Arielle Charnas is learning some difficult lessons about what not to do in the age of coronavirus. The influencer, who turned her Something Navy blog into a full fledged lifestyle brand, has been in hot water recently for how she’s handled being diagnosed in the public eye.
A few weeks after opening up about her experience on social media and fleeing New York City after testing positive, she finally posted an apology on Instagram yesterday to express “sincerest remorse” to her 1.3 million followers. But some experts said the damage has been done.
“This was tone deaf in so many ways,” said Mae Karwowski, founder and CEO of Obviously, an influencer marketing agency. “Everyone is going through this, and you can talk about it, but you need to be sensitive and understand how you may have more privilege than those who follow you.”
It first started on March 17 when she divulged to fans on Instagram that she was feeling ill, posting: “It’s been 4 days since I started feeling incredibly sick. She added, “This is the last time I’m going to talk about feeling sick right now on my Instagram and move on to the things that make me happy, like my kids, family life, fashion and work. If it offends anyone or seems as though I’m being insensitive during this time, I’m sorry but it’s what I’ve chosen to do. Back to regular content/programming. Can’t wait to post my partnerships and my outfits from inside my apt every day.”
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At the time, she was told by doctors that she did not meet criteria to get tested in New York state. She was told to self-quarantine and recover at home.
However, Charnas then updated followers on her journey on the following day, revealing that her friend Dr. Jake Deutsch (whose partner is shoe designer Brian Atwood) would allow his urgent care facility to test her for the flu and the coronavirus. After allowing followers to see the entire process through Instagram Stories (which took place in the front seat of her car with a swab test), social media erupted with criticisms of Charnas’ perceived privilege, with commenters noting that many are unable to receive tests across the U.S.
On March 18, Charnas announced she tested positive for the coronavirus. While Charnas did not directly react to the backlash, she did write in her post: “I realize that there are many individuals, both in New York City, and nationwide, who do not have the ability to receive immediate medical care at the first sign of sickness, and access to care is #1 priority in a time like this. It is the responsibility of all our government offices to ensure all Americans can access necessary tests and I acknowledge how lucky I am to have had that access.” She also updated her followers with her plans to continue to self-quarantine, noting that her two daughters had not shown symptoms, but her husband, Brandon Charnas, was also unwell.
Interestingly, that move boosted her follower count. According to influencer marketing agency Social Studies, Charnas added 7,600 fans after announcing that she tested positive for COVID-19, with many praising her for her openness.
However, her next steps stirred up even more controversy. Charnas left New York City and relocated to the Hamptons, in Long Island, New York, documenting it all with a March 26 photo on Instagram. (The posted was deleted today).
“When you are influencer, you have a platform,” said Karwowski. “You have to take it seriously and have a level of self-awareness, which we did not see with her on the very basic level. There’s so much fear and anxiety and everyone is online 24 hours a day. It was the perfect storm.”
It was then that Instagram users began to accuse Charnas of spreading the virus, neglecting self-isolation, and faking her diagnosis.
On April 2, Charnas came back to Instagram Stories with a tearful apology. She also posted a lengthy statement on her account as well as the Something Navy website. She wrote, “I am not writing this to make excuses and I am not searching for validation; I want to share the truth behind the story and above all else, express my sincerest remorse.”
Her Instagram fan base had declined by the hundreds after the move to the Hamptons, according to Social Studies. And the biggest drop came after the explanation post yesterday, when she lost 1,700 followers. “It’s easier to follow then it is to unfollow so if you show any negative audience, it’s a very bad sign,” Social Studies founder and CEO Brandon Perlman told FN. “It’s not a typical behavior. Instagram even makes it slightly difficult to [unfollow].”
Her journey did, however, spark increased engagement. She had a 4.62% increase in comments following her COVID-19 announcement: The coronavirus reveal got 10,400 comments, and the apology post received nearly 10,000. While it can be difficult to analyze Instagram comments, the posts were perceived as negative, with headlines on the internet calling her a “‘Covidiot’ blogger,” and hundreds of tweets expressing dismay.
And the sentiment trickled down to brands she partners with or has worked with in the past.
Nordstrom, for instance, was hit with a wave of criticism. The two partnered in 2018 for a collection, but the retailer responded to a fan on Twitter to clarify the arrangement. “Our partnership with Arielle Charnas ended in 2019, and we have no foreseeable collaborations. Thank you.”
Whether the scandal will impact future collaborations, such as an upcoming collection with Stuart Weitzman, remains to be seen. (The brand did not respond to FN’s request for comment.)
What may be at an even bigger risk is the launch of Something Navy as an independent business. (In August 2019, Charnas received a $10 million investment and was close to opening a brick-and-mortar store in New York).
“It could hurt her in the long run by exposing her as someone who can’t relate to what normal people are going through or she can get a pass being this is an [unprecedented time]. It’s 50/50,” said Karwowski.
Mallory Molinski, founder of Beverly Bond Public Relations, added, “This seems like it was an unfortunate oversight, highlighting how important it is for everyone to take into consideration the information they share online. Her brand may lose some new clientele, yet she has a very loyal band of followers who will stick by her side and support her and her [business].”
But next steps are crucial, according to experts. “She needs a big gesture to rehab her image,” explained Karwowski. “Talk to a non-profit, donate, definitely do not play the victim — and own it.”