Malibu Barbie Paytas-Hacmon: cancel culture allows problematic influencers to remain relevant

When an influencer perpetuates problematic online behavior, why do we still give them a platform?


Photo credit: Trisha Paytas.

On September 15, 2022, influencer Trisha Paytas posted a photo on Instagram of her newborn daughter with the caption: “Meet our daughter, Malibu Barbie Paytas-Hacmon.” Paytas has been sharing lifestyle vlogs, singing and other content on various platforms since 2007 to her increasingly large number of followers. Throughout her online career, Paytas has faced constant backlash and has been deemed “canceled” multiple times for racist, homophobic and antisemitic behavior. However, despite her distressing content, she has somehow managed to remain a relevant online presence on numerous social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

When the behavior of influencers and celebrities such as Paytas reaches the point of being completely inexcusable, society likes to declare them “canceled,” as a way of distancing ourselves from someone unfixable who cannot redeem their behavior. While cancel culture aims to make someone irrelevant online, it often has the exact opposite effect. 

“Cancellation is almost a tier of celebrity,” said English teacher Julian Morris. “It’s proof of your celebrity and proof of your elasticity.” In order for someone to become canceled, they must receive a significant amount of online attention, to begin with. Consumers of social media may continue to engage with problematic content out of curiosity. “[Trisha Paytas] is still able to do what she does and make money because there’s an audience for [her problematic content],” said Morris.

Due to the capitalistic qualities of social media that allow influencers to profit off of views and engagement, Paytas is able to withstand cancel culture and at times benefit financially from her troublesome behavior. According to Vox, macro-influencers with millions of followers such as Paytas are capable of earning tens of thousands of dollars per social media post. Mia Toler ‘24 said, “Trisha keeps getting away with problematic behavior because getting canceled allows her to remain relevant.” 

Morris emphasizes how Paytas aligns herself with motifs of femininity, such as the name of her daughter, Malibu Barbie, to market herself online. “We haven’t canceled Barbie,” said Morris. “I think [naming her daughter after Barbie] is something really smart on her end.” Using elements of current popular culture such as Barbie allows influencers to disguise questionable online content as something much more consumable.

As influencers continue to frequently produce inexcusable content without consequence, their behavior can become normalized. Toler said, “[Paytas is] so unhinged that when she does something really bad, like being racist, people are like ‘Oh, but it’s Trisha.’”

When giving a troublesome influencer the label of being canceled does nothing but increase their clout, it becomes crucial to highlight accountability and responsibility. Zareen Abraham ‘25 said, “I feel like the term “cancel culture” is kind of overused. We should hold [influencers] accountable and help them grow and make changes over time.” 

Morris shares a similar sentiment. “I don’t subscribe to cancel culture… I subscribe to consequence culture,” he said. 

In an age where social media algorithms are more targeted and individualized than ever, it becomes crucial to monitor the content we consume with a critical eye. Educating ourselves about harmful content allows us to avoid blindly supporting problematic online behavior. Morris explained how we have agency over the content we choose to consume and inadvertently support. “We can just jump into another lane [of social media] if we choose,” he said. “For instance, [Ye] and that whole discourse… I opted out [of supporting that content] because I’m like ‘This is sad. This is not content that I actually really care to engage with.’”