The backlash over the fish-eating vegan influencer shines a light on the dark side of Insta-fame

A vegan influencer is receiving a backlash online after being allegedly filmed eating fish [Photo: Getty]

A vegan Influencer is under fire after fans allegedly found footage of her eating fish. 

Yovana Mendoza, 28, AKA Rwvana, has clocked up over three million followers across her YouTube and Instagram channels by promoting the benefits of a raw vegan diet.

But a couple of weeks ago, Mendoza was recorded eating seafood in a video posted by another vlogger.

Spotting she was being filmed, the influencer tried to hide the fish she was eating.

On Mendoza’s Instagram profile, her fans were quick to hit up her comment sections with fish emojis and ‘fake!’ cries, while others trolled her personal Facebook page accusing her of exploiting the vegan lifestyle, and damaging its reputation.

As the backlash showed no signs of abating, Mendoza posted a 33-minute video titled ‘This Is What Is Happening’, where she explained that she had stopped being a vegan for health reasons.

Not only had her periods become irregular, but she’d also been having digestive problems and wanted to see if eating animal products might help.

But even if her vegan following were to be understanding of her reasons for the change in diet, they aren’t quite ready to forgive what they perceive as deceit.

READ MORE: Should babies be raised on a vegan diet?

That seems like a reasonable response, particularly from people who had ‘bought’ into the lifestyle Mendoza had seemingly been peddling.

But the fact that we even know about her switch in diet is proof of the ‘fame’ social media influencers now have, and the dark side that comes with it.

Effectively, by sharing a video of her eating fish online, Mendoza was being publicly shamed. Those currently extolling their anger about so-called ‘fishgate’ online will likely argue that they had a right to the knowledge, and they definitely have a point.

“It was one of the worst days of my life,” Mendoza told the Daily Beast, recounting the negativity she’d received since her non-vegan outing.

“I felt like someone had died.”

Dark side of being a social media influencer

Vegans are understandably angry because someone in the scenario had died: the fish. But however you feel about the rights and wrongs of Mendoza’s behaviour, the other issue the whole episode illustrates is the cloudy side of influencer fame.

“Let’s face it, whether you’re an influencer or not, living your life in the public eye is eventually going to come back to bite you at some point,” warns Kalli Soteriou, head of social and content at digital agency 10 Yetis.

“We’ve seen this in every walk of life – when you’re applying for a job and they (wrongly) scroll back through your social feeds and find a very old, but seriously incriminating, photo of you which at the time seemed innocent enough, but fast forward 10 years and now this has affected your career prospects.

“But what happens when you’ve made your living from building trust and respect, to then have it all crumble apart in front of you because of one silly mistake? Welcome #fishgate.” 

Does being a food influencer have a dark side? [Photo: Getty]

Whether people accept Mendoza’s reasoning or not, the backlash she has experienced is pretty extreme. 

The trouble is when an influencer grows as exponentially as Mendoza undoubtedly did, the glossy income-generating positives are often counterbalanced by considerable negatives, not least the lack of privacy. 

No doubt Mendoza thought eating a meal IRL and offline, fish or otherwise, was her own affair, but when you’re Insta famous for promoting a certain non-fish consuming lifestyle, your followers are going to want to know about it.

READ MORE: Marks and Spencer accused of cultural appropriation over vegan biryani wrap

So where’s the responsibility/privacy line?

When someone becomes so significant in the online world, it is easy to forget that there are real people behind the public personas. And real people make mistakes. 

And Mendoza has made a mistake.

For some of her followers, particularly those calling to ‘cancel’ her completely, that mistake is unforgivable.

But if her vegan lifestyle was making her ill, which is effectively what she was saying in her explanatory video, the fact that she didn’t feel able to go online and open up about it says quite a lot about the toll the pressure for clicks and to keep up a pretence was likely taking.

And that’s before we even get into a discussion about the impact all this might have taken and continue to take on her mental health.

So where do we go from here?

Emil Bolstad, Social Media Manager at Fifteen Design www.fifteendesign.co.uk says that moving forward influencers need to be careful when it comes to how they sell themselves.

“In this case, you would imagine that a substantial number of the influencer’s followers follow her due to the fact that she is vegan and therefore felt mislead,” he says.

“In order to minimise the danger of being “caught out” publicly, it is important to give a true reflection of yourself online. If you are pretending to be someone different through photoshopping yourself into pictures or promoting a lifestyle you don’t follow, then you will eventually get caught out.”

Mendoza isn’t the first social media influencer to have been called out online and she certainly won’t be the last. But while the anger aimed towards her is understandable, it does feel a little disproportionate.

“One of the things that I loved about going into the vegan lifestyle and diet is that I felt that it was very welcoming and very inclusive,” Mendoza told Daily Beast. “But as soon as you decide to make a change, they turn against you, which is really sad.”

“It doesn’t make people want to go vegan when they see all this hate,” she added. “It’s scary. I hope that out of all of this, and all this press that my case has had, that people can see that.”