You get free stuff, you get free travel, you get the nifty cool title of «brand ambassador,» what’s not to love about being an internet influencer? There’s the consequences, for one. Not even just the warranted consequences of your actual actions, mind you, but also those arriving unbidden based on the perception of your actions by your audience — and those can be two markedly different things bearing entirely disparate social costs. In her new book, Swipe Up for More! Inside the Unfiltered Lives of Influencers, Stephanie McNeal takes an unflinching look at the interplay between the public personas and private lives of three of the internet’s most influential lifestyle bloggers: Caitlin Covington, Mirna Valerio, and Shannon Bird.
Equal parts fascinating and disquieting — like a slow-motion car crash where everybody’s really, really good looking — Swipe up for More explores the people and personalities behind the product placement. In the excerpt below, mommy blogger Shannon Bird recounts the internet’s response to her 911 call asking a local cop to make a midnight milk run for her hungry baby.
Excerpted from Swipe Up for More!: Inside the Unfiltered Lives of Influencers by Stephanie McNeal, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Stephanie McNeal, 2023.
On January 28, 2020, Shannon and her kids were home alone. Dallin was on a work trip. Her youngest child, London, was only six weeks old and her son Brooklyn had recently broken his leg. That night, she found herself unable to produce any breast milk. She was taking medication that made her supply decline. When she realized she had no formula or saved breast milk, she grew desperate to feed her hungry baby but didn’t want to rouse all her kids to bring them to the store with her. After calling some friends and neighbors, around two a.m. she called 911.
She knew the officer who responded. When we were wandering the neighborhood on my “Mormon blogger tour,” we even saw him driving by. According to Shannon, the police officer usually posts up on their street and stays there all night waiting for a call. It’s kind of funny, she says, because there’s not much going on in Alpine, so he spends many nights just chilling. Shannon often chats with him when she goes to get her mail.
So, when she began to rack her brain for who may be up at two in the morning, she immediately thought of the police officer.
“It didn’t even faze me in a way,” she said. “I was like, ‘I know who’s awake!’”
The officer came through for her, buying baby formula and delivering it to her house in the middle of the night. Shannon was grateful to him and decided to share the saga on her Instagram Story.
In Shannon’s mind, the story was both her typical, Sandler-esque goofy fare (silly her, ending up in this situation) and also a feel-good story about a nice cop doing good in her community. She never expected the story to go viral. However, it was catnip for local news stations like KSL in Utah. (Local news loves a “good cop doing a good deed” story, which is controversial, to say the least.)
The story then spread like wildfire. Shannon was featured on CNN (“As a mother of five young children, Shannon Bird said she considers herself somewhat of a pro at the baby-raising game,” the story reads) and outlets as far away as Chicago and the UK.
At first, the attention from the media was kind of cool. Shannon described it as a “whirlwind,” ticking off all the shows that contacted her and excitedly telling me she got a free trip to New York to do interviews. She had producers “pounding on [her] door” asking her for exclusives. For a minute, everyone seemed to want to talk to her.
Then came the backlash. Online, Shannon was painted as the epitome of a clueless white woman, using her privilege to call upon law enforcement as her personal errand boy. Many questioned how a mother of color would have been treated by police in this situation (probably very differently). People called Shannon a neglectful mother, pathetic, and an attention seeker, and accused her of perpetrating a publicity stunt.
In retrospect, Shannon says she didn’t really think about the implications of what she was posting. In her mind, she wasn’t taking resources away from her larger community. She figured her local cops likely were not out responding to a crime in the middle of the night.
“I was like, ‘Wait, you’re the ones bringing race into this, I didn’t think it was a racist thing at all.’ That’s just because I really am color-blind I didn’t know my white privilege, I guess,” she said.
This decision to post about the cop and the formula has had a profound impact on every aspect of Shannon’s life since and has radically changed her perspective on both her life and her career as an influencer. It’s constantly on her mind. Even two years later, in January 2022 when I visited her, she brought up her 911 call within the first ten minutes of my arrival and referred to it constantly afterward.
The most serious and devastating impact it had on the Bird family was the real-world one. Shortly after the incident went viral, Shannon started getting more hate than she had ever before online. Then, things started to show up at her house. Her mailbox filled up with empty formula cans, though she had no idea how anyone had found her address to send them to.
Shannon wondered if the strange missives were coming from haters online or people in her community. She grew worried. Did everyone in her neighborhood know about the formula thing? What about the other parents at her kids’ school? Everywhere she looked she felt judged. More than ever, Shannon felt like the walls of Alpine were closing in on her.
Then, she said, Child and Family Services showed up at her house. Someone had called in a tip that the Bird children were in danger, and the agency needed to do a full investigation to clear the charges. Her kids had to be interviewed. Shannon was relieved when the officers seemed to be confused as to why they had been called to the Birds.
“You live in a seven-thousand-square-foot house,” she said they told her. “Your kids are eating takeout sushi right now. Like, what are they talking about?”
While she can make little jokes about it occasionally, Shannon was extremely traumatized by the DCFS visit. Dallin, on the other hand, is so easygoing that she said he was never really concerned when DCFS came, calling the whole saga “ridiculous.”
That’s his attitude to most things Shannon posts online, including the formula saga. When I asked him if online criticism ever bothered him, he shook his head with a laugh. Even he doesn’t really understand how he’s able to not let it bother him.
“You know, I just don’t care,” he said.
Sure, he may wish she didn’t post every single thing that comes into her head, but he long ago made his peace with the fact that he can’t control what Shannon wants to do. He is capable of tuning out the opinions of strangers, “You have to get to a point where, like, it’s funny. It’s funny to you,” he told me. “If you really, really care, then you can’t do this,” he said.
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