Sorry Laura Lee, the internet does not accept your ‘apology’.
Last week, beauty Youtuber Laura Lee rocked the Youtube community with the revelation of a racist and fat-phobic past. The exposure of offensive tweets dating from 2012 and the resulting scandal has sprung Lee from social media notoriety into news headlines around the world. She may be more famous than ever before, but the outrage directed at the Youtube star is proof that the saying ‘any press is good press’ doesn’t hold true in the millennial age. She’s one of many beauty bloggers recently called out for ugly comments, but her failure to win forgiveness proves that it takes more than a tearful apology to recover a damaged reputation. It takes authenticity. Or at the very least, it takes some serious acting skills.
So, here’s the tea.
Lee has amassed over 500 million views on Youtube since entering the makeup guru world in 2013, and has collaborated with major brands such as Too Faced and MAC Cosmetics. At 29, she earns over half a million dollars every year. Or, at least she used to. Following the scandal, Lee has lost 220,000 followers since last Monday.
It all started last week when Lee, along with fellow beauty bloggers Gabriel Zamora and Nikita Dragun, ignited the fandom wrath of rival YouTuber and ex-friend Jeffree Star. Zamora posted a tweet that read “Imagine stanning a racist? I could never”. (Stanning = internet language for being an adoring fan). Vengeful Star ‘stanners’ responded by digging up a number of offensive tweets published by Lee, Zamora and Dragun – all of whom publicly disowned Star from their pack after videos of him making racist comments came to surface last year. While the exposed trio scrambled to recover their fast-dwindling follower counts, Star and his fandom gloated in the revelation of the hypocrisy.
And here’s where Lee starts to get it all wrong. Zamora and Dragun made public apologies immediately; Lee deactivated her Twitter. Outraged followers demanded an apology; she uploaded a new makeup tutorial, completely ignoring the scandal surrounding her. Lee lost thousands of subscribers in the following days, amidst accusations that she was a coward and a fake. Monday afternoon saw a video uploaded to her channel featuring Lee ‘crying’ for forgiveness. Between breathless sobs and dodgy edits, Lee squeaked out the words, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done… I’m so sorry… it hurts me so bad”. She lost a further 160,000 followers that day.
So. Several YouTubers are called out for being offensive in the past. Each apologises, blaming their youthful ignorance, and claiming to have learned from their mistakes. Yet, all but Lee seem to continue largely unaffected. How did she f*ck up so badly?
Firstly, and most obviously, she made the mistake of finding a racist ‘joke’ humorous, and then typed out those words and posted them to a public forum. The fact that anyone found the derogatory comment she posted ‘funny’ in the first place is hugely problematic. But, as seen in the cases of other YouTube stars such as Jeffree Star, Shane Dawson, and James Charles, all of whom have been embroiled in racism scandals in the past, it’s not impossible to be caught out and still retain a loyal following. In fact, each has continued to grow their subscriber base by maintaining a personal narrative of growth and self-betterment as a result of their previous actions.
Lee’s second mistake was a failure to be aware of the power of her own platform. In the years that followed her tweet, as she established her social media presence and reaped the rewards of a large following, she never thought to scroll back and delete anything that might be incriminating. This neglect demonstrates a lack of respect for the audience to whom she owes her wealth and success, and undermines her apology by suggesting she is only sorry because she was caught.
The most offensive part of the whole debacle, however, is Lee’s response. There are three terrible things you can be on the internet, or in life, for that matter: racist, a hypocrite, and, worst of all, fake. The public jury, like those in the courts, is willing to forgive social media stars for their mistakes if they show real remorse. Genuineness is what’s important, and that seems to be the major problem Lee’s audience has with her apology. Many commenters point out that she repeatedly refers to her comment as a “retweet”, minimising her responsibility, when it was posted from Lee’s own account.
The thing is, “realness” is of the ultimate importance for the social media celeb. These are people who are selling themselves – albeit a branded version of themselves – through the sharing of their everyday lives. It’s a highly personal relationship between them and their followers. So when someone is revealed to be different to how they portray themselves online, fans expect the betrayal of trust will be justified with an honest explanation. With Lee, they saw a girl wiping away tears that didn’t seem to exist. The social media response to Lee’s underwhelming apology is the equivalent to an angry mob waiting at the gate with pitchforks in hand, and she failed to placate them with a heartfelt apology. Instead, she riled them up. A 17 minute video response from Trisha Paytas titled “LAURA LEE’S BULLSHIT APOLOGY” has more likes than the apology video itself. Behold the savagery of the angry internet user, who comments that “talking high pitched doesn’t mean ur crying”, and actually hacked the subtitles of Lee’s videos to provide a more ‘realistic’ commentary (which are hilarious, by the way).
— G A B B Z (@ellavondame) August 20, 2018
— Samantha (@samanthaw923) August 20, 2018
This may seem like trivial millennial drama, but it has real world consequences: for Lee, the drop in followers represents a fall in income of around $25,000 per year. More importantly for her audiences, it represents the wave of internet users holding social media stars accountable for what they do and say. It is no longer good enough to plead ignorant or hide behind a Twitter wall. After all, fans give social media celebrities their attention and fund their lifestyles, and they are expected to be worthy of it. RiRi said it best, Laura Lee: take a bow.
What are your thoughts of the Laura Lee scandal? Let us know in the comments.