Fyre Festival’s fraudulent founder Billy McFarland: overcome FOMO and spot dangerous narcissism before getting burned

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Fyre Festival’s founder Billy McFarland

Everyone’s talking about the newly released documentaries taking viewers behind the scenes of the disastrous 2017 Fyre Festival. Hulu’s Fyre Fraud and Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. Both cover the social-media hyped event gone horribly wrong: festival founder and entrepreneur Billy McFarland duped thousands into purchasing tickets upwards of $3,000 each for a tropical island VIP get-away laden with models, celebrities, and A-list music acts. Instead, festival-goers were stranded, fighting over survival essentials like water and food in a squalid tent city.  Worse yet, Fyre festival proved financially deleterious to the island’s local inhabitants who were deprived of wages, some of whom depleted their life savings attempting to bring the grandiose festival to fruition. The documentaries bring viewers up to date with Billy McFarland, the 27-year-old founder of the company behind the festival, being sentenced to six years in prison in October of 2018 , and facing a $26 million forfeiture order. In a Vox interview with Maria Konnikova, the psychologist featured in the Hulu documentary, she discusses the “Dark Triad,” a set of three socially aversive personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, all wrapped up in one person. “I think [McFarland] definitely has narcissism and Machiavellianism,” Dr. Konnikova told Vox. “He might also have psychopathy, but it’s hard to know without talking to him further.” While McFarland’s actions have been captured by these documentaries and other media accounts of his company Fyre Media, it’s hard not to be intrigued by what sets him apart from other vision-driven, charismatic entrepreneurs.

Can you overcome FOMO and spot dangerous narcissism before getting burned?

No one wants to think of themselves as unable to spot a scam when they see one, or that they might fall prey to the type of person who is capable of blinding our rational judgement, swindling innocent people of their savings, or endangering people’s physical safety and professional livelihoods. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can exacerbate our risk of being taken advantage of by diminishing the tell-tale signs of a threatening situation. In comparison, the threat of ‘missing out’ on something that has the potential to inflate our social status, evoke envy in others or afford us the chance to come into rare financial gain can seem like the bigger risk.

Silicon Valley is where entrepreneurs come from all over the world to participate in the get-rich-culture of startups, fueling FOMO and attracting top talent, cutthroat competitors and predatory schemers. Research findings have linked narcissism to  entrepreneurs, serving as a personality foundation for their larger-than-life dreams of creating the next Google or Facebook.

Is narcissism always a bad thing?

People commonly wonder “Isn’t some degree of narcissism typical and necessary for people to become high-achievers?” While healthy self-confidence is necessary to form resilience in the face of adversity, and sustains perseverance through trying times, this is different than true narcissism. Healthy self-confidence stems from hard-earned accomplishments, proven mastery, the fortitude to own ones’ mistakes, and a respect for those committed to learning, growing, and working. Narcissism is actually a psychological defense against underlying inadequacy and shortcomings (which is why it’s referred to as “malignant self-love”. Low self-awareness, high entitlement, habitual belittling of others, inflated sense of abilities, and need for constant admiration are other key features. Combined with psychopathy and Machiavellianism, narcissism emboldens people to take advantage of others regardless of the potential for harming them, in order to create opportunities for personal gain at others’ expense.

Fyre is testimony to how today’s ubiquitous FOMO culture fuels irrational decision-making, group-think akin to cult culture, creating opportunity for those with The Dark Triad to prey on unsuspecting others. Even if Billy McFarland was ultimately found guilty of fraud, countless people were willingly invest their money, power and influence which together, drove forward Fyre Festival to it’s spectacularly disastrous end. McFarland’s story is just the latest buzz in a growing pile of internet-fueled schemes where people forgo judgement for opportunity, and it certainly won’t be the last.

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