Shaming people on TikTok carries a special flavor of vicious righteousness.
Angry at the apparent lack of mask-wearing and social distancing amid rising COVID cases in the United States, irate TikTok users are flaming a Los Angeles salon through snarky videos and negative Yelp reviews. But intense public shaming, regardless of whether it’s deserved, may actually reinforce the target’s wrongful behavior instead of pushing them to actually change.
Habit Salon, which recently expanded from its Arizona origins and opened a location in West Hollywood, is immensely popular with influencers for the salon’s summery balayage and hair extension techniques. The salons’ owner, Chrissy Rasmussen, posts videos of her clients’ “transformations” on Instagram and TikTok under the handle hairby_chrissy. She has been posting content from her salons for months.
But the backlash didn’t really begin until she posted a video of a notably unmasked TikTok star Dixie D’Amelio with her new hair extensions. The video featuring the TikTok star has 3.7 million views at the time of writing.
The video likely gained traction the way most viral TikTok videos do, being shown to an increasingly larger group of users and performing favorably until the clip appeared on a large number of users’ For You Pages. The fact that the video featured D’Amelio, who’s immensely popular on her own, probably drove even more traffic to the video and exposed Rasmussen’s account to users who may not have seen her content otherwise. TikTok users noticed that not only was D’Amelio not wearing a mask, but neither were employees and other clients in the salon.
Other videos on Rasmussen’s account show clients and employees wearing masks improperly, if at all, and not adhering to the strict social distancing regulations Los Angeles County mandates for all hair salons. TikTok users began flooding the comments on hairby_chrissy videos, questioning the lack of masks and the number of people present in the salon.
Los Angeles County allowed salons to reopen in early September, and mandates that salons operate at only 25 percent occupancy, employees and customers maintain at least six feet of distance whenever possible, and that employees must wear a mask “at all times during the workday when in contact or likely to come in contact with others.”
“THE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE IN THIS SALON WITHOUT MASKS IS INSANE.”
The videos criticizing Rasmussen and Habit salon didn’t start out so personal. TikTok users threatened to report the salon to the Department of Public Health and posed in front of group photos of the salon’s unmasked employees.
“THE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE IN THIS SALON WITHOUT MASKS IS INSANE,” one TikTok user wrote in a video showing a clip from Rasmussen’s YouTube channel. “We are in a PANDEMIC.”
In response to the backlash, Rasmussen allegedly deleted comments, blocked TikTok users calling her out, and ultimately turned off all comments on her videos. The refusal to address concerns only fueled online ire. The tags #hairby_chrissy and #hairbychrissy, which had only a few million views before the public outcry began now have 46.5 million and 10.1 million views respectively. The tags #hairbychrissyvibes and #hairbychrissyblockme, which are used to make fun of Rasmussen’s signature extension and highlighting style, are also gaining thousands of views by the hour. As of Friday, they have 92,000 and 134,000 views respectively.
TikTok users also flocked to the salon’s Yelp page to express their disapproval. The brigading was so heavy that Yelp flagged Habit Salon for “unusual activity” and temporarily disabled reviews.
“This business recently received increased public attention, which often means people come to this page to post their views on the news,” Yelp explains in a pop-up message on Habit Salon’s page. “While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to this incident, we’ve temporarily disabled the posting of content to this page as we work to investigate the content you see here reflects actual consumer experiences rather than the recent events.”
When Mashable reached out to Habit Salon for a statement, the employee who answered the phone said Habit Salon had “no comment” regarding the public outcry.
“A recent Yelp review joked that Rasmussen defecated on a client’s head.”
As calling out the salon became a trend, TikTok users mocked Rasmussen’s hairstyling methods. One TikTok user criticized her client’s hair as looking “drier than hay.” Another poked fun at Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s flyaway hairs by asking if she went to “Hair by Chrissy” before her confirmation hearing. A recent Yelp review that was posted before Yelp paused them joked that Rasmussen defecated on a client’s head.
The intense backlash against Rasmussen and Habit Salon is hardly a new social phenomenon; as the pandemic rages on, much of the world has been in a state of limbo in an effort to contain the spread of the devastating coronavirus. Americans in particular have had to postpone major life events, say goodbye to dying relatives via FaceTime, and learn to adapt to a more isolated existence as the federal government fumbles its pandemic response. While so much of the population is either risking their health as essential workers or staying home to limit the spread of the highly contagious virus, watching the rich and famous ignore social distancing guidelines is especially bitter. The internet has taken to public shaming to deal with those who stopped caring about the pandemic, the efficacy of which is questionable. As Northwestern University sociology professor Gary Alan Fine told Vice in May, public shaming is to be expected.
“We are frustrated, we are sitting at home, and we are angry but without any good place to direct our anger,” Fine told Vice. “We can’t direct our anger at the virus, so we direct it at our neighbors, at the government, at those few people who are outside.”
And in this case, that anger is directed at a cohort of influencers and the stylist who does their hair.
Claire Lungwitz, a 20-year-old junior in college, was frustrated by the way influencers acted immune to the virus. Like many other college students, she wrapped up her spring semester via remote learning and has stayed home ever since. Lungwitz created the TikTok account immuneinfluencers to call out popular creators who haven’t been adhering to distancing; the bit is that clout grants immunity to the coronavirus.
“It looks like there’s a lot of people in this video not wearing masks, and I was unaware that they made hair salons just for influencers,” Lungwitz narrates in a duet with the viral video of D’Amelio’s hair. “You know it’s pretty incredible, pretty innovative.”
Lungwitz draws a firm line between her account, which calls out influencers, and those who make ad hominem attacks against the same influencers by calling out non-COVID related characteristics. She feels justified in mocking their lack of masks, their incessant partying, and their apparent indifference to the very real risk of contracting the coronavirus. Lungwitz worries that the slew of TikTok users insulting Rasmussen’s craft will only encourage the stylist to dismiss valid criticism as “haters.”
“It’s often misinterpreted as hate when that’s really not my goal at all, canceling someone.”
“It’s often misinterpreted as hate when that’s really not my goal at all, canceling someone,” Lungwitz said in a FaceTime call with Mashable. “The difference is this is something they can change. This is something they can address, and change how they’re posting and how they’re collaborating with other influencers.”
The vitriolic backlash against Rasmussen and the influencers patronizing Habit Salon is up for debate, but the impact they may have on public health is not. As Mashable reported in July, influencers continued to meet up, host fan events, and even attend massive parties despite local mandates banning gatherings. Few influencers are hosting or attending large house parties after the heavy criticism followed TikTok star Bryce Hall’s 21st birthday party in August, which was shut down by the LAPD and resulted in the city of Los Angeles cutting off power to the popular creator mansion. Many influencers are still acting entitled enough to continue going out and meeting up with each other — which is still concerning, given CDC Director Robert Redfield’s recent warning that small household gatherings are increasingly driving new COVID cases in the United States.
On one hand, intense public shaming may deter people from taking criticism seriously. On the other, have more constructive call outs worked before? Lungwitz doubts that Hall or any other TikTok creator house will throw massive ragers, but influencers continue to meet up with each other in smaller groups despite the risk. Tana Mongeau, for example, is a veteran of making apology videos. This summer she publicly apologized for attending a large party at the Hype House, another TikTok creator mansion.
“Partying/going to any social gatherings during a global pandemic was such a careless and irresponsible action on my behalf,” Mongeau said in an Instagram story. “I fully hold myself accountable for this + will be staying inside.”
Weeks later, she attended a party with Diplo and Noah Cyrus, who had ironically just posted a PSA for wearing a mask.
Many are pointing out the irony of Noah Cyrus’s posts. In one post she tells people to “wear a damn mask”, in the next, she is seen maskless at a party. These posts were allegedly 8 hours apart. The pro-COVID movement often relies on bait and switch to confuse its detractors. pic.twitter.com/hw4DSYzrGG
— Def Noodles (@defnoodles) September 28, 2020
The effectiveness of public shaming is questionable, and has been covered extensively since the pandemic began. Pamela Hieronymi, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and ethics consultant on The Good Place, told Vox that while satisfying, shaming directs anger at individuals rather than the reality that our government is failing the public on a systemic level.
At the same time, influencers open themselves up to critique when they become public figures. The privilege of clout also carries the responsibility of influencing those who follow them. In July, Dr. Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist who specializes in infectious disease at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Mashable that anyone with a large following has a responsibility to promote social distancing.
“They could be doing their part to help stop the spread of this virus,” Dr. Rimoin said then. “What we know right now is that masks and social distancing work. We cannot rely on any other kind of magic bullet. This virus doesn’t care whether or not you believe in it, this virus is going to spread.”
Directing your anger at influencers for getting their hair done without a mask will not stop the pandemic. Questioning a popular salon’s apparent lack of distancing measures will not help scientists whip up a coronavirus vaccine any faster, nor will flaming creators for partying by posting screenshots of their Instagram stories. But they do need to be kept accountable for their actions, which carry the significant consequence of prolonging this public health crisis. Regardless of whether or not they’ll listen and make actual changes to their lifestyle, shaming influencers for ignoring social distancing measures at least shows others that their actions are dangerous.
Influencers are public figures. Calling them out for endangering others is OK. There’s a difference between valid criticism and making personal attacks, but at the same time, prolonging a pandemic far outweighs the social cost of being bullied by teenagers on the internet.
If you don’t want to be shamed by Gen Z’s incredible talent for coming up with painfully specific insults, consider wearing a mask.