Anonymous man wearing a mask

Book review: ‘Hype’ by Gabrielle Bluestone

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Journalist Gabrielle Bluestone investigates the world of scammers and con artists on the internet – and why we continue to fall for them.

In a world where marketing is now prominent on social media and the internet, Vice reporter Gabrielle Bluestone explores some of the biggest online scams in recent history. From music festivals that didn’t really happen to app ideas that made their developers rich before they even developed anything, ‘Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, Con Artists, and Influencers Are Taking Over the Internet – and Why We’re Following’ (HarperCollins, £16.99, ISBN: 9780008382643) delves through statistics, marketing data, and interviews to find out the real reason we fall for so much online.

Promotional fantasies are everywhere across the internet. One recent example was the famous Fyre Festival scandal of 2017. Indeed, Instagram “influencers” hyped the would-be music festival, which would have taken place in the Bahamas, right up to the time it crashed and burned, leaving ticket-holders stranded on an island with no music, no lodgings, and none of the supermodels who had promoted the project. 

And here lies the premise of the book. Bluestone uses the failed music festival as a foundation for specific case studies of “over-hyped influencers” (such as the Kardashian family), and explores how fraudsters like Billy McFarland, the man behind the Fyre Festival scandal, convince the masses to buy into their marketing and images on platforms such as Instagram.

The story of Billy McFarland and the Fyre Festival is at the core of the book (Bluestone broke the Fyre Festival debacle), and if you’ve watched the Netflix documentary about that, readers may be interested in the additional details of how it all went down. And although ‘Hype’ uses the frame of the Fyre Festival debacle to explore the whole world of internet hype, I felt the narrative jumped back and forth throughout, and rather abruptly from one topic to another, as Bluestone organises the book thematically instead of chronologically. And given how many companies, people, and places were involved with Fyre, it gets confusing really quickly.

That being said, the book still gave me the perspective and incentive to increase my critical thinking when considering something on Instagram and Facebook and what I considered purchasing, especially seeing as it’s the main channel through which advertisement reaches me. Bluestone is also clearly extremely knowledgeable, and I am impressed with her investigation and information-gathering. She spoke to an impressive number of insiders and seems to have tracked down every detail of Fyre Festival operator McFarland’s (many) schemes and scams.

Although this book is a highly compelling read in terms of the stories being told and draws on many examples about the most popular internet scams, I don’t think it really delivered on the promise of giving me as the reader a better understanding as to why people follow the “hype” of influencers, or better yet, expose some more subtle and deeper subterfuge that happens online.

Overall, although the book was very well researched, to an extent, I felt that it didn’t live up to its own hype with drawing conclusions about the broader online scamming world; I was hoping for some deeper insights into why and how scammers scam so successfully. That being said, if you are an avid fan of the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix, or curious about the debacle, and would like to learn more about what made this event so scandalous, then this is certainly the book for you.

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