What Do Influencers Owe Us?
Should celebrity influencers be held responsible for what they choose to promote?
Specifically, if they help convince people to invest money into companies, should they be held responsible if those companies falter... or are found to be fraudulent?
According to a proposed class-action lawsuit against now-defunct cryptocurrency exchange FTX, the answer to both questions should be a resounding yes.
The lawsuit claims a number of celebrity endorsers of FTX need to be held "responsible for luring investors into a very bad deal." These celebrities include NFL legend Tom Brady, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, tennis champion Naomi Osaka, NBA star Stephen Curry, and entrepreneur Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary (from “Shark Tank”).
As reported in The Washington Post, Adam Moskowitz, the lawyer heading up the suit, intends to argue "celebrities should be liable under a strict Florida consumer protection law, which bans 'unconscionable, deceptive, or unfair acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.'"
I'm not a lawyer, so I don't believe I can credibly comment on the legal merits of this case.
But the following are a few things I do believe.
I believe celebrities have incredible, outsized influence over people.
I don't believe that's a good thing.
I believe celebrity influencers have both a right to profit from their influence and a moral responsibility to use their influence in a positive way.
I don't believe these two tenets have to be mutually exclusive.*
I believe "You In?", FTX's 2022 Super Bowl spot starring Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen is a very amusing ad. (And I said so here.)
I believe you shouldn't make major investments based on Super Bowl advertisements, no matter how much money the companies spend on those ads to convince you to do just that.
I believe investing in anything because a man who nicknames himself "Mr. Wonderful" (while also proudly proclaiming himself to be a "shark") tells you to do so is equally ill-advised.
I believe in due diligence, and believe you should always do your own before making any big decisions or financial commitments.
I believe in accountability, and that you should ultimately be responsible for the results of your choices and actions.
I believe it's terrible when people lose their life savings (and sometimes more) to bad investments, especially since very few people knowingly make bad investments. It happens, of course, but I don't believe one should take pleasure in the misfortunes of others.
I don't believe this class-action lawsuit will be allowed to proceed, mostly because I don't see how these celebrities can be held liable for deceiving investors unless it can be proven they knew FTX was fraudulent and promoted them anyway because they were paid to do so.
I don't believe that's what happened. (And if it did, I don't believe that will be easy to prove.)
And if these celebrities didn't know that FTX was a dud, I believe the lawsuit being disallowed is a good thing.
Because as a society, I believe we're in real trouble if we get to the point where we can legally blame whomever we choose to call an "influencer" for all of our bad decisions.
* One example might be Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElheney's investment in Wrexham A.F.C., which will almost inevitably make them a lot of money in the long term, but also seems to have been incredibly positive for the city of Wrexham in the short term (at least based on what we saw in the wonderful "Welcome to Wrexham" documentary series).