Fyre Festival fraud is a warning about online scams and social media influencers – Laura Waddell

Remember Fyre Fest, the cataclysmic event that went viral for promising the experience of a lifetime and delivering a flaccid cheese sandwich?

Producers Mick Purzycki and Danny Gabai, director Chris Smith and moderator Joshua Rothkopf discuss Netflix documentary 'Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened' after a screening in New York (Picture: Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Netflix)

Instead of frolicking with top models on a private island like Instagram ads teased, customers who had shelled out thousands were dumped, along with their luggage and a pile of damp mattresses, and left to fend for themselves in a dark gravel pit.

Gabrielle Bluestone, the Vice reporter who broke the story and executive-produced Netflix documentary Fyre, has now written a book delving deeper into the cultural phenomena behind the headlines.

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Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, Con Artists and Influencers are Taking Over the Internet – and Why We’re Following is look at the “manipulation games of scammers of the digital age”.

By this point, eye-popping Fyre revelations are familiar to anyone who followed along online in real time as the festival imploded, or saw subsequent documentaries.

Billy McFarland, the man behind it all, with a trail of fraudulent ‘VIP access’ ticket concierge schemes in the background, ended up incarcerated.

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Where the book is most successful is linking these events with the hype machine at large and how “our psychological impulses have been weaponised against us”, in interviews with social anthropologists and other experts.

We generally recognise social media allows users to project an idealised self, but how grifters capitalise on these mediums’ ability to sell an illusion is murkier territory.

Suspicious sob stories followed by crowdfunders are the simplest version of much more elaborate scams predicated on convincing the public something is true when there’s no evidence for it.

Key to Fyre fest’s marketing push were influencers who took top dollar to promote a festival which didn’t really exist. Bluestone describes this as “a sort of laundering operation that preys on the general public”, where what is being very cynically laundered is authenticity to a public who want to believe and be part of it.

As Bluestone says, “Forget the old New Yorker joke that no one on the internet has to know you’re a dog. These days on the internet, no one has to know you’re a fraud.”

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