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How One Influencer’s Handling Of Her Mom’s Serious COVID-19 Case Turned Into Backlash That Is Threatening To Ruin Her Career

The scandal tells us a lot about the minefields internet celebrities face and how they are held accountable for their actions.

Posted on August 20, 2021, at 8:01 a.m. ET

This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.

Last weekend, Instagram influencer Daryl-Ann Denner told her more than 1 million followers some serious news. Her mother, Lisa Fletcher, had been hospitalized with COVID-19 — not long after the family had allegedly traveled and appeared in public places.

The announcement has led to a catastrophic firestorm surrounding Daryl-Ann and Lisa, which has threatened to torpedo the influencer’s career.

But before we dive in, this story is obviously sensitive. I genuinely wish Lisa a speedy recovery and feel for her entire family. It was also hard to report because Daryl-Ann is sharing the majority of the information via her Instagram stories, which vanish after 24 hours, and I haven’t been able to verify all of the recordings of her stories that other people have made. Thus, it has been hard to parse what Daryl-Ann has actually confirmed, and which allegations are just internet rumors. This also is due to Daryl-Ann herself, who has been vague with the details of her mom’s illness and didn’t return a request for comment. (She has said, though, that Lisa is recovering and doing well.)

However, Daryl-Ann is a public figure, and the controversy surrounding Lisa’s illness has not only has become a huge conversation on social media but can also tell us a lot about the minefields internet celebrities face and how they are held accountable for their actions.

What I know is that Lisa has been hospitalized for about a week with COVID-19 in the Los Angeles area, which Daryl-Ann announced to her followers last weekend. Lisa is well known to Daryl-Ann’s community, frequently appearing with her daughter on her Instagram account and even running her own page, where she has nearly 150,000 followers of her own.

When Daryl-Ann announced Lisa had been hospitalized in a series of Instagram stories (which I have seen), she also said her mom had tested positive for the virus 10 to 12 days prior, shortly after the family arrived in California from Texas. This information caused a huge backlash for Daryl-Ann because she lives so publicly. According to followers, in the days leading up to Lisa’s hospitalization, Daryl-Ann and her mom had posted stories together, and Daryl-Ann had posted some where it appeared she was out in public.

So followers wanted to know: Did Lisa really test positive more than a week prior to her hospitalization? Did she properly quarantine?

Many assumed the worst. Soon after her announcement, Daryl-Ann’s comment section exploded with people accusing her and Lisa of exposing others to COVID-19.

“How completely selfish and irresponsible of y’all to know you had tested positive, but chose not to quarantine,” one person wrote. “You and your family have been all over the place throughout the past week.”

Another person took it a step further: “Other people’s family members blood are on you and your family’s hands.”

Followers who blew up Daryl-Ann’s comment section seemed genuinely outraged. They wanted her to answer their questions: Did the family know Lisa had tested positive for the virus and not quarantine? Or is this all some giant misunderstanding?

The question is of even more concern for one fan of Daryl-Ann’s, who reached out to me via Instagram stories and asked to remain anonymous. The fan told me she had run into Daryl-Ann and Lisa while on vacation in Los Angeles last week and had taken a photo with Daryl-Ann before chatting with her and Lisa.

The next day, the fan said, she went on Daryl-Ann’s Instagram stories and saw the post that said her mom had been positive for COVID for several days.

“I’m so disappointed,” the fan told me. “I expected a lot more from her.”

She’s also concerned about her own health. In a message to Daryl-Ann, which she shared with me, she wrote: “Is it true your mom knowingly had Covid? She wasn’t wearing a mask and we were within feet of her. I’m asking out of concern for my own (and the communities health) and I’d appreciate if you could get back to me with an honest response.”

As of this writing, Daryl-Ann has not responded to the fan, and she has barely addressed the situation at all. She has provided updates on Lisa’s condition about once a day, and thanked fans who are sending her love and support.

On Wednesday, she seemed to address the controversy, saying a “small group” of people were trying to “capitalize” on her “in a weak moment.” “Not everything is shown online,” she said.

“We love people, and we would never do anything to endanger anybody,” she said.

In the vacuum of information though, the backlash has only ballooned. After Daryl-Ann started deleting negative comments and limiting them on her posts, multiple accounts have sprung up to wage a war against the influencer. The accounts are posting feverishly, documenting the dozens of comments being deleted from her page, reaching out to multiple of Daryl-Ann’s Instagram sponsors and begging them to disavow her publicly, and calling out the brands directly on their pages.

“Will @coralreefswim continue to be represented by influencers whose care of their ‘community’ is only performative? Does your company give a damn about human life? Or are you happy to stand by whoever lines your pockets?” one poster wrote in one callout to a swimwear company.

Internet outrage campaigns tend to feed on themselves, growing bigger and bigger like a swirling tornado the longer someone is in the spotlight for bad behavior. People began to call Lisa and Daryl-Ann “killers” and “insane anti-vax COVID deniers” (I couldn’t find any concrete evidence of Daryl-Ann or Lisa saying they are against the vaccine or denying the serious nature of COVID). When I posted on my Instagram stories that I hope Lisa has a full recovery, I received several messages from people telling me they didn’t care what happens to her, accusing me of being too soft on the family.

The internet also has the tendency to become like a giant game of Telephone. I saw several claims that Daryl-Ann had “used her clout” to visit her mother against hospital guidelines. This rumor seems to have been sparked by a post by Daryl-Ann, which she quickly deleted, where she asked if anyone knew someone who worked at the emergency department where Lisa is hospitalized, saying she “need[ed] some help.” However, there’s no evidence Daryl-Ann has broken hospital protocols or is secretly getting special treatment.

The situation Daryl-Ann finds herself in is a unique hazard of her profession. Daryl-Ann has made her career out of sharing her life with her audience and giving them an intimate look into her day-to-day. Unfortunately for her, that comes with a level of scrutiny into her actions beyond what an average person experiences. The relationship between an influencer and their followers is a two-way street. Followers like to support influencers in good times, but when the influencer messes up or appears to have messed up, they also expect a level of accountability.

As one person told Daryl-Ann, in a message she shared with me, all her followers want is to know whether the allegations against her are true or not.

“Let us know!” she told Daryl-Ann. “Give us the timeline! We can only not assume so much when it’s not owned up to.”


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.