This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
The Bucket List Family are an influencer family who have gained millions of fans over the past few years due to their admittedly enviable lifestyle. After the dad, Garrett Gee, sold an app he developed, Scan, to Snapchat for $54 million in 2014, he and his wife, Jessica embarked on a life of adventure.
Along with their kids, the Gees have traveled all over the world (75 countries in four years, they told Parents magazine). The reason for their social media platforms, ostensibly, is to share their life (they claim to be an “average” family of “travel journalists” on their website) with others who want to see the world through their eyes.
Despite the Gees’ lovable, wholesome shtick, cracks have formed in their veneer. One example, as Tanya reported in 2019, was when many people criticized their holiday sweepstakes and accused them of purposefully obfuscating details as a way to gain followers and engagement. (At the time, Jessica said that the giveaway was “not a random sweepstakes like some Instagram giveaways, but rather a thoughtful gift from our family to others.” She didn’t respond to further questions.)
But a video published this week took the bloom off the Gees’ rose for many of their longtime supporters. The couple shared that Jessica had been in a bad skiing accident; followers said the way they presented it was unfair and cruel.
The video, uploaded on Sunday, had a clickbaity YouTube title: “Mom is Emergency Lifted by Helicopter to the Hospital. Heli Ski Accident in Utah.” It wasn’t just that the title seemed meant to scare the viewer; it was the way the video ended. After 15 minutes of lighthearted family skiing footage, Jessica wipes out and cries in pain.
Garrett, still holding his camera so he is filming himself as he races to Jessica’s side, finally reaches her and records her crying. We then see Garrett sitting alone on the slope, pounding the ground as a helicopter flies away. The screen cuts to black and reads, “To be continued..”
There is so much to unpack here. The clickbait title, which manipulates fans to watch it until the end to see if Jessica is OK (and boost the channel’s watch time). The fact that Garrett doesn’t turn the camera off as he walks up the hill, ensuring he gets the perfect shot. The fact that his first instinct once he reached his wife was to continue filming her. And the cliffhanger, as if this were a TV show toying with the fate of a main character, rather than real people and a real accident.
The Gees promoted the video on Instagram with a teaser Instagram Story slide that read, “Our Sunday video contains some sad and heart breaking footage. 😖💔😰”
Then they went dark. Fans, predictably, freaked out. The family gave no indication what had actually happened to Jessica or how serious her injuries were. Given how incredibly dangerous skiing accidents can be, fans were left to worry. The comment section on the family’s latest Instagram post is filled with heart-wrenching pleas from fans. A few even wrote they had trouble sleeping.
Fans also were upset at the way the news had been presented. Of course, they wrote, the Gees should share when bad things happen and keep details private if they choose — but this felt like “emotional manipulation.”
About a day after leaving followers hanging with the cliffhanger in the video, the family uploaded a text slide in Jessica’s voice. She wrote: “I have mixed feelings when I watch the video. I’m grateful Garrett documents the ups and downs of our lives. But I definitely cringe and cry when I watch the accident.”
This message from Jessica came as a relief, as she was well enough to post on Instagram. But what actually happened was still a mystery. Finally, on Wednesday, the family uploaded a new photo of Jessica going into surgery to their grid and posted another photo to their stories. She thanked fans for their support.
By this point, though, a lot of fans were pissed at how the situation had been handled and the lack of clarity. Garrett went on defense in the comment section, calling people “judgmental” and saying he didn’t have time to update everyone. He also seemed to confirm Jessica had suffered a bad knee injury, which required surgery.
He posted a scolding message to his Instagram story, saying Jessica had been crying due to all the “hurtful comments.”
The couple then deleted the surgery post on the grid. (They didn’t respond to a request for comment from me.)
If you need an example as to why YouTube culture is broken, I think this should be exhibit A (of many, many more examples).
Sharing your family online is fine. Making money off YouTube is fine. But when you find yourself openly baiting your audience with a serious accident for clicks and engagement, it may be time to look in the mirror and ask yourself: How low are you willing to go to for YouTube?
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