Leading up to the 2016 election, some social media influencers were loud in their support for a particular candidate, and some kept quiet so as not to alienate their audiences. One Youtuber never to shy away from a good controversy is Trisha Paytas. She uploaded her first video to YouTube under the username “blndsundoll4mj in 2007,” focusing on her love for celebrities like Quentin Tarantino and Michael Jackson. When Paytas realized that she could cast a wider net by dumbing herself down and trolling, or to “antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content,” according to Webster’s Dictionary, she began to see an explosion of views. Some well-known Paytas troll videos and include when she claimed to identify as a chicken nugget, when she claimed to identify as a gay man, when she claimed to identify as a black woman, and recently, when she claimed to have Dissociative Identity Disorder, which she incorrectly called Multiple Identity Disorder. Paytas told Business Insider in an article titled, This YouTuber reclaimed the word ‘fat’ by writing the catchiest body empowerment song ever, “I just wanted to share my thoughts and feelings with the world…Then I thought ‘trolling’ videos were what my channel was all about…During this time, [I] would say outlandish things — ‘dogs don’t have brains’ and ‘I’m voting for Mitt Romney’ … to get clicks” (Mulshine, 2015).
In 2012, Paytas uploaded a video titled, “Why I’m Voting for Mitt Romney.” In this video, she says she is not trying to push her beliefs but share why her candidate of choice is Romney. It is because of her reasoning that the video was dubbed a troll. Reason number one was that Romney is “super hot…we haven’t had a hot president since Kennedy, and we all know how that ended.” Reason two was that her cat’s name is Mitts and that is a “sign.” These were the only two reasons she gave, saying she couldn’t remember “Ryan’s” last name. She ends the video saying that she could use Obamacare, but that she cannot vote for Obama because he has “taken her right to be Catholic.” This seemly innocuous video, however, would then set the stage for 2016, when she uploaded “Why You Should Vote for Trump,” a video endorsing Donald Trump for president. Unlike the first video, she recognizes her trolling past and insists this video is not one of those times. She says she made a Trump video in the past, but this is different because she did not take him seriously then and did not understand the politics. She lists her viewpoints, including how she is in support for the wall and immigration control against “illegal immigrants….and the Muslims” because “they’re taking our jobs, not paying taxes…including women who come over to have a baby to get American benefits.” She supports his “business mind” and believes he will bring jobs back to America. Her last belief is that he is “outspoken…and aggressive… and makes [her] feel safe” and would rather a president be “straightforward and no bullshit.”
Most viewers took Paytas at her word. She was plastered all over articles and YouTube in response videos, bringing in even more views to her channel. Though she never said a word during its popularity, Paytas uploaded a new video three years later on January 15, 2019 entitled, “I do NOT support Trump.” In this video, she backtracks her pervious sentiments, saying it just seemed “so ridiculous” that he could win, and she was echoing what she heard growing up. She then says the video was, in fact, just another troll video and “satire.” She says she started to “feel bad” when she saw kids in cages, though she had focused heavily on “illegal immigrants” in her video. She said politics never personally affected her, so not only did she not care, but she has not voted in any election. She called herself the “cockroach of the internet” and that “being cancelled does nothing.” She just wanted the exposure a controversial figure could give her. Herein lies the problem: Trisha Paytas endorsed a candidate she had no intentions on voting for to get attention. Even though she claims she does not support Donald Trump, she inadvertently supported him, because of the messages she sent out. Paytas specifically claimed it was not a trolling video, leading young, impressionable viewers to believe her. Fans of Paytas who may not have done so prior followed her advice and supported Trump, simply because she said she supported him. She “apologized” years after the damage was done. While this may not seem out of character for Paytas, it does shed a light on behavior of influencers. Influencers have the power to change the way a person thinks, behaves, votes, for little reason; they have a platform that should be taken seriously. She admitted in the first video that she “could affect the outcome of the election; you never know.” Influencers can directly impact politics and the world, if gone unchecked. It is illegal to promote an advertisement without disclosing that it is an ad so as not to take advantage of young minds, and this should not be different. Regardless of the candidate, people look up to their favorite creators for their advice and opinion as you would a friend, older sibling or parent, or even a deity. They are looking for guidance in the world, and the world will change as a direct result. Influencers with pure intentions and influencers looking for a few clicks will both yield the same result – impressing the world with your thoughts and inclinations. The power reaches far beyond a few clicks.