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I can show you the world...but not the fine print.
This week, angry fans said they felt duped by a popular Instagram account that did not make clear the full details about a massive annual giveaway for free trips around the world. Some people even argued that the lapse in disclosure allowed the family’s account to rack up a lot more engagement and followers.
What we know so far is thanks largely to a lawyer named Paige Griffith, from Montana, who spent her holidays digging and posting about the debacle to her Instagram stories. More from her later.
The Gee family, more ubiquitously known as the Bucket List Family by their more than 2.4 million Instagram followers, are five self-proclaimed nomads who travel the world for content. This lifestyle was possible after dad Garrett Gee reportedly sold his app to Snapchat for $54 million in 2015. You love to hate to be envious to see it.
Each year, parents Garrett and Jessica host a huge giveaway series they call “12 Days of Bucket List Christmas.” The idea is that for 12 days at the end of the year, they surprise “families in need with a gift that means so much to [their] own family: the gift of travel,” Jessica told me. This year’s destinations include Tanzania, Hawaii, Fiji, Disney World in Orlando, and more. It’s a huge, commendable idea, and fans get excited about it every year.
This year, however, the family’s latest posts about their giveaways have been flooded with comments from frustrated fans who say the whole thing was carried out in a way they felt was “shady” or, at the very least, very confusing.
Many people say they felt misled by the family’s overly simplistic instructions in their IG captions on how to submit to the contest. “All you need to do is LIKE this post then SHARE this post in your Instagram stories!” Garrett and Jessica wrote in many captions announcing each leg of the sweepstakes.
But apparently, to officially enter, according to their website’s legal terms and conditions, one must also be “following and tagging the required accounts, and filling out the required form(s).” (The IG caption on some posts have since been updated to link to their official rules and terms after they received backlash this week.)
“Can you please help clarify how you are choosing the family for this trip? In the caption, it says that one need only like & share the post,” one person wrote. Many comments like this began cropping up because people became aware that by simply liking and sharing the posts, they were not in fact officially entered into the giveaway.
Paige, an intellectual property and contracts lawyer who has a following of about 13,000 on her Instagram @thelegalpaige, took notice as this was all unfurling. She became personally invested because she felt the Bucket List Family was being “dishonest,” as she put it on a series of stories she posted on Tuesday.
First, as she and the fans have noted, the official rules to enter were not made clear.
“I felt the need to explain to the public how the ‘liking and sharing’ was not actually entering them in the sweepstakes, but that there were many more steps including liking other Instagram accounts, following them on YouTube, posting photos/videos of your family on Instagram, using hashtags, and filling out a contact information form,” she told me on Thursday.
Second, the official guidelines said Garrett and Jessica “will announce the winners between December 10th and December 21st.” This means, as Paige noted in her original posts, the contest was presumably closed on Dec. 21. “So why are you having people still ‘enter to win’” after that date?” she asked.
“They needed to be totally transparent and clear in every single post and continually link their official rules. But instead they didn’t and let people continue ‘liking and sharing,’ which ultimately helped them gain more followers by deceiving the public,” Paige argued. She added that she’s since been blocked by the Bucket List Family account.
Commenters are accusing the parents of framing the instructions this way in order to gain a ton of new followers and engagements to their Instagram account.
“They’ve gained half a million followers by doing this which equates to a TON of more money for them per post. That’s why it’s shady,” one commenter alleged. “Any one of those 500,000 people who hasn’t been following their journey thinks that all they have to do is ‘like and share’ to enter because that’s literally what it says to do.”
Some are trying to run to the family’s defense, with one willing to extend the “benefit of the doubt here.”
“At the end of the day, @thebucketlistfamily are just trying to do something nice for some great families that deserve it, while some people are just spending their time writing negative comments,” one added.
But it’s only spawned more arguments.
“If they didn’t do anything wrong why did they block @thelegalpaige and edit their captions??” someone shot back.
I reached out to Garrett and Jessica on Christmas Day — ‘cause this is the state of my life and niche interests — and to my surprise, Jessica responded to me quickly. I asked her if she could address the backlash generally and specifically: Were winners already selected before some of the posts were made about asking people to enter? Why were full instructions not communicated on IG when the sweepstakes were announced? Can you respond to fans’ confusion and anger?
Jessica responded with a statement saying this was “not a random sweepstakes like some Instagram giveaways, but rather a thoughtful gift from our family to others.” She then sent me a link to last year’s heartwarming YouTube video they made from last year’s sweepstakes. I followed up, asking again if they can address some of the points of confusion. I’ll update this if and when I hear back.
Whether the miscommunication was benign or intentional, it should not take away from the very kind and cheerful gesture of giving away something as huge as an international family trip. This is Oprah-level giving, and we can all recognize that. A funny and random and also happy addition to all of this is that Bachelor couple Arie and Lauren Luyendyk were tasked with delivering the surprise to one family in Phoenix this week, which they storied for everyone to see. Feel-good things are feel-good on the surface for a reason. It made me feel good to watch it all.
The thing to remember, though, is this: On social media, nothing is wholly selfless — even if it’s advertised as such. And the commenters are just trying to make sure there is accountability amid the festive, performative benevolence of it all.
“We all know it is extremely kind of them to give away these trips! That’s not the point,” one person wrote. “The point is it’s unethical and misleading to people who loyally follow them.”
Until next time — Am I going to just hurl this completely unrelated Instagram of gymnast Shawn Johnson’s husband pranking her by feeding her a cappuccino made with her own breast milk at you? Yes. Yes, I am,