Twitter ignited a hashtag yet already known: on the night of June 30 to 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 supposed behavior of certain streamers and influencers, such as Amaru, a streamer who is close to one million subscribers. on Twitch, or Arthur from Studio Danielle. Under this hashtag, testimonials, screenshots of conversations, photos and videos, which would show inappropriate messages to sometimes underage subscribers.
Accusations that echo the revelations concerning Léo Grasset, alias DirtyBiology, popular science YouTuber. The latter was targeted by a Mediapart investigation and the testimony of several women accusing him of sexist, sexual and psychological violence. A complaint was filed against him on July 5 for sexual harassment. This is not the first time that accusations have been made against content creators or influencers: the names of Youtubers Norman or Pierre Croce have been emerging for several years on Twitter, without these accusations having been acted upon. Because the denunciations of the victims opposed a horde of fans, convinced of the innocence of their favorite Youtubeur / streamer / influencer, rejecting the words of the victims as a whole.
Halo effect and parasocial relationships
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 can have the impression of having established a special relationship with them, even though this relationship is fictitious… Since 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, researchers spoke of the closeness felt by viewers for certain media figures, the phenomenon has spread today with social networks. Unlike television, it is possible to have a degree of interactivity with the personality that we follow, by comments or reaction of a story on Instagram. Content creators particularly cherish this authenticity and the link with their community, especially for their business model.
Thus, when accusations arise against Web stars, some Internet users have 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, social psychologist specializing in the prevention of gender-based 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 sympathetic or incapable of any cruel act, in view of these first characteristics.
Tenacious myths and prejudices about gender-based and sexual violence
“We tend to think in a binary way. If we like someone and that person is accused, it’s almost a cognitive disruption, it doesn’t fit into the box we had defined. It disturbs a positive image, it takes time and it’s more difficult to accept,” explains Violette Kerleaux. We saw this phenomenon appear during the defamation lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: if the actress was ridiculed on social networks, her ex-husband was presented in his best light, smiling and doing jokes. Many Johnny Depp fans were therefore not ready to believe in the guilt of their favorite actor.
Since 2017 and the #MeToo movement, there has been a lot of talk about freeing the voices of victims of gender-based and sexual violence, or at least listening to them more. However, as soon as these accusations target celebrities, we see a very violent questioning of their word appear: those who start talking are treated as liars motivated by an alleged venality.
“There are myths around sexist and sexual violence that operate in three points: minimize the violence, make the victims feel guilty and relieve the perpetrator of responsibility”, summarizes Violette Kerleaux. Among these myths, there is that according to which some victims lie to gain fame and fortune: in the United States, a study estimated that false testimony in cases of gender-based and sexual violence represented 2 to 10% of cases… A drop of water in the ocean. “Nevertheless, people focus a lot on that, and that leads to a trivialization of violence,” underlines Violette Kerleaux.
Content creators, aggressors like the others?
Another argument widely put forward in this type of case: why did the victims not speak before? Here again, Violette Kerleaux points to the lack of education in how violence works, from the mechanisms of influence to astonishment, passing through traumatic amnesia. According to the psychologist, those who speak when the facts are prescribed “speak to support those who have the possibility of filing a complaint”.
Latest example to date: the fifteen women accusing Patrick Poivre d’Arvor of sexual assault and rape, most of whom testified decades after the facts… Some explained to Mediapart that they wanted to testify to support other victims who had the possibility to go to court.
When we unroll the #BalanceTonInfluenceur on Twitter, or when we look at the comments under the Mediapart video concerning Léo Grasset, an argument comes up regularly: “I can’t believe he did that, I really liked his work. The difficulty in believing the victims comes from the position of power that these content creators can exercise vis-à-vis an audience that is sometimes very young. “The phenomenon of control is all the greater when you are faced with a celebrity”, develops Violette Kerleaux, recalling that the questions of control and consent are sometimes complex. But she 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 picked up the case. It would seem that the accusations are falling silent, or being stifled by a community of insulting fans. For Violette Kerleaux, it is necessary to “respect the time of justice”: if “some people 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 path 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.