In the wake of last week’s violent Capitol riot, white supremacists are being arrested and conspiracy theorists are being deplatformed. But the online disinformation ecosystem that fueled it lives on in other ways — including in the beauty influencer world.
Last week, a group of some of the internet’s biggest beauty influencers spoke out about their fellow vlogger Amanda Ensing, known by her 1.4 million YouTube subscribers for content such as Kardashian-inspired makeup tutorials and lip filler advice. But recently, she’s added politics to the mix, voicing her support for outgoing President Trump. Lately, she has publicly endorsed his unfounded election fraud claims and the pro-Trump D.C. rally that led to the storming of the Capitol last week.
Misinformation has been rife among a group of lifestyle, wellness, beauty and fashion influencers, who have embraced Qanon conspiracy theories and parroted Republican political leaders’ false claims about election results. They have not, however, stopped monetizing their platforms through brand promotions via sponcon or affiliate links — thus dragging the brands they profit from into the mix.
“Consumers associate a sponsoring brand as implicitly endorsing the sponsored influencer’s comments and behavior,” said Stacy DeBroff, the CEO and founder of Influence Central. “This can powerfully harm a brand’s reputation, from consumers boycotting its products to having other top influencers refuse to work with the brand.”
Since becoming more vocal about her support in November, Ensing is one of the largest beauty influencers to date to share pro-Trump conspiracies. On Thursday, she shared on her Instagram Stories a Parler post with false claims about Trump’s whereabouts by Qanon believer Lin Wood, who was recently kicked off Twitter and censored on Parler after stating Vice President Mike Pence should face the “firing squad.” Ensing has also posted that she does not believe President-Elect Joe Biden won the election, sharing debunked and false Qanon-linked conspiracy theories — one tweet makes a claim about “fake ballots” printed in China, while another talks about a bogus “diary” by Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden.
Brands that worked with Ensing in the past or even followed her were tagged en masse by “tea” account Here for the Tea 2 as it documented her statements. A wide range of brands are featured in Ensing’s past posts, including Dior, Farsali and Boxycharm, and she features countless gifted products in her tutorials. While her last main-feed sponsored post was a Savage X Fenty promotion on October 21, Here For The Tea 2 pointed out that the brand has since unfollowed her. Physicians Formula, which was tagged by the watchdog account, stated in an Instagram comment that it does not work with her and unfollowed her. Stila said in a statement, “Amanda Ensing has never had a relationship with Stila Cosmetics. In 2017 she made an unsolicited and unsponsored video reviewing Stila products. That video was re-posted on Stila’s Facebook. However, that video is now being removed.”
“Following the Capitol Hill riot, corporations have come out in strong opposition to the violence,” said DeBroff. “Brands will thus act quickly to cancel sponsorship and distance themselves from Ensing to protect their own reputations.”
“Given the larger context of the current U.S. political landscape, and especially following the events of January 6, brands need to be extremely careful about who they associate with,” said Mary Keane-Dawson, the CEO at influencer agency Takumi. She said that, given her recent comments, Ensing is “an unsavory candidate for any brand partnership.”
Because Ensing is such a well-known figure in the beauty vlogger world, prominent influencers have also taken notice. Those speaking out against her posts on Twitter and Instagram include Jackie Aina (3.57 million YouTube subscribers), Christen Dominique (4.22 million), Manny Gutierrez (4.87 million), Alissa Ashley (2.8 million), Shayla Mitchell (2.7 million on Instagram) and Gabriel Zamora (879,000 on Instagram). Ensing did not respond to a request for comment, but her online posts contended that she is being unfairly targeted for voting for Republicans.
Influencers have become especially vocal on Twitter after she tweeted her support of the pro-Trump event on Wednesday. While she tweeted after the riot that she did not condone the violence, she had posted earlier in the day, “There’s not enough popcorn in the world for what’s about to happen.”
According to Keane-Dawson, “We cannot understate the severity of this latest controversy involving the Capitol riot. It needs to be condemned on all levels, and from brands and individuals alike.”
Dominique posted on her Instagram stories that she “had to dissociate” both her brand (Dominique Cosmetics) and herself from “someone.” While she didn’t mention Ensing’s name, she said it was “someone that I’ve known since she moved to LA and left,” which followers took to refer to Ensing’s recent move from LA to Tennessee.
“If any of the brands tagged stood in solidarity with the BLM movement, or any movement in the name of humanity, they should absolutely take immediate action when anyone associated with them — be it a distributor, influencer or staff member — contradicts their opinion, ethics and values,” said Unsah Malik, a social media and influencer strategist. “Especially when it’s something as big as this.”
Since Ensing began heavily posting in support of Trump, her follower count has declined. Influencer marketing platform Klear found that Ensing has been losing Instagram followers “steadily” since November 2020. In November, she had 1.426 million, which declined by 15,000 in December, and went down by another 38,000 to 1.373 million as of January 8. Between January 6 and 8 alone, she lost 12,784 followers, according to Klear.
“If a brand supports any value, [their] brand ambassadors [should], as well,” said Eytan Avigdor, the CEO and co-founder of Klear. “We strongly encourage brands to perform thorough brand-safety audits,” including flagging malicious keywords and reviewing past collaborations. “As such controversies become more frequent, brand safety checks should be common practice when entering a collaboration.”
Brands have recently been quicker to cut ties with problematic influencers than they have in the past. Due to the rise of tea sites (and social media, in general), brands are being called out for even loose associations with them, prompting the need for a vigilant social team to act quickly when a controversy arises.
“Brands should already be strict with who they work with. If they’re not, they’re already 10 steps behind,” said Malik. “This is from both an ethical point of view, and for general success with influencer or affiliate marketing.”