However, we all need a break sometimes. So we turned to social media to give us a brain vacation from these harsher, more sobering realities. We needed to occupy ourselves with people who are prettier and richer than us and squabbling over petty affairs, who prove time and time again they are unable to read the room.
Here were some of the best and worst internet events that gave us all a proper distraction from 2020. We thank these influencers for their service.
In July, TikToker Chase Hudson, aka Lil Huddy, lit a match when he tweeted a Notes app message alleging all kinds of affairs were going on between couples of the Hype House and the Sway House.
The TikTok Deep Throat memo, which Hudson quickly deleted, was his attempt to defend himself after he was publicly outed for hooking up with Nessa Barrett, another TikToker who dated another TikToker named Josh Richards, who was friends with Hudson. Hudson was also rumored to be ~reconciling~ with Charli D’Amelio after they spent months flirting with each other and the public about their relationship status. She was pissed, Richards was pissed, and everyone tweeted cryptic messages about it.
Hudson’s note only made the situation worse by outing his TikToker friends and their alleged affairs with each other. Members of the rival house even physically showed up, threatening to confront and fight him over it.
This was Hills-level drama that we got to watch unfurl live. It also reminded me of my own high school experience, watching peers in one friend group all date and cheat on one another like they were the only available people in town.
In June, beauty YouTuber Tati Westbrook attempted to clear James Charles’ name by releasing a sequel to her infamous “Bye Sister” video from 2019.
Titled “Breaking My Silence,” Westbrook filmed another 40-minute video trying to explain that she was pressured to make the first video by fellow YouTubers Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson. She claimed the two of them had coerced her into tarnishing Charles’ public image with shoddy information. She also apologized directly to Charles for spewing “poisonous lies fed by Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star.”
The reconciliation between Westbrook and Charles was really nice and probably necessary. She also provided some juicy behind-the-scenes intel about Dawson and Star. But wow did Westbrook show us that she has a specific gift for sapping every last energy out of personal drama. It was compelling but exhausting. I really hope there is not a part III.
After Westbrook’s video, Dawson quickly got on Instagram Live to viscerally and aggressively react to the claims she had made about him and Star. Over 250,000 people reportedly tuned in for it.
Dawson was seen pacing around his house screaming “oh my god” and “this is insane” over and over, effectively filming himself having a live meltdown over the video. He then calls Westbrook “manipulative” and accused her of fake crying. He had to be pulled off the Live by his husband.
(To be fair, we still cannot confirm any physical tears were shed from Westbrook’s eyes.)
In May, reports that beloved cohosts and friends of the massively popular Call Her Daddy podcast were falling out began to surface. Alex Cooper and Sofia Franklyn each accused the other of cutting them out of business negotiations. The “she said, she said” debacle boiled down to the fact that these IRL friends and once roommates had different plans for their show. Cooper wanted to continue negotiating with Barstool, while Franklyn was already shopping their podcast around to rival networks.
In the end, Cooper took an exclusive deal with Barstool to continue hosting the show under their branding on her own. Franklyn has since launched her own podcast.
Podcasters have a unique ability to present their relationship on air as seamlessly fun and never tenuous, so peeking behind the curtain at the private dynamics of podcast cohosts felt rare and special. But perhaps what was even more eye-opening was the kind of money the medium could bring in. At one point, Barstool made a counteroffer to the women of a starting salary of half a million dollars.
2020 introduced the mainstream to so many new genres of influencers. Shortly before our podcasting influencers’ scandal, the online food community began circulating an interview that food writer Alison Roman had done with New Consumer. In it, she criticized Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo for capitalizing on their brands.
Teigen responded, saying she was “bummed” by the categorization. Roman then tweeted that she felt bullied for “being honest about money.” Roman would delete these tweets and issue a lengthy official apology on Instagram to Teigen and Kondo.
This issue for most people was beyond food — Roman, intentionally or unintentionally, chose to target two women of color as she, her success, and her recipes have been heavily influenced by non-American cuisines. But having these influencers argue about who has a more ~authentic~ relationship to food was…delicious to watch.
Influencers are influencers because their fans turn to them for advice or inspiration about how to move through life. When the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March and lockdown began, we watched as influencers floundered to figure out what to do.
Popular NYC lifestyle influencer @Taza, aka Naomi Davis, almost instantly decided to rent a huge RV and flee the city. She was going to live with her family in the RV while traveling from location to location. Around this time, NYC-based influencer Arielle Charnas also announced she was leaving the city for the Hamptons after she had tested positive for the virus.
The two became influencers and models for what not to do during the start of a pandemic. As the rest of us were struggling to figure out how to safely shop for food and medicine, these two — among others — struggled to come to terms with their own privilege.
This year was also proof that influencers can quickly adapt to the changing environment by releasing new merch and products, like face masks — but they weren’t as adept at changing their behaviors.
Fashion influencer Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What was accused of copying a mask from Latina designer Karen Perez’s line, Second Wind. After requesting a sample from her, Bernstein then released a version that was almost identical to Perez’s design: a linen mask with a chain strap. According to DMs that Instagram gossip account @DietPrada obtained and shared, Bernstein gave Perez a heads-up at the last minute that she would be coming out with her own version.
“Babe I thought I should let you know I’m also making masks with a detachable chain – similar to the sunglass chains I own – didn’t want you to think I’m copying you!” she wrote.
What makes Bernstein’s face mask scandal especially outlandish is that she has a history of being accused of stealing designs.
All of the drama did have a silver lining for Second Wind and Perez. Her business exploded in popularity, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even bought a mask from her and shared her visit to Perez’s shop on Instagram.
James Charles had a few months of riding his redemption arc after the second Tati Westbrook video came out — but before long, he found himself in another ~situation~.
In September, Charles released a hoodie from his Sisters Apparel line that looked a lot like a design from a brand called Teddy Fresh, which is run by fellow YouTuber Ethan Klein, of the H3H3 channel, and his wife, Hila Klein.
Charles was accused of stealing the hoodie design, which had a similar color-blocking pattern. He apparently spoke to Heidi directly and said he and his team had used another hoodie from Nike as inspiration. Heidi and Ethan did not quite believe Charles and tweeted a photoshopped image of the YouTuber in his hoodie but with the Teddy Fresh logo.
The response was appropriately petty. I get it though — there is still money to be made and fight for from rebranding a third iteration of a hoodie pattern.
In April, self-help guru Rachel Hollis blamed her team for sharing a Maya Angelou quote that was not attributed. The quote was the title of Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”; however, it was tweeted and then shared to Instagram with only Hollis’s name attached to it.
When enough backlash reached her, especially from online BIPOC communities who believed she was intentionally trying to plagiarize Angelou’s work, Hollis deleted the post and issued an apology, deflecting blame onto her social media team.
The fact that whoever was directly at fault was bold enough to lift a line from one of the greatest poets and writers of our time is something I still ruminate over to this day.
Our last scandal happened most recently and involves TikTokers, food, and, somehow once again, James Charles.
Last month, people were dismayed by how Charli and Dixie D’Amelio acted and reacted in a YouTube video called “Our First Mystery Guest.” (Charles was the mystery guest — and that is about the extent of his involvement in the scandal. In fact, in some moments, he was even heralded as a hero.) The D’Amelio family hired a personal chef who served them dishes that the sisters did not want to eat, including a dish that had snail in it. In one moment, Dixie acted like she was a contestant on Fear Factor, gagging reflexively. In another, Charli requested a plate of dino nuggets.
People called the sisters “ungrateful” and “disrespectful” in the face of an accomplished chef and about foods that are commonly eaten in other regions. The initial wave of criticisms were all valid, but the controversy descended into both cancel and defensive campaigns from both sides, harassment, and eventually death threats. Charli lost almost a million followers after the incident, but gained them all back and hit a milestone of 100 million only a few days later.
2020 has taught us that online drama has the shelf life of a ripe avocado, and they won’t make much of a lasting impact on famous, rich people’s pockets.
But as nothing’s felt safe or secure this year, the assurance that famous, rich people will always be up to their antics feels strangely comforting.