The skin care brand Bioré apologized this week after facing criticisms that a paid social media post advertising its products at once trivialized and exploited the issue of gun violence in America.
An influencer and graduate of Michigan State University, Cecilee Max-Brown, had posted a TikTok sponsored by Bioré in which she talked about how a shooting on campus in February affected her mental health along with stressors like her post-college career, narrating over videos that show her alternating between exercising, resting and using skin care products.
The video was quickly taken down on Friday, less than 24 hours after it was posted, after social media users said it was insensitive and remarked on the startling contrast between the video’s upbeat nature and focus on skin care, and the tragedy it touched on.
Ms. Max-Brown said the Michigan State shooting in February had caused her to have anxiety attacks and filled her with “terror” on campus. Three students were killed in the shooting and five others were wounded.
The company apologized on Sunday for the video, saying it had “lacked sensitivity around an incredibly serious tragedy” and that its “tonality was completely inappropriate.”
The company said it “let our community down and we let our creators down by not providing better guidance.”
A spokesperson said Ms. Max-Brown’s video had been part of a larger campaign for mental health awareness and that it had not instructed her to speak about a specific experience but encouraged Ms. Max-Brown “to give her personal, authentic and unfiltered story.”
Bioré said it reviews all creator content, but as a general rule does “not edit or censor content,” especially relating to mental health.
Ms. Max-Brown posted a written apology on TikTok on Sunday and said she would “be smarter in the future.” She did not respond to a request for comment.
“Life has thrown countless obstacles at me this year — from a school shooting to having no idea what life is going to look like after college,” Ms. Max-Brown, who graduated this month, says in the video. “In support of mental health awareness month, I’m partnering with Bioré Skincare to strip away the stigma of anxiety.”
“We want you to get it all out,” she continues. “Not only what’s in your pores but most importantly what’s on your mind too.”
As the video continues, Ms. Max-Brown discusses the distressing reality of school shootings in the United States before the tone shifts abruptly back to the paid promotion and she says: “Join me and Bioré Skincare in speaking up about mental health.”
In her apology on Sunday, Ms. Max-Brown said “this partnership was not intending to come off as the product fixing the struggles I’ve have since the event,” she said. “Rather, partnering with a brand to spread awareness of what me and so many other students have been dealing with.”
The company apologized on Sunday for the video, which was one of several posted by different influencers as part of the company’s campaign for mental health awareness month in May. In other videos, influencers talk about the anxiety and stress they experienced after a car accident, becoming a mother and being bullied.
Bioré apologized over the weekend on its social media accounts. In an emailed statement, the company said that its customers prioritized mental health and that it had worked to reflect those values for the past four years.
A Bioré representative said that the company had been in contact with Ms. Max-Brown more than once since the video was posted and planned to continue to provide her with support. The representative declined to say how much Ms. Max-Brown was paid for the post.
The video was posted just before the first anniversary of the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead. There have been more than 230 mass shootings in the United States this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that tracks gun violence.
As of Monday morning, Ms. Max-Brown had more than 27,600 followers on TikTok, where she posts videos about college life, makeup and being tall. She has done other brand partnership videos in the past, including with Bioré, and had also posted about the shooting after it happened in February.
In a since-deleted two-minute video posted the week of the shooting, Ms. Max-Brown talked about what it was like during the shooting and shared her frustrations about how people were choosing to “protect a gun more than you can protect people’s lives.”
“I don’t want people to have to experience this ever, in their lives,” she says in the video. “It sucks. I have not slept in days because all I can think about is fellow students, that I know, literally being killed.”
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