal (2017)

In spite of the FTC’s 90 warning letters, improper disclosure continued to run rampant throughout 2017. In September 2017, the FTC filed an official complaint against YouTubers Tom Cassell (TheSyndicateProject) and Trevor Martin (TmarTn), the owners of the popular gaming website CSGOLotto. The pair of gaming influencers came under fire for paying other influencers to promote CSGOLotto without disclosing the sponsored nature of their posts.

The CSGOLotto scandal was the first FTC case levied against influencers, making it clear that not only brands, but also individuals, will be held accountable for disclosing sponsored content. The FTC’s agreement and consent order with CSGOLotto focuses on clear and conspicuous disclosure of material connections.


Cassell and Martin’s case illustrates that the FTC is serious about enforcing its endorsement guidelines, highlighting the importance of transparency online and raising a warning sign to fellow influencers.

6. Essena O’Neill Quits Social Media (2015)

In 2015, model, Instagram star, and vegan advocate Essena O’Neill renounced her influencer status and deleted the majority of her online profiles, claiming that “social media is not real life.” O’Neill left her Instagram account online, deleting all but one photo, and hasn’t rejoined social media in any public manner since.


Many praised and supported her, but some pushed back against O’Neill’s opinions and actions, saying that she was the one being “fake.” Others boldly predicted that O’Neill’s actions spelled the end of influencer marketing, but evidently, the industry continues to grow and thrive.

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