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Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock Sue Over Phony Endorsements

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  • Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock have filed a joint lawsuit against individuals and entities who use their likeness to create fake endorsements of products, in an effort to “expose the Celebrity Endorsement Theft Industry.”
  • Fake celebrity endorsements have become more common thanks to scammers who prey on consumers in a growing era of affiliate marketing. 
  • For years celebs have issued cease-and-desist orders, but these companies operate quickly, taking down one site only to replace it with another soon after.

Stars File Lawsuit

Hollywood stars Ellen DeGeneres and Sandra Bullock are fed up with websites using their likeness without consent to falsely promote their products 

The two filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court as part of an effort to “expose the Celebrity Endorsement Theft Industry,” which they say has become a major issue for stars in the digital age. 

DeGeneres and Bullock are specifically going after scammers in the affiliate marketing industry who direct traffic to e-commerce sites by creating phony advertisements. 

The two have issued a “right of publicity” claim, saying that these individuals and entities use their names and likeness for false advertising of products like face creams, anti-aging serums, dietary supplements, and more. 

But these obscure internet companies have proven to be difficult to go after. For two years, representatives for DeGeneres and Bullock have sent out cease-and-desist orders, but once one site is taken down, another pops up in its place under a slightly different name or form.  

“These companies change names frequently, merge in and out of entities formed in states that allow for secrecy, operate websites that pop up and disappear overnight, and generally do everything possible to ‘stay one step ahead of the sheriff,’” the complaint said, according to The New York Times. 

Because DeGeneres and Bullock don’t know for sure who exactly is behind the fraud, the defendants have been listed as John Does 1 through 100 and their lawyers can now issue subpoenas to undercover them. 

The Era of Affiliate Marketing and Scams 

Their lawsuit brings the issue of fake celebrity endorsements to the forefront, a problem that has become especially more rampant for Hollywood stars thanks to scammers who prey on consumers in a growing era of affiliate marketing. 

Affiliate marketing is a popular way for online figures to earn money by promoting products and directing consumers to the online seller. In most cases, a click that generates a sale can earn the publisher a commission, though other types of compensation arrangements are sometimes also agreed upon. 

It can be a very powerful marketing tool, especially when those promoting a product have built a strong reputation for trustworthiness with their audience.

According to estimates from Forrester Consulting, by next year the affiliate industry will be a $6.8 billion business, And while most participants are legitimate, others are not. Some take advantage of celebrities who have developed a strong reputation, as well as consumers who they may hold influence over. 

Bullock and DeGeneres aren’t alone in being targeted by these shady websites. Stars over 40 whom the public considers trustworthy or admirable are often used for these scams, including celebs like Oprah Winfrey, Kelly Ripa, and Denzel Washington, who is often used to falsely promote erectile dysfunction pills.  

As The Times points out, bombarding the web with these fake endorsements can actually be damaging to a celebrity’s reputation and hurt their ability to secure legitimate endorsement deals. 

How It’s Done 

A common trick these scammers use involves setting up websites “designed to look like legitimate and independent news reports or magazine articles about various Beauty products,” the complaint says. 

Then they post real images of celebrities that have been doctored to become a fake endorsement. The lawsuit points to some examples, like one image of Bullock appearing on NBC’s Today show to promote a film. The image was converted into an ad that read: “Sandra Bullock Talks About Her New Skin Care Line,” despite the fact that Bullock has never had a skincare line.

The ad is then accompanied by a link that leads to a site selling the celebrity’s supposed product.

Another example in the suit shows that ads include fabrications like: “Sandra even admitted that plastic surgeons are furious with her after noticing a large decline in patients.” 

In their complaint, DeGeneres and Bullock listed 40 beauty products that have been sold online with their names fraudulently linked.

Source: The New York Times

“The celebrity endorsement-theft business model is based on a scheme to trick consumers into disclosing their credit card and/or debit card information in order to enroll them in costly programs with undisclosed, or poorly disclosed, recurring charges,” Bullock and DeGeneres said in the complaint. Ads for the products “typically include unsubstantiated claims that the products will lead to dramatic results,” they continued.

Many of these fake ads also offer free trials, but the complaint says that in reality, customers are often charged full price. 

According to a 2018 report from the Better Business Bureau, offers of free trials put forward through this type of marketing “have infested the internet and social media” and cost more than a million victims upward of $1.3 billion over the past decade. 

Along with claiming violations of their rights of publicity in the suit, DeGeneres and Bullock are claiming false advertising and unfair competition. The lawsuit demands an injunction and compensatory damages. First, though, the suit seems designed to kick off an investigation into responsibility for the marketing. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Hollywood Reporter) (The Los Angeles Times

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New Study Cites LeBron James as Most Influential Celebrity in 2020 Election

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  • A study conducted by Whitman Insight Strategies and MRC Data polled 1,103 likely voters across the U.S. from Oct. 8-13 to examine the intersections of entertainment, influence, and politics ahead of the election.
  • It found that 36% of voters said LeBron James has done the most to raise awareness and motivate people regarding voting in this election. Taylor Swift came in second with 13%, followed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at 9%, and Oprah Winfrey with 6%.
  • James was also cited as the star Black voters trust the most. Then, as far as whose opinion people trust regarding political or social issues in America, Tom Hanks came in first with 49%.
  • In terms of issues, 75% of people said they wanted to see entertainers use their platforms to address social and political issues. However, those numbers vary by party, with 93% of Democrats saying they are open to it, as opposed to 54% of Republicans.

New Study Breaks Down Celebrity Influence in 2020 Election

A new survey of American voters has determined the celebrities with the most trusted opinions on political and social issues, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The survey was conducted by Whitman Insight Strategies and MRC Data. It polled 1,103 likely voters across the U.S. from Oct. 8-13 to examine the intersections of entertainment, influence, and politics ahead of the election. Of those surveyed, 48% were male and 52% were female.

Researchers asked voters to specify whose opinion they trusted most, as well as name the issues they wanted celebrities to address. Topics included issues like ike COVID-19, racial justice, healthcare, climate change, and more. 

Overall, 12% of people surveyed reported that an entertainer or athlete influenced their thinking regarding the election. Influence was reported higher among specific groups. According to the data, 28% of Black voters said they were influenced by a star regarding the election, as did 20% of Hispanic and Latino voters, 17% of LGBTQ voters, and 17% of both Gen Z and Millennials.

When it comes to political parties, 17% of Democrats surveyed said they were influenced by stars in comparison to only 9% of Republicans.

LeBron James, Tom Hanks, Taylor Swift, and Others Prove Powerful

As far who has been most influential in terms of the upcoming election, among all those surveyed, 36% said that LeBron James has done the most to raise awareness and motivate people regarding voting.

Taylor Swift came in second with 13%, followed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at 9% and Oprah Winfrey with 6%. Cardi B, Beyoncé, and Colin Kaepernick tied with 5% each.

Then, as far as whose opinion people trust the most regarding political or social issues in America, Tom Hanks came in first with 49%. He was followed closely by Johnson with 45%, Winfrey with 38%, and James with 32%. 

The names look pretty similar when it comes to who Democrats said they trusted, with Winfrey at 55%, followed by Hanks (53%), Johnson (47%), and James (44%).

Meanwhile, Kid Rock ranked as the most influential voice for Republican voters with 46%. He was followed by Ted Nugent at 43%, then Hanks (42%) and Johnson (41%).

For Gen Z voters specifically, Zendaya was named the star with the most trusted opinions, taking over 59% of the vote, followed by Beyoncé with 56%, and James with 43%.

In terms of issues, 75% of people said they wanted to see entertainers use their platforms to address social and political issues, specifically the COVID-19 pandemic, voting, and racial justice in America.

However, those numbers change by party, with 93% of Democrats saying they are open to it, as opposed to 54% of Republicans. Still, the numbers give a lot of insight into just how powerful it is for celebrities to use their platforms to push for change. 

See what others are saying: (The Hollywood Reporter) (Billboard) (NME)

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Kim Kardashian’s Private Island Party Generates Backlash and Memes

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  • Kim Kardashian-West posted about her 40th birthday bash on Tuesday, saying, “After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.”
  • She noted that they “danced, rode bikes, swam near whales, kayaked,” and more, adding that she is “humbled” by how privileged her life is.
  • However, many found the party and her remarks tasteless, noting that they came at a time when over 1.1 million people have died from Covid-19. Millions more are without work and struggling to make ends meet, unable to run off to a private island to escape reality.
  • Eventually, part of her post became a copypasta, with people tacking on photos of the island from “Lost”, the Fyre Festival, and other nightmarish places.

The Now-Infamous Birthday Post

Kim Kardashian-West generated a wave of backlash Tuesday but also inspired a new internet meme after posting about her private island birthday bash online.

The reality star shared photos from her 40th birthday party, claiming that she feels “humbled and blessed” after celebrating with the people who helped shape her into who she is today. However, what followed was a series of statements that many found tasteless to make during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Before COVID, I don’t think any of us truly appreciated what a simple luxury it was to be able to travel and be together with family and friends in a safe environment,” she said.

“After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.”

Photos she shared showed her family and friends gathered closely together, hugging, posing for the camera.

We danced, rode bikes, swam near whales, kayaked, watched a movie on the beach and so much more,” she continued. ” I realize that for most people, this is something that is so far out of reach right now, so in moments like these, I am humbly reminded of how privileged my life is. #thisis40”

Internet Reactions

As you can imagine, that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way because most of the world can’t run off to a private island to escape reality.

Keep in mind, this post came at a time when over 1.1 million people around the world have died from coronavirus. Millions more are unemployed or struggling to make ends meet. Many people haven’t even seen their own loved ones in months. 

In fact, to many, her post sounded like: “Hi Poors! I know you’re hurting right now and can’t figure out how you’re going to feed your family, but please enjoy these photos of my family’s expensive vacation! I know I’m lucky to be so fabulously wealthy so I’ll make mention of it to sound sympathetic (I’m really not tho).”

Some were angry, viewing this as insensitive bragging. Others instead laughed about how out of touch she seems to be. 

A lot of people also hit back at her with that infamous Kardashian meme: “Kim, there’s people that are dying.”

Eventually, part of her post became a copypasta, with people tacking on photos of the island from “Lost”, the Fyre Festival, and other nightmarish places. 

Kardashian-West has not addressed the responses to her remarks as of now, but the memes have continued to pour in.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Mashable) (The Guardian)

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“Among Us” Developers Scramble to Fight Off Pro-Trump Hacks

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  • The video game “Among Us” has been struggling to fight off a hacker that spent the weekend blacking out lobbies, spamming chat boxes with pro-Trump messages, and causing other game disruptions.
  • InnerSloth, the developers behind the game, implemented anti-hacks to try and regain control, but some bugs and other issues persist.
  • The alleged hacker, who has since been doxed online, told Eurogamer they were trying to gain publicity for Trump and themselves since they design and sell in-game cheats. However, they also told Kotaku they were just curious to see what would happen and found the hack funny.
  • The disruptions began about two days after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez playing the game in front of more than 435,000 Twitch viewers in an effort to encourage youth voting.

Hacker Target’s ‘Among Us’

Developers of the game “Among Us” are actively working to combat a hacker that has flooded the app with pro-Donald Trump messages since Thursday.

The multiplayer murder mystery game has grown in popularity this year thanks to support from Twitch streamers and users who found it particularly good to play during this age of social distancing.

Just last Tuesday, the game received extra attention when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) hosted her first Twitch stream playing it with huge gamers like Pokimane, Valkyrae, Jacksepticeye, and others. The stream was part of a larger effort to encourage voting and ended up bringing in over 435,000 concurrent viewers.

However, by Thursday, users began reporting that the game was facing hacks. Players complained about their lobbies turning completely black, meanwhile, some were disconnected from games altogether.

Others reported spammed chat sections that told users to subscribe to Eris Loris on YouTube otherwise the hacker would “kill your device.”

The hacker also shared Twitter links, Discord links, and other pro-Trump messages, even writing “Hacked by Russians.” in some spam messages.

InnerSloth Rushes to Fight Back

Eventually, “Among Us” developer InnerSloth released a statement about the problem on Twitter.

We’re are super duper aware of the current hacking issue and we’re looking into it,” it said. “We will be pushing out an emergency server update so people who are in game will get kicked from games. Please play private games or with people that you trust!!! Bare with us!! 😰”

One of the developers later said he was rolling out server updates, but warned that players would be impacted for an unknown amount of time.

That’s likely what actually happened since complaints continued throughout the weekend. By Saturday evening, the developer said he had rolled out “wave 2” of anti-hacks, but noted that there are some bugs and issues he’s already aware of.

If you try to play the game right now, you’ll be hit with a warning message about the problems as the game undergoes emergency maintenance.

In it, the developers reminded players that they were stopping plans for Among Us 2 as they focused on Among Us 1, which we know has exploded in popularity recently. 

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Hacker Speaks Out

Many felt the hack was done in an effort to bring support for President Trump in front of the same audience that Ocasio-Cortez reached.

However, as far as the motive, all we know is that both Eurogamer and Kotaku claimed they made contact with the hacker, who has since been doxxed and threatened online.

They told Eurogamer they design and sell in-game cheats and consider this “a publicity stunt,” claiming to have affected 1.5 million matches. 

They also said “I’m a college student and I support Trump,” adding that they hoped this generated publicity for the president as well.  

But when speaking to Kotaku, they made it sound more like a trolling effort, saying, “I was curious to see what would happen, and personally I found it funny.”

“The anger and hatred is the part that makes it funny. If you care about a game and are willing to go and spam dislike some random dude on the internet because you cant play it for 3 minutes, it’s stupid.”

For now, it’s unclear if all the problems are close to being completely resolved, but this has put a harsh spotlight on InnerSloth’s small team. 

See what others are saying: (NME) (PC Gamer) (The Verge)

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