Two Teens Involved In The College Cheating Scandal Are Influencers. What Do Their 2 Million-Plus Fans Think?
Olivia Jade Giannulli has gone silent, but her fans have something to say. The 19-year-old has accumulated 1.4 million Instagram followers thanks to her four years on YouTube as a beauty guru — not to mention her striking resemblance to her famous mom Lori Loughlin, best known as Aunt Becky on Full House and Fuller House. But in the past few days, Olivia Jade's brand has gone from playful influencer to privileged, clueless scammer as her mother and father’s (fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli) legal issues make headlines.
Loughlin and Giannulli, along with over 30 other parents, including actress Felicity Huffman, stand accused of fraud, and allegedly spent $500,000 to buy their daughters’ way into college. Olivia and her sister, Isabella (who has 260k Instagram followers), were apparently recruited by the University of Southern California to join the crew team despite never participating in that sport; among other things, their parents allegedly paid to alter photos and written documents. This instance is one of many that unfolded through bribes and deception, which allegedly included parents photoshopping pictures of their children onto actual athletes' bodies and altering their SAT scores; all told, participants are said to have paid $25 million in the scheme.
How much the children involved in the scandal actually knew about their parents' actions is up for debate, and it's the question that's especially plaguing fans of the influencer kids at the center of scam.
"I love Olivia, but it seems crazy that there’s no way she knew this was happening," 15-year-old Jill, who's been watching Olivia's YouTube videos since early 2018, told Refinery29 over Twitter DM.
In addition to Olivia, there's actress Lilia Buckingham, the 15-year-old daughter of Jane Buckingham — a marketing executive charged with paying $50,000 for an ACT proctor to take the test in place of her son, Lilia’s brother Jack. (Jack told The Hollywood Reporter he was "unknowingly involved" in the scheme.) With 1.4 million Instagram followers who watch her pal around with celebrity friends Millie Bobby Brown and Maddie Ziegler, Lilia finds herself in the middle of the scandal despite her lack of involvement. While much of the public’s focus is on known Hollywood stars Loughlin and Huffman’s families, “other’ children like Lilia are also getting caught up. And her dedicated young fanbase sees it as their duty to protect her.
"There’s a whole community of people who care about her and have her back through all of this," 16-year-old Molly told R29 via Twitter DM. "I’d let her know that she can come to us if she needs anything."
"Please know your fans still have so much love and admiration for you, we support you!" a 15-year-old fan said when asked if they had a message for Lilia. "Stay strong and take a break from social media if you think it would be better for your health. We love you so much!"
This outpouring has reached Lilia who, while she did not respond to request for comment, issued a general thank-you on Twitter.
"hello beautiful people," she wrote on Wednesday. "thank u for your support. i love u all."
Fans know that it was Lilia’s brother, not Lilia, who had an unwitting part in the alleged fraud —but she's still experienced some negativity, prompting the actress to briefly lock her Twitter and Instagram. Reckoning with your parents’ mistakes is hard enough to do privately, especially if you had nothing to do with it.
For Olivia, though, things are more complicated. Since she's more directly involved in the scandal, fans must digest the possibility that someone they admire had a role in something despicable — and it didn’t help that she was on a yacht when the news broke, or had previously said she only wanted to go to college for the parties.
"If Olivia knew this was going on I’m very disappointed, and I hope she makes smarter decisions in the future," 19-year-old Grace said.
“Before she started college, people would ask her about if she was going to college, where she was going, what would she be studying, and she would always get an attitude and say she didn’t want to talk about it at all,” 20-year-old Megan remembers. “And now it all makes sense.”
"People in the fandom are definitely trying to repress it or just deny it altogether," 15-year-old Jill explained. "Some people are just trying to say that it was only her mother's fault and not hers, which doesn’t seem to be plausible."
However, a 19-year-old fan who wished to remain anonymous does think that's the case.
"I do not feel she deserves the criticism she is getting at all," they explained. "There were over 30 parents involved and other celebrities among that group, and this whole thing is being focused on Lori and her. Everyone is making it seem like this is all Olivia’s fault when she didn’t even particularly want to go to college,” the fan told R29. “Of course she could have said, 'Hey guys, this is wrong of us to do,' but it isn’t like she was the one planning it, and that is how everyone is treating her. It wasn’t her doing."
But all of these fans can agree on one thing: College applications just got even more complicated.
"The whole thing has opened my eyes about how people who are worthy will get waitlisted or declined just because they don’t have the money some others do, which is a lot bigger of a problem than I realized," Rachel, 16, said.
While high-schooler Lilia has the support of her fans to help her through, Olivia's future is uncertain. According to TMZ, both she and sister Isabella will not be returning to USC in the wake of the scandal. In any case, the school says it is reviewing compromised students who are currently enrolled on a case-by-case basis, according to CNN. Sephora has also ended their partnership with the creator, pulling Olivia’s palette from their site.
As for Olivia’s YouTube presence? Some fans, like Jill, say this "won't change" their adoration, and hope videos will resume soon.
"I hope she addresses the topic on her YouTube, because I feel she might gain some new respect back from people," an anonymous fan added.
But for another young fan, Sierra, this might be the end of the road.
"I'm not sure what will exactly make this better," she said. "I think she needs to remain grounded and not let her privilege define everything she does."