Trust and Influence

If Joe Gebbia believes that you can “design for trust”, then I, Miriam Bourke, believe that one can use design to deceive.

In March 2016 Joe Gebbia captivated a San Francisco audience when on the TED stage he proclaimed the power of design in creating trust between two total strangers across the world. Gebbia’s belief was that good design can instill a sense of trust when there may be no logical reason that we would give out that trust otherwise. So if Gebbia believes that we can design for trust, then I believe that it stands to reason that good design can be used to mask shitty products.

Insert documentary of the day ‘Fyre Festival’. For those of you that haven’t heard about it or missed the documentary, Fyre Festival was a highly publicised luxury music festival in the Bahamas due to take place in April 2017. The event was heavily influencer backed with a number of celebrities, models and ‘insta-famous’ folk appearing in the promo video.

Other influencers, like Kendall Jenner, were reportedly paid up to $250,000 to promote the festival on their social media accounts.

The reality of the festival, however, was a few hurricane relief tents, no live music and cheese sandwiches. A far cry from the jet skis and luxury villas that were promoted.

Billy McFarland, the co founder of the event, was subsequently charged with fraud and was sentenced to six years imprisonment. And while I am glad that he is paying in some way for the damage that he caused, I still have a question regarding the role that paid influencers had in this shitshow.

I believe trust and influence are linked in a way that cannot be underestimated, especially in a world where influence is a currency. I believe influence is not a measure of power, but rather a measure of how much we trust the opinion of those that are doing the influencing. My parents, for example, live over 3,000 miles away. This distance and my lack of financial reliance on them means that they wield very little power over my decisions, however the inherent trust that I have in them means that, whether I like it or not, their opinions hold weight and often influence over my decisions.

Trust and influence are topic specific though. I would hold as much weight to my parents opinion on Drake as I would Kylie Jenner’s opinion on my career decisions. Why? Well, while I would trust that, on both sides, their intentions may be good, as far as I am aware their respective understanding of the subjects are far less trustworthy.

If I trust that a friend knows fashion, when he/ she advocates for a fashion brand that I have never heard of I will likely look into the brand.

Now if Kendall Jenner promotes that same brand then the nature of her reach and influence is such that my trust in her ability to recommend products is increased exponentially. I will not only look into the brand, but will also be significantly more likely to buy a piece from the collection. This is not only because I trust her, but also because I trust the trust that others have placed in her.

McFarland and co. designed and promoted a world that did not exist and used the influence and reach of supermodels and celebrities to build our trust in its integrity. Without influencers Fyre Festival would not have existed.

But is it our fault for trusting the influencers in the first place or do they have some level of responsibility to those that trust their opinions and often act upon that trust?

Where do we draw the line between promoting a ‘skinny’ tea that implies watching Netflix all day everyday will make you thin as long as you drink tea while doing it, and promoting $25,000 tickets to a luxury music festival that was no more luxurious than the diarrhoea that the skinny tea gave you?

When does a sponsored post become false advertising and who is to be held responsible?

I’m honestly not sure if influencers will ever be held responsible in the eye of the law however maybe we can hold them responsible as the influencees.

We, today’s consumers of social media, might need to take a critical look at the beautifully designed worlds of those that we follow. We need to just start questioning whether this world was designed to make us trust its integrity or whether it is genuinely honest? If we don’t start to question the trust that we have placed in these posts and hold the influencers responsible for the integrity of the products that they’re promoting then Fyre Festival 2.0 is on its way sooner than you’d think.


  1. Jaclin Murphy · ·

    First off I’ve been meaning to watch the Fyre documentary and your post just reinvigorated me to do so! Second I think you bring up a great point about influencers. McFarland was charged with fraud because he was knowingly deceiving customers, but you could argue, to a lesser extent, that Kendall Jenner and other involved influencers did the same. You would like to think that if your name is attached to anything that you have thoroughly investigated said product or event. I’ve seen quite a few scandals online where fans have complained about makeup palettes promoted by influencers never showing up or being cheap quality. I think at the end of the day fans make or break influencers. Wouldn’t you want to respect them enough to promote only legitimate products?

  2. Such an important question to ask! As influencers become spokespeople for products and companies, what responsibility do they have to conduct due diligence? It was actually just announced yesterday that the influencers and artists involved with Fyre Festival, along with the agencies representing, are being subpoenaed as part of a lawsuit ( It will be really interesting to see what effect, if any, this development will have on influencers and sponsored content going forward.

    And I agree, influencers have a platform and a level of trust that many people do not, and it is worrisome that there doesn’t appear to be a way to monitor the trustworthiness of their sponsored content.

  3. dilillomelissa · ·

    I really like your comment on influence acting as a currency directly relating to the trust we have in those influencers. You would hope that influencers are promoting something that they are passionate about and know is legitimate, but of course that’s many times far from accurate. Almost all the celebrities I follow on Instagram post paid sponsorships on a daily basis. It’s funny because I can tell that a lot of the time they seem bored with doing live Instagram stories, but do it for the money. This has deterred me lately from buying in to every little thing they promote. After tuning into the Fyre Festival documentaries this past weekend, I’ve definitely become more paranoid. Fans need to be smart enough to know that at the end of the day, promoters are getting paid to do what they do. While celebrities may be using their platform to promote something they actually love, in today’s world research is key, both on the promoter and consumer side.

  4. It is an interesting question of the responsibility of influencers and their sponsored posts. Through the lens of lawmakers, where is the “line” drawn between exaggerated marketing and actual fraud. After watching the Hulu documentary and reading this blog, my question is how much did the actual influencers know about the event they were promoting? Did they know they were promoting a fraudulent event or did McFarland convince them otherwise? It seems without complete responsibility on the influencers, they may have not cared to investigate the actual legitimacy of the event. With upwards of $250,000 being involved in some cases, slight convincing by McFarland may have been necessary to accept this large sum of money in exchange for a post. As the investigation into Fyre Festival continues, I will be interested to see where the courts fall. Could we see potential action against influencers? Most likely not, but any action may push influencers to be more cautious about the products they promote.

  5. cgriffith418 · ·

    This is such an awesome, thought-provoking post! The Fyre Festival holds a mirror up to the slippery-slope of social media behavior, by both content creators and consumers, that has been building as long as social media has been growing in prevalence. Hopefully this will encourage all parties to be more conscious of what they put and see on social media. But I fear you’re right that getting influencers to think harder about what they are promoting will be the most challenging part, since there is such high reward for them at so little risk.

  6. Olivia Crowley · ·

    I have been particularly intrigued by the post-disaster coverage of Fyre Festival, and the competing documentaries put out by Netflix and Hulu. I recently came across an interesting article from Page Six ( that talks about how Jerry Media, the company behind the promotion for the festival, also produced the Netflix documentary about the series of events that occurred. From this, one can only infer that the film would be quite biased. However, the writer and the director of the film states in the article, “We were happy to work with Jerry Media and a number of others on the film. At no time did they, or any others we worked with, request favorable coverage in our film, which would be against our ethics.” Nevertheless, it would definitely be interesting to see how the two documentaries compare, and if there really are any biases that can be detected in terms of how the influencers are portrayed.

  7. This line was amazing!!!

    “Where do we draw the line between promoting a ‘skinny’ tea that implies watching Netflix all day everyday will make you thin as long as you drink tea while doing it, and promoting $25,000 tickets to a luxury music festival that was no more luxurious than the diarrhoea that the skinny tea gave you?”

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