Is This App Exploiting College Women?

With college women facing constant pressure to bolster their resumes with jobs and internships while simultaneously maintaining relevance and acclaim on social media platforms such as Instagram, the attractive prospect of achieving both at the same time is one many collegiettes would take advantage of. This exact opportunity presented itself in the form of University Primetime’s spokesmodel position for Daze, an app that has been recruiting one or two spokesmodels per college to officially promote a March 2015 launch.

As a Syracuse University senior recently featured on Barstool Sports’ “Smokeshow of the Day,” I received several comments and messages from Daze app’s Instagram account, asking if I would be interested in being a spokesmodel. After seeing hundreds of photos of collegiettes with signs to promote the app over four separate college related Instagram accounts with between 5K and 125K followers each, as well as a referral to a “brand ambassador” application, I had little reason to assume the venture to be illegitimate, and was intrigued by the prospect. I filled out a very quick application, which requested my contact information, as well as a few odd bits of information such as number of Instagram followers and Facebook friends. After submitting the application, I almost immediately received an acceptance email, promising that the app would be extremely successful, without explaining any of its functions or characteristics. It was described to be “a revolutionary app that will change the way college students interact on campuses forever,” with only a guarantee that the spokesmodels who in the process would be adding excellent experience to their resumes and gaining “hundreds of thousands to even millions of followers on our app of all college students that are on it.”

The acceptance email included instructions to add one of the Daze partners on Facebook so that I could be added to the group “Daze Reps,” which consisted of 250+ college women from all over the United States as well as a few partners, who were all male. Following the email list-serv, the group was a secondary platform by which weekly tasks were communicated to all of the female representatives. After being added to the group on Friday, it was explained that every Sunday, the partners would check in with the weekly assignments, and girls who were not meeting expectations would be removed as representatives. The first week’s assignment consisted of every spokesmodel adding “Daze App Rep” to their personal Instagram account’s biography, referring five friends to the company, and uploading a photo of themselves holding a sign saying to “follow @daze_app, as well as Direct Message” the photo to @daze_app, as well as the separate accounts, @college.babe, @universityweekly, and the largest, @uprimetime, which shared the name of the associated website, University Primetime. The imbalance between instructions given and information disclosed made me immediately inclined to end all involvement, but with curiosity getting the better of me, I began to contact partners in the group, the Daze email account, and the owner of University Primetime asking about the relationship between the app, University Primetime, and the satellite accounts featuring Daze app spokesmodels. Though my questions weren’t dodged completely, I was answered shortly with inconsistent information about whether or not they were separate entities or run by the same person or group, eventually learning that each account was run by the same person in charge of University Primetime’s social media.

At this point, I noticed a comment by University of Minnesota freshman Addie Brokaw, questioning the legitimacy of the app. I immediately messaged her, who brought up the fact that “the 100,000+ Instagram pages where we were promised shout-outs only received 100 to 200 likes for each post, way below the 10 percent that shows up on legitimate pages. This made me believe they were buying followers.” After discussing our suspicions for only a few minutes, I was surprised to see her comment deleted. “I posted on our internal communication site asking if this was a scam or some type of pyramid scheme. I received a private message from Daze saying it wasn’t, but just as quickly I was deleted and was removed and blocked without notice,” Addie explains. I decided to take quick action while I still had access to all of the group’s members, and write out a message to copy to each girl individually, asking what they knew of the app, and asking if they were at all skeptical of the marketing scheme.

After contacting approximately 250 girls in the group, I received 149 thorough responses within the first 15 hours, at which point, I combed through the answers to look for trends. While I expected about half of the girls to be unsure or put off by the enterprise, I was surprised to find that more than 70 percent of the girls who responded were extremely skeptical, largely as a result of being asked repeatedly for inappropriate photos through affiliated Instagram and Snapchat accounts, such as the @crushcollege account advertised on @college.babe. This discovery led me to create a separate Facebook group, including all of the Daze representatives where I recapped the concerns of the group as a whole. Initially 29 percent were were trusting of Daze for reasons such as those highlighted by Indiana University freshman Cayla Leinonen, who said, “the fact that there were a lot of other girls from universities all over the country made me feel a lot better!” Texas State University freshman Natasha Holder reiterated, “many girls were already posting signs for Daze, so along with the emails they sent us, I thought it was legitimate.” However, after the group's creation, nearly every spokesmodel involved decided to cut ties with Daze app.

Immediately many representatives recounted the specific nature of the inappropriate interactions they had with the person in charge of the app’s marketing strategy, who, via mass email, denied all accusations but declined to comment further. From the standpoint of the spokesmodels, many similar situations occurred. Some girls were asked for Snapchat information prior to acceptance, such as Purdue University freshman Karlie Heiden, who revealed that one of the core partners at Daze “would Snapchat me ten times in a row telling me to video chat him.” She elaborated, “He said he wanted me to take my clothes off, and if I did, he would give me a modeling job.” Others were pursued after acceptance into the program, at times without awareness that the account that was contacting them was a Daze affiliate. Columbia College of Chicago freshman Lauren Lupinski mentioned that she was “constantly asked for nudes. When I didn’t send them [he’d] say ‘you’re so boring, why are you even a spokesmodel?’” University of Hawaii junior Madeline Arnold explained that after her spokesmodel acceptance, “I had to verify on Instagram that it was me sending in pictures, and that kind of sounded reasonable…I don’t know why now.” She elaborated, “I was Snapchatted multiple times asking if I was real, with [the account owner] saying he wanted me. When I ignored him, he unfollowed me.” Also asked for Snapchat verification, Rutgers University sophomore Jenna Rovner says, “I just sent a selfie and [he] said ‘oh you can show more than that…I want you.’” Despite Instagram shout-outs being essential components of our involvement as Daze reps, several girls were asked to earn their shout-outs with nude or risqué photos. South Dakota State junior Cassie Byrum explains that when she was told to Snap for her shout out on @college.babe, “I did, and [he] immediately said ‘nudes for shoutouts?’ I told him I would never send a picture like that.” Specific requests were common, as Marymount University senior Taylor Baldwin was also contacted via Snapchat, explaining that “@crushcollege asked me to send pictures of my breasts,” while Pierce College sophomore Taylor Stewart says, “I was asked, ‘Do you want a shout out? All you have to send me a picture in your bra and thong’…I had no idea they were all connected.”

Following these allegations, two of the male partners cut ties with Daze and are no longer involved in either the marketing or development of the app. One former partner, who wishes to remain anonymous, stated that “there is an app in development … however, the app and the details behind the marketing of the app are very sketchy.”

As a result of the monopoly of Instagram accounts involved with this single enterprise, University of Kentucky sophomore Savannah George shares a reluctance that is common among many of the former spokesmodels and collegiettes who have heard of the app, saying, "Now that all of this has happened, all of the college Instagram accounts and websites kind of freak me out." However, rival company Your U is an example of a similar, yet separate company that works with collegiette models to develop exclusive images. A few of the models who had worked with Your U in the past were also involved in the Daze scandal, and they emphasize the stark difference between the two. Lauren expressed that despite a similar emphasis on showcasing attractive college women, CEO Matthew Kerry “is extremely professional, which is how I could immediately tell the difference.” Kerry contacted me personally immediately following the scandal, explaining that from his observations and brief discussion with University Primetime about a mutual promotion opportunity, which he turned down, “The fishy thing that I see is that there is no world about it on University Primetime or their Instagram… if that were me I’d make a big campaign on University Primetime saying the app is ours and it’s a part of our brand.” He expressed that the choice not to do this was “wasting what is essentially the largest microphone to get word out. It really does not make sense to start a grassroots campaign to get word out about this app.” Though flaws in marketing may not always be indicative of a scam, it is important to take heed of initial warning signs that can ultimately shed light on larger issues.

As it becomes increasingly easy to fake legitimacy through technological means, it’s crucial to be on the lookout for any indicators of unprofessional behavior at the onset of involvement with any enterprise. Ultimately, when unsure, it pays to tactfully communicate with others in a similar position, as it can help open up the truth of the situation. Whether or not an app does launch in March, and regardless of its success or failure, University of Connecticut senior Nicole Cammarota says, “I am disgusted to have promoted such a company that clearly has no standards or boundaries, and I hope that other young girls don't feel the need to exploit themselves like that in order to gain popularity.” Hopefully, this inspires collegiettes to use all of their resources to gather essential facts before involving themselves in any business, as well as to understand the importance of integrity and credibility over social media popularity.