Scams, grifts, cons, pretty much the act of tricking and lying people out of money has been a staple of any economy, society, and workforce since the concept of wealth and money have been a thing. In Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists are Taking Over the Internet—and Why We’re Following, former Vice reporter, Gabrielle Bluestone, analyzes the seemingly irresistible “hype” that fuels the social media ecosystem, and by proxy a large swathe of the economy.
Using the Fyre Festival debacle and its mastermind Billy McFarland as a guiding post, Bluestone discusses how grifters manage to con and manipulate both actual industry veterans with immense funds and everyday people aspiring to a life desperately out of their hands and opportunities. While the focus of her examinations mostly detail McFarland’s background and various enterprises leading up to the Fyre Festival disaster, Bluestone demonstrates through her analysis and examinations how the same principles, ideology, and actions that McFarland acted on are essentially the same as basically most major startups, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and politicians. The only significant differences seem to be scale and how much legal enforcement and presence is present when the grift eventually fails.
Bluestone is not vague in her allusions and comparisons as she drops names like Musk and Trump and Bloomberg alongside McFarland and other small time social media influencers and grifters. Nor does she absolve anyone of their contribution to the various cons and thefts they participate in. Because that is all it is: a con. It is the shiny veneer of lies and hope and manipulation in the belief that with enough followers, resources, and money the lie being sold will become a reality. It just so happens that it is not only the audience or “marks” that are trying to buy in; it is also the grifters themselves in the new digital age. After all, McFarland wasn’t trying to get away with millions. He was trying to fund a lifestyle that showed he already had it. It, like everything else about him, was simply built on nothing but promises.
The book itself does not really provide any new major insights into either McFarland, the Fyre Festival, or the “art” of grifting. If you have seen either available documentary, you know the general gist of the book. If you are relatively familiar with the concept of con artistry, you’ll learn nothing new within these pages. The only new tidbit is acknowledgement of how the internet and social media has allowed even the most basic con artists to scale their cons exponentially until the failure. This is both disheartening and rather hopeful. Disheartening because of how large and destructive these scams can easily become with virtually no real oversight. But, hopeful because there is nothing new, and the same methods that took the scams of the past down can and will work even with the advent of the internet.
All that is required is willingness to act against them even if it is just a small few. It is how the Fyre Festival and most of McFarland’s other grifts and so many others have failed. And that is the crux of Bluestone’s book and reporting. She writes to shed light on these crimes (because that is what they are) with the belief that it will eventually kill them off. Let us hope that is the case.