Betterhelp is notable because it’s one of a few online scams where the Youtubers in question genuinely might not have known better. Therapy is something trained professionals do – how is a layman, especially one who haven’t been or only went infrequently, supposed to know how to separate experts from people who just showed up and said ‘I can do that’?
The terms of service state that BetterHelp doesn’t promise to put users in touch with licensed professionals – or professionals at all. They were aimed at “high-functioning” folks – people with diagnosed illnesses weren’t supposed to turn to BetterHelp for help. Even for the people that can sign up, Betterhelp doesn’t promise it will match that user to the right category of counselor. The whole thing was a mess of “We can help anyone! But we won’t take responsibility if that help isn’t adequate even though we have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise the opposite”. This app was so bad that it was asking the users to vet the counselors. In what world is that the way things work?
And still, Youtubers promoted it until other Youtubers investigated and discovered some of it’s many flaws. An unqualified counselor may still be helpful to someone who’s not going through too much to bear – that’s basically what friends are for. Anything serious? This was a danger. It was rightfully lambasted for being a scam, and many of the people who promoted it didn’t feel bad about denouncing it later.
LootBox Website “MysteryBrands”
I’ve mentioned this before, but the LootBox website was such a terrific example of money ruining everything that I keep harping on it. RiceGum, Jake Paul, and assorted other ‘bro’ Youtubers with large child audiences promoted a website that promised to function like lootboxes. You could even win a house, they claimed. I don’t have any proof that the boxes were rigged, but we do know that when people won something expensive, they often got a cheap knock-off in the mail several weeks later if they got anything at all. For a website that sold its product on the promise of winning name-brand items, that’s atrocious.
And yet, when asked to apologize or retract their videos on the products, they just… didn’t! There’s a whole complicated mess of contracts and rules that go into making a sponsorship deal, so that explains part of it – they definitely would have been required to return the money if there was an ‘undo’ clause, and that’s a powerful ‘if’. But taking the deal in the first place (even without knowing that the stuff that showed up wasn’t the real deal) was a bad idea and a bad fit for underage audiences given what adults should know about gambling.
Jake Paul’s Team 10
The website, now defunct, doesn’t look like much. The original Team Ten, too, is gone. Everyone who was a part of it has gone off to do their own thing, for better or worse – many actually did come out better as a result of all the free advertising, but many didn’t feel that it was worth it. As opposed to being a scam for followers, this is actually a rare scam for fellow Youtubers! Team Ten was clearly a marketing stunt or an ego trip for Jake, and while it worked as a ‘social media collective’ for a little while, it spent much longer being completely non-functional.
Team Ten consisted of vloggers that Jake brought in to form a team. While he could get them in, he couldn’t get them to stay, and many of the members faced targeted bullying from other members while living in the Team Ten house. Alissa Violet was kicked out with no warning. The Martinez twins, who didn’t speak English fluently during their time there, were called racial slurs and mocked. Cole Carrigan, a beauty Youtuber, was promised that he’d get help securing deals for joining, but ended up with a room and an editor and nothing else out of Jake (which was a significant downgrade to the system he had before – at least when he was living in his own house, he could film when he wanted). He was also told to ‘get the f*** out’ via spraypaint on a mural in his room.
Jake Paul implemented fines and weird, strict rules for living in the house, while providing basically no benefit other than the marketing and exposure to his fanbase – which always went both ways and could have been accomplished without forcing people he didn’t like to live in his house with him. The house itself was a constant source of chaos, between parties, stunt videos, and the constant filming of other members. Every original member of Team Ten except for him has left. He, as of 2020, was planning to relaunch – given that it was 2020, he didn’t get the running start he may have needed.
Assorted Youtuber Success “Lessons”
Drew Gooden, a popular commentary Youtuber, attempted to join Jake Paul’s “Edfluence”, a portmanteau of Education and Influence. It consisted of a set of videos only available online through Jake’s website, and it cost 7$ to access. The first one was mostly fluff, and that’s alright – the introduction to many courses often is. However, after the first lesson, Drew discovered that only the first video was 7$, the rest of the course brought that total to 57$, but you could only find that out after paying for and watching the first video. Talk about a bait and switch!
Prince Ea, another prominent Youtuber and social media star, attempted to introduce a ‘school’ that was really just a text-message mailing list. The text messages were supposed to be life advice. However, the kind of thing that ends up in a text message is often limited and generic because the format itself is. It was much more modest about its pricing, at 9$ a month, but he claimed he was launching this ‘school’ (which is text messages) to get into better touch with his fans, because his upload schedule had been lacking. Twitter could have done that – many people pointed this out. If you like getting generic advice from fortune cookies, but don’t eat takeout enough to get that advice every day, Prince Ea had the solution for you!
“Lessons for Success” is one of the easiest genres for big Youtubers to produce. It requires no creativity, limited skill, and there’s no punishment for getting it wrong – the other party simply ‘didn’t try hard enough’. You can’t say that about most other kinds of teaching content. You teach a language wrong, it’s obvious. You teach someone how to fix a toilet, and it still sounds wrong when they flush, they know you screwed up in your video. You teach people how to make it big, and they don’t …. Well, maybe they just didn’t have what it took, whatever it was you had that made you big. See?
A lot of getting big on Youtube is in the algorithm, and it’s unfair. It just is. Content that took effort is no match for content that can be mass-produced. Things made by channels that do try often blow up for no reason – many third-generation Youtube stars can point to a specific video that got to the front ‘recommended’ page and earned them several times over what they normally got in views. From there, capitalizing on momentum was easy – but getting there is incredibly hard.
Gabbie Hanna is not universally well-liked. Tana Mongeau is also not universally well-liked. Both of them are love-it-or-hate-it kinda people, so sponsorships tend to look a little strange. Where others get ads from HelloFresh or Blue Apron, they get sketchier stuff.
One deal came from a brand called Kenza Brushes. The Youtubers should have noticed the complaints about the site, across multiple platforms and from many, many people. They especially should have noticed complaints about drop-shipping. Drop-shipping is one of those things that is morally shady but not quite illegal yet: the host website offers a product, a drop-shipper offers it on their own website for a mark-up (without actually buying it, yet) and if a customer buys the product, the dropshipper orders it off the host website as though they were the customer.
This adds both time and expense for the customer, yay!
Kenza brushes was a particularly bad example because the brushes were coming from a supplier on Ali Express, which has many suppliers shipping direct-from-China, and therefore it can take months for a product to actually arrive at its destination. Ali Express can be great for cheap things – but it’s not what the customer thought they were ordering. People knew this. People had complained online. Gabbie and Tana did not research it at all.
Customers who did get their product noticed immediately how poor the quality was – 70$ brushes generally don’t shed fibers. If someone says their product is free except for shipping and handling, the shipping and handling is how much the product costs, how much the shipping costs, and finally – profit for the company. An item that cost ten dollars to ship may only be two or three to actually buy. Gabbie, when questioned on the brushes, essentially said the customers should have known not to trust her.
Louis Vitton, Allegedly
This one comes from all the way back in 2019. Social media star Alissa Violet teamed up with Cheek, a company that… planned to sell sunglasses? And announced a giveaway for Louis Vitton bags. Alissa seems to be the only person they contacted for sponsorship, which was strange right out of the gate. Even worse, the company shut down at some point during the giveaway. Much like Gabbie and Tana above, she herself might not have intended to scam followers, but accepting the sponsorship put her in that position.
Three people won the giveaway, and none of them got their stuff. Two were actually discovered to be disqualified (for either their age or location, neither of which was mentioned in the giveaway launch) but only after heavy, persistent questioning of both Violet and Cheek, and the third person, who was both in the US and of age, never got their stuff. They were told it was shipped, and then they never received it or an answer from Cheek.
Casey Aonso: “exploring the world of youtuber scams” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAnIbBhOmoI (This is a video – ads are a little excessive, you have been warned)