Twitter ignited an already known hashtag: in the night between June 30 and July 1, #BalanceTonInfluenceur invaded the platform, in line with #BalanceTonYoutubeur or #BalanceTonPorc, a few years earlier.
While it is difficult to know who is behind the return of this hashtag on social networks, many testimonies have poured in to denounce the alleged behavior of some streamers and influencers, such as Amaru, a streamer who touches one million subscribers on Twitch. or Arthur of Studio Danielle. Under this hashtag, testimonials, screenshots of conversations, photos and videos, which would show inappropriate messages to sometimes underage subscribers.
Allegations echoing revelations about Léo Grasset, aka DirtyBiology, popular science YouTuber. The latter was targeted by a Mediapart investigation and by the testimony of several women who accuse him of sexist, sexual and psychological violence. On July 5, a complaint was filed against him for sexual harassment. It is not the first time that accusations have been made against content creators or influencers: the names of the Youtubers Norman or Pierre Croce have emerged for several years on Twitter, without these accusations having been implemented. Because a horde of fans opposed the complaints of the victims, convinced of the innocence of their favorite Youtuber / streamer / influencer, rejecting the words of the victims as a whole.
Halo effect and shareholder relations
Squeezie, Léna Situations, Etoiles, Maghla, etc., on YouTube, Twitch or Instagram, content creators expose their lives, their interests, their thoughts and opinions, a part of their intimacy. In fact, one may have the impression of having established a special relationship with them, even if this relationship is fictitious… Because it is one-way. This is called parasocial relationships, a term defined by American researchers Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl in 1956.
If at the time the researchers were talking about the closeness felt by viewers for some media figures, the phenomenon has spread today with social networks. Unlike television, it is possible to have some degree of interactivity with the personality we follow, from comments or the reaction of an Instagram story. Content creators particularly appreciate this authenticity and connection with their community, especially for their business model.
Thus, when charges are raised against web stars, some Internet users get the impression that someone close to them is being accused. “With influencers we have a stronger intimacy, and therefore the emotion is stronger”, analyzes Violette Kerleaux, a social psychologist specializing in the prevention of gender and sexual violence. A stronger emotion also linked to what can be linked to the halo effect, which designates the tendency to make certain characteristics of a person more positive even if we do not know them. This cognitive bias encourages, for example, to think that beautiful and famous people would necessarily be very understanding or incapable of any cruel act, given these first characteristics.
Stubborn myths and prejudices about gender and sexual violence
“We tend to think binary. If we like someone and that person is accused, it’s almost a cognitive disruption, it doesn’t fit into the box we defined. It disturbs a positive image, takes time and is more difficult to accept, ”explains Violette Kerleaux. We have seen this phenomenon manifest itself during the libel lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: if the actress was ridiculed on her social networks, her ex-husband presented himself in her light better than her, smiling and joking. Many Johnny Depp fans were therefore not ready to believe their favorite actor’s fault.
Since 2017 and the #MeToo movement there has been a lot of talk about freeing the voice of victims of sexual and gender-based violence, or at least listening to them more. However, as soon as these accusations target celebrities, we see a violent interrogation of their word appear: whoever starts speaking is treated as a liar motivated by an alleged venality.
“There are myths around sexist and sexual violence that operate in three points: minimizing the violence, making the victims feel guilty and relieving the perpetrator of responsibility”, summarizes Violette Kerleaux. Among these myths is that some victims lie to gain fame and fortune: in the United States, a study estimated that false testimony in cases of gender and sexual violence represented 2 to 10% of cases … A drop of water in the ocean. “However, people focus a lot on this, and this leads to a trivialization of violence,” emphasizes Violette Kerleaux.
Content creators, attackers like the others?
Another topic widely advanced in this type of case: why did the victims not speak earlier? Also in this case Violette Kerleaux emphasizes the lack of education on how violence works, from the mechanisms of influence to stupor, passing through traumatic amnesia. According to the psychologist, whoever speaks when the facts are prescribed “speaks to support those who have the possibility to file a complaint”.
Last example to date: the fifteen women who accuse Patrick Poivre d’Arvor of sexual assault and rape, most of whom testified decades after the events … Some have explained to Mediapart that they want to testify to support other victims who have had a chance to go to court.
When we do the #BalanceTonInfluenceur on Twitter, or when we watch the comments below the Mediapart video about Léo Grasset, one topic regularly comes up: “I can’t believe he did it, I really enjoyed his work. Difficulty believing to victims derives from the position of power that these content creators can exercise towards a sometimes very young audience. “The phenomenon of control is all the greater when you are in front of a celebrity”, develops Violette Kerleaux, recalling that issues of control and consent are sometimes complex, but he also explains that influencers, by virtue of their status, have a form of power, “which can create a feeling of impunity.”
Almost a week after #BalanceTonInfluenceur flooded the web, it’s radio silence. No complaint was filed and few media outlets picked up the case. It would appear that the allegations are either hiding, or are being stifled by a community of offensive fans. For Violette Kerleaux it is necessary to “respect the time of justice”: if “some people have had no choice but to testify in public places”, she believes that MeToo has changed the situation. “The police are better trained, we can use the way of justice, even if it takes longer,” she says. Because taking sexist and sexual violence seriously happens mostly in court. And not on social media.
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