The Dote scandal and how it reflects YouTube’s racism problem

Is the recent Dote scandal a PR misstep, or an indication of something more insidious?

It’s not been a great week for YouTube. At least, it’s not been a great week for some of YouTube’s top content creators and sponsors. For whistle-blowers, equal representation, and safe spaces it’s been a pretty good (if confronting) week.

With vloggers James Charles and ProJared recently called out for utilising YouTube as a vehicle for sexual harassment and shady behaviour, the hammer has now come down hard on fashion and shopping app ‘Dote’.


What went down?

Dote’s marketing strategy is central to the YouTube vlogging community – they often invite good-looking beauty and lifestyle bloggers on all expenses paid trips, using them to promote the brand. To be invited on one of these trips is to be elevated to the lofty status of ‘Dote girl’, which is usually a guarantee of connections with influencer royalty and an indicator of brand deals to come.

Recently, YouTubers Kianna Naomi, Nina Elise, and Daniella Perkins, all women of colour, came out with videos detailing their own experiences on these trips in which they were often segregated from white attendees, paid less attention by photographers, featured less on the Dote feed after the event, and felt discriminated against.

Of particular controversy was the recent ‘Dotechella’ trip, in which Dote put influencers up in luxury accommodation and paid for them to attend Coachella. In videos that circulated after the event, and even during, viewers were asking why white guests had been given seemingly a separate wing in the house, with larger beds, whilst the girls of colour had been placed in an open plan living room on sofa beds.

Perkins’ video was the first to release an exposé of the trip. It was posted on 19th April, and includes clips she took on her phone during Dotechella of her in floods of tears, stating that she was being excluded by the other girls and had been made to feel uncomfortable throughout the trip.

Perkins’ video received an outpouring of support, encouraging many other attendees of colour from the event, and of other Dote trips, to present their own experiences of discrimination and, sometimes, active racism under the supervision of the company.

Kianna Naomi remembers a Dote trip to Fiji where her and other darker models were completely ignored by photographers, and another vlogger details an experience whereby a Dote photographer directed one of his employees to make sure he ‘got video of the black girls’ after having no trouble memorising the name of the white girls in attendance.

From these videos, it became clear that the bedroom arrangements at Dotechella were pre-assigned, relegating Dote’s actions premeditated if not completely malicious.


What Dote did next…

Of particular note were the comments on these videos. Members of the Dote community of all colour and creed made the observation that the Dote Instagram feed had never been diverse in the slightest. However, the more videos came out criticising Dote the more their Instagram feed slowly shrunk, as the company went back and deleted evidence of selective posting.

Comments like that of YouTube user Nicholas Hamilton on Naomi’s video, ‘…has anyone noticed the photographer @bryant ONLY photographs white people??’, archive a fact that’s now rather hard to prove. Since the posting of Perkins’ video, Dote has deleted as many as 150 photos from their feed, beginning a campaign of models of colour captioned ‘this is what DOTE looks like’.

Except, it isn’t.

Most of these recent posts elbowing diversity into Dote’s brand were taken on an a trip to Texas for minor influencers and fans that Dote held in 2018. The group featured a range of body types and skin colours of the type that Dote had typically shied away from, and attendees of the trip recall being excited to further their brands by having their photographs featured on the app. Which would have been great, if Dote had ever actually featured any of these photos in the immediate wake of the trip.

The fact that they actively avoided doing this, instead continuing to feature conventionally attractive white influencers like Ellie Thuman and Hannah Meloche, makes the recent surge of pictures from of the Texas trip a blatant grab at a last-minute insurance policy.

YouTuber Red Luna Journal, who attended the ‘minor influencer’ melee, made a video on the 15th of May in order to highlight her distress at the clearly selective way Dote are ‘using’ women of colour to shoddily cover up a history of bias.

In another PR car crash, Dote came out with an apology, stating ‘we did not… intentionally group girls together based on any racial characteristics’, despite the fact that they were caught red handed doing just that at Dotechella.


The Result

Dote have failed to admit fault for having a clearly backward view of what it means to be a fashion brand in 2019. They’ve also succeeded in not only excluding girls of colour from their brand but, when caught doing so, weaponizing them in order to ‘prove’ their innocence.

Rest assured, Dote are not escaping the scandal unscathed. Ellie Thuman, Hannah Meloche, and some of the brand’s other most prevalent spokespeople have vowed to never work with the app again. However, it’s a stark reminder of the prevalence of discrimination in the fashion industry when the ‘direst’ consequence felt by a racist brand is white influencers leaving them.

Instead of Thuman and Meloche, perhaps what Dote should be lamenting are the countless careers of black, minority and ethnic models they could have promoted, or the range of minority consumers that, given the opportunity, could have been part of the Dote community.

The equal parts frustrating and positive thing is that hitting the right note on diversity isn’t hard for brands to do. Whether you’re talking corporations, YouTubers, or public figures, with a strong personal/corporate brand advocacy program you can easily make social change part of your operating system. At certain points in their videos, these women of colour who address Dote make some very valid points about how Dote could do better in the future. One that stands out is to diversify their mostly white staff, so that all prospective consumers have a representative voice right from the drawing board. A fab idea in our opinion.

Let this be a lesson that Dote and other brands that rely on social media marketing to further themselves: always keep diversity somewhere in your strategy. We look forward to seeing how Dote address these issues.

 

@thredmag

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