Tayler Holder and the ethics of influencers ‘soft-launching’ allegations

Analysis

In late January, nearly 40 influencers unfollowed TikTok royalty Tayler Holder, sending the rumor mill into overdrive. Several of his former influencer friends started posting vague Instagram stories about Holder and dropping hints about what was going on behind the scenes, with Holder’s former friend Bryce Hall posting a selfie alongside the caption: “Things are about to get crazy.” 

You may think Hall was referring to his rumored movie with Charli D’Amelio, a new video on his YouTube channel, or his 2021 beef with Austin McBroom—but influencers, commentators, and Hall himself claim that the “crazy” thing in question is Holder facing severe allegations of some kind. The nature of these allegations has yet to be confirmed, but one influencer who unfollowed Holder described him as committing “sinister acts.” 

In contrast, other commentators like Keemstar claimed Holder is facing “serious allegations from multiple victims.” Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy didn’t beat around the bush in the BFFs podcast, asking Holder straight up about sexual misconduct allegations. But Holder didn’t give a straight answer in response. More and more influencers jumped on this bandwagon—inserting themselves into discussions about what Holder allegedly has or hasn’t done—throughout February. It is still uncertain, weeks later, what is going on with Holder. Holder did not immediately respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment. 

Hall made a YouTube video claiming Holder was facing multiple “allegations,” while creator Jordyn Jones mentioned in her podcast that at least one woman shared a “story” about Holder and asked Jones if she had one. The Daily Dot has reached out to both Hall and Jones via email. 

There’s a lot of tiptoeing around the specifics of these allegations. Countless influencers alongside Jones and Hall are promising that more information would come to light soon about Holder, yet nothing definitive has been said. This trickling of information here and there is akin to a marketing technique known as soft-launching, where a product or service is made partly available to build anticipation toward its full, “hard launch.” Given how “allegations” around Holder have danced around, this leads to an uncomfortable question: Are these influencers soft-launching sexual assault?

The influencer space is infamous for its tone-deaf reactions to harrowing news, often treating disturbing situations and allegations as ‘“tea” or drama as opposed to devastating and damaging events. But in the last couple of years, we have seen things go a step further than that, with creators essentially turning alleged crimes into entertainment. For instance, dozens of YouTubers’ niche is applying makeup on-camera while discussing how a child was killed, and TikTokers took it upon themselves to “investigate” missing woman Gabby Petito as if it were their own true crime documentary. The problem is that accusations are no longer treated as thorny, complex, and often traumatic situations. Instead, they are diluted and twisted into a form of online entertainment for viewers to consume. 

Given that they’re under increased public scrutiny, one would expect influencers to know more intimately than most how damaging trivializing severe situations and allegations can be. This makes some of them repeatedly capitalizing off serious allegations or events deeply ironic. But it’s all part of the game. From Jeffree Star promising “receipts” that James Charles took advantage of young men to Alex Cooper scrambling to get controversial people on her podcast to “tell their side of the story,” it’s clear that grave issues like crime and death as well as assault allegations have career currency. This perhaps explains why influencers will address serious issues in a way that fuels the drama economy and keeps them relevant, which more often than not only serves to trivialize the nature of these kinds of accusations. 

In an episode of her podcast, influencer Jordyn Jones read questions from listeners, smiling slightly as one asked, “What the hell is going on” after noticing she unfollowed Holder. After hinting at these potentially “serious allegations” on her presumably monetized podcast, she insisted, as a person stuck in the middle of two warring best friends, she was “staying out of it.” Hall was later filmed expressing similar sentiments, laughing and joking about the cease and desist letter he allegedly received from Holder and adding, “If I wanted to talk shit about Tayler, I’d say it to his face.” 

Hall essentially reduces the accusations to “talking shit” about Holder. Like Jones, Hall seems to switch between treating the rumored accusations against Holder as a petty high-school fallout and a highly-anticipated product launch. In Jones’ case, she begins by hyping it up as some kind of drama before going on to trivialize it as something to “stay out” of. Maybe Hall, Jones, and other influencers’ response to these rumored accusations is indicative of what happens when you thrust people into the spotlight as teenagers and young adults, but that doesn’t make their eerily-detached attitude to a dark and severe rumor any less disturbing and, more broadly, damaging to broader perspectives of assault allegations. 

None of these influencers have explicitly said the word “assault.” Their vague language around these accusations coupled with the fact that none of them have necessarily denied that this might be the case has arguably only helped to fuel rumors among fans that these accusations amount to sexual misconduct. Reducing possible alleged assault allegations to a petty fallout or drama among friends has serious implications: Namely, it doesn’t treat such allegations with the weight and respect that’s needed. It significantly underplays the seriousness of the situation while also giving the narrative a playful dimension, which will only serve to encourage fans to treat these allegations (and their potential victims) with a similar lightness. It can lead to more victim-blaming, the silencing of victims, and ultimately builds an environment that makes it hard for victims to speak out and for their potential assailants to be held accountable. 

What makes these influencers’ blasé attitudes toward potential sexual assault more concerning is the fact that nearly simultaneous to the mass exodus from Holder’s Instagram, another high-profile sexual misconduct rumor was making the rounds in influencer circles. In late January, TikTok star Jack Wright released a harrowing 17-minute YouTube video detailing allegations of sexual assault by a fellow influencer, Sienna Mae Gomez. 

While Wright was widely supported by fans when going public in full with these allegations, he also experienced a lot of victim-blaming and harassment from Gomez’s fanbase, with his TikTok being flooded by users trying to disparage Wright and defend Gomez from these allegations (which she and her representative have denied). While a small number of influencers pledged their support to Wright in the comments of his YouTube video and TikToks, there was no kind of high-profile mass-unfollowing of Gomez like we are seeing now toward Holder. In fact, many influencers like Tana Mongeau are continuing to hang out and post content with Gomez.

Influencers’ reactions to Holder is new territory even by influencer standards. 

In 2021, Gomez faced similar accusations in the creator space and was not exiled by her own. Neither was Tony Lopez nor James Charles. But now, there is a coordinated influencer effort to exclude Holder, and, in the process, a serious situation is being trivialized like never before.

The problem isn’t so much that they’re condemning Holder at this level—it’s the fact that they’re doing so when they have a track record of keeping quiet on other accusations in their profession. It perpetuates the idea that it’s OK to pick and choose which victims to believe and which sexual assault allegations to take seriously. Regardless of what Holder has allegedly done, and how that compares to the severity of other past allegations facing influencers, this is wrong. Abuse, assault, and harassment are wrong and damaging regardless of their varying levels of legal severity, and imposing a hierarchy of what kind of sexual harassment and assault “matters” can inflict untold harm on their young audiences.

Another concerning result of this soft-launching is the fact that a growing number of social media users believe that Holder hasn’t actually done anything at all. Given how cancelation can oftentimes boost influencers’ relevancy rather than scupper it, many of of these users believe that his PR team is behind this mass-unfollowing exodus and vague allusions to assault, with their aim being to hype up “drama” and ensure Holder gets more media attention to promote his latest music. Of course, this is a pretty far-fetched conclusion to jump to. But the fact that so many users’ minds went there is symptomatic of the detached and all-too-lighthearted example these influencers are leading when it comes to sexual violence rumors against one of their own.

Update 12:05pm CT March 15: This story has been updated to remove Benji Krol’s name as Jorge Garay admitted to sending photos of Krol without his consent as well as “manipulating” him into getting involved, according to Dexerto.

If you are a victim of sexual assault or want more information on sexual assault, contact the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).