This blog entry is prompted by our having read Gabrielle Bluestone’s book: Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over the Internet—and Why We’re Following (2021). We’re a little late to the party, but better late than never because the book contains much of interest.

Bluestone is an attorney, a journalist, and importantly for this post, the Emmy-nominated producer of Netflix’s Fyre documentary. We have blogged before about the infamous Fyre Festival fraud (, but Bluestone adds a whole new level of detail, naturally focusing on the scandal’s prime mover—Billy McFarland. But she also spends much of the book examining the psychology of the victims of the Fyre Festival scam, many of whom came back for more.  And, interestingly, Bluestone examines the denizens of the Internet who routinely get taken to the cleaners by influencers.

Here at Ethics Unwrapped, we most commonly address the question of why people make the ethical and unethical choices that they do. Why does a person decide to scam other folks? Bluestone’s book contributes to our understanding of that question, but she is more concerned with the question:  Why are people victimized by scams, sometimes serially? Many of the same psychological concepts that enlighten us regarding first question (Why do people scam?) are also relevant to the second question (Why do people get scammed?).

Consider the conformity bias. This is people’s tendency to take their cues as to how to think and act from those around them. Bluestone quotes famed Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura who found that “most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” The conformity bias can lead good people to do bad things if those in their in-group are doing those bad things. Lance Armstrong told Oprah Winfrey that he thought everyone on the Tour de France was doping, so doping didn’t seem wrong.

The conformity bias can also explain victim behavior. Too many people aspire to be like the Kardashians, or Ariana Grande or Charli D’Amelio, or (a focus of Bluestone’s book) Danielle Bernstein, founder of @shopweworewhat. What Billy McFarland and others behind the aborted Fyre Festival understood was that there are millions of people out there who want to be rich and famous themselves and, failing that, wish to be rich-and-famous adjacent. They will, therefore, pay money to attend even obviously sketchy events like the Fyre Festival if they are convinced that they will be able to spend time in the company of famous trust fund babies, beautiful models, and influencers with millions of followers.

Mostly these vulnerable people just follow their idols on the Internet, but they will be very much interested when given the opportunity to consort with them on a beach in the Caribbean. McFarland knew this and focused on influencers as his primary means of marketing the festival. His biggest single marketing expense involved flying many prominent models from New York City to the Bahamas. When it became clear even to McFarland that the festival was not going to deliver on any of its significant promises (musical acts, luxury accommodations, gourmet food) and instead was going to deliver no music, a few tents on the beach, and awful cheese sandwiches, he still hoped that being able to spend time in the vicinity of famous folks would be enough to satisfy the ticket holders. Unfortunately, the famous folks were all smart enough to stay away.

Bluestone’s sixth chapter is entitled “On the Internet No One Knows You’re a Fraud,” where she focuses on influencer Caroline Calloway who launched her career by purchasing 40,000 bot followers and using a ghostwriter to supply much of the content about her largely-imagined life. Like McFarland, she charged followers $165 each for a “Creativity Workshop” that she could not produce. And yet, she was pretty and persistent and thrived because, like McFarland, she knew how many people out there wished to hang with the attractive and glamorous.

Even after being arrested and granted bail for the Fyre Festival scandal, McFarland resorted again (and again) to his winning formula of selling access that he did not have to exclusive, high-end events populated by the rich and famous like NYC’s Met Gala, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Burning Man, and a dinner with LeBron James. He quickly stole $100,000 from the same people he scammed with the Fyre Festival because he used the same mailing list, though he was smart enough to hide his identity behind the name NYC VIP Access.

Ultimately, the conformity bias is a strong phenomenon. It can lead good people to do unethical things just because those around them are doing the same unethical things which makes these things seem not so bad. And, to Bluestone’s point, it can cause people to open their wallets to influencers. Derrick Borte, a filmmaker who created a 2009 movie called The Joneses, which anticipated the influencer economy, says:

But I think now, you’ve got people that are celebrities just for being celebrities. Just for having or creating a following from some combination of a reality-TV show and a social media presence, they become a brand. And I think that you have people that are captured by that, that are mesmerized by that. And they think that, “If I do what they’re doing or do what they’re saying, I’m going to have this life that they have, or I can come close to it in some way.”

Here at Ethics Unwrapped, we often warn people that if they want to be good folks, they should listen to their own moral compass and guard against getting carried away with the crowd. But we also must warn potential fraud victims. Bluestone observes that “the Fyre ticket buyers didn’t just anticipate having a good time—they anticipated being as popular as the influencers they were following.” Bluestone quotes experts on “affective misforecasting,” which is the gap between the anticipated experience and the actual experience. That gap has never been larger than at the Fyre Festival, the brainchild of Billy McFarland who, in a moment of clarity, admitted: “We’re selling a pipe dream to your average losers.”



Albert Bandura, Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live with Themselves (2016).

Natalie Beach, “I Was Caroline Calloway: Seven Years after I Met the Infamous Instagram Star, I’m Ready to Tell My Side of the Story,” The Cut, Sept. 10, 2019.

Lindsey Bever & Amy Wang, “The Fyre Festival Was a Total Disaster. Its Founder Is Going to Prison for Wire Fraud,” Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2018.

Gabrielle Bluestone, Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over the Internet and Why We’re Following (2021).

Kenzie Bryant, “The Fyre Festival, Built on Instagram, Dies by Instagram,” Vanity Fair, April 28, 2017.

Sarah Faber, “Caroline Calloway Is (Basically) Done Being a Scammer,” Harvard Crimson, March 9, 2024.

Alice Lloyd, “Welcome to the Golden Age of Grift,” The Weekly Standard, June 14, 2018.



Conformity Bias:

“FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” (2019)