The PewDiePie controversy, which rocked the YouTube community this week, has brought into sharp focus the potential risks that big brands take when going into business with digital stars — creators who share their unvarnished lives with audiences on a daily basis, and who are prone to making off-color comments that some are bound to feel crosses a line.
The latest creator to illustrate this plight is 17-year-old James Charles, who made history after being tapped as CoverGirl’s first male spokesmodel last October. Yesterday, as Charles was getting ready for a school trip to Africa, he quoted, in a now-deleted tweet, a conversation between himself and a friend: “‘I can’t believe we’re going to Africa today OMG what if we get Ebola.’ ‘James, we’re fine, we could’ve gotten it at Chipotle last year’…”
Some fans found the joke tone-deaf and threatened to boycott Cover Girl, New York magazine reports. Initially, Charles defended the tweet and blocked followers who were calling him out for making comments that they deemed stereotypical and degrading.
— IG/SC: ParisHeelton (@ImTheBombDotCom) February 16, 2017
Later, however, Charles removed the tweet and apologized. “I was told what to say and that’s not how an apology should work,” Charles explained, perhaps alluding to a distressed PR team at the storied makeup company. “I understand why what I said was offensive and ignorant. I look forward to exploring the country, and learning much more about the people and culture, because clearly I know very little and have a lot to learn.”
While Maker Studios dropped PewDiePie for his anti-Semitic jokes, and YouTube axed the second season of his Red series Scare PewDiePie, Cover Girl looks to be standing by Charles. “James Charles’ tweet does not represent CoverGirl’s perspective,” the company told New York in a statement “We agree his statements were inappropriate but appreciate that he has issued an apology. We are an inclusive brand and respect all people and cultures.”