#96) For whom the Belle tolls

Belle Gibson may have a smooth complexion, but she is definitely the Scarface of the millennial generation. The Australian lifestyle blogger and social media magnate has achieved a meteoric rise and fall in the time that most of us 40-somethings take to figure out how to get our five CD changer to play the disc we want. Since launching her app, “The Whole Pantry” in 2013, Gibson has taken millions across the globe on a ride, in the process making Jenny McCarthy look like an old woman wobbling to the park to feed the ducks.

The story is a reboot of Scarface, perfectly detailed for today. An attractive young woman is stricken with multiple devastating cancers. Failed by the medical establishment, she instead cures herself with diet and exercise, shares her experiences and becomes a social media hero overnight. A substantial portion of the millions in sales from “The Whole Pantry” app and its companion cookbook go to charity. The app is even slated to be bundled on the new Apple Watch. Another savvy millennial makes good.

Only problem: none of it is real.

Perhaps Gibson should have heeded Mark Twain’s advice that “If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Inconsistencies in her various interviews, blog entries and Instagram posts started raising eyebrows. Doubt spread among her loyal legions like, pardon the simile, cancers. Not only Gibson’s diagnoses but also her date of birth have been called into question. Many of the charities to which she reportedly donated have claimed not to have seen a dime. Gibson now faces the possibility of jail time for fraud and even worse, the wrath of social media.

Why does any of this matter? Quite possibly it doesn’t, but it’s still interesting. In a broad sense, it speaks to the hidden dangers of early success and how we all need heroes but when they get too big for their britches, we want to strike them down. Specifically it shows how the internet, social media in particular, speeds up the process of celebrity rises and falls. It proves how cyberspace can make someone who we haven’t met in person sometimes seem more real, engaging and exciting than the people whom we actually know in the flesh. It’s a cautionary tale for those who use social media as a business tool, also proving just how powerful the lure of online recognition can be. For the consumer, whether it’s time or money that they invest, it’s a reminder that not everything on the internet is true.

I’m not psychic but I predict the story of Belle Gibson won’t last too long. We will move onto something new and her story will ultimately be a mere footnote, along with those of Richard Henne, James Frey and Milli Vanilli. Still, her 15 minutes of fame did give us some whole food for thought. Tony Montana ain’t got nothin’ on her.

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