Hot Topic: The Try Guys’ Scandal Presents the Dangers of Parasocial Relationships

Anastasia Thumser, Contributing Writer

As someone who is interested in journalism, I like to consider myself informed when it comes to current events. When catching up on the news, one of my go-to media organizations is the National Public Radio (NPR); with its engaging, relatively unbiased stories, I often close the tab with extensive knowledge regarding inflation, labor unions and inequities within the American school system. So, imagine my surprise when I perused NPR on Sept. 28 and stumbled across an article detailing the cheating scandal of a YouTuber I watched in middle school. 

Ned Fulmer, a former co-owner of the 2nd Try production company and one of “The Try Guys,” made national headlines on Sept. 27 when a video of Fulmer kissing 2nd Try associate producer Alexandria Herring went viral. According to Google’s Trending Searches, “Ned Fulmer” was the most commonly searched phrase in the U.S. that day, amassing over two million searches. 

In addition to the legal ramifications of Fulmer engaging in a relationship with his professional subordinate, his extramarital affair is detrimental to his internet reputation. Up until this point, his online persona has been one of a family man who is enamored with his wife fo ten years, Ariel Fulmer. The cheating scandal is nothing short of ironic, as it was Fulmer’s “wife guy” trope that attracted considerable attention to his affair. 

The same day the video leaked, The Try Guys, who have 1.6 million followers on Instagram and 7.85 million subscribers on YouTube, confirmed that Fulmer was no longer affiliated with the group. The group’s statement ended an eight-year reign of the four-person media team, as Fulmer had been working with collaborators Eugene Lee Yang, Keith Habersberger and Zach Kornfeld since 2014.

After Fulmer confirmed on his personal Twitter account that he engaged in a workplace relationship, fans elicited intense emotional reactions. Many cited feeling betrayed and distraught that a self-described “family guy” would cheat on his wife. Some were skeptical of the rumors because they refused to believe that Fulmer was the type of person to be unfaithful. Subreddits flooded with casual and frequent viewers claiming that they predicted the scandal after watching old videos, or asserting that if Fulmer’s wife didn’t leave him, she must be insecure. 

Amidst this drama, it is crucial to take a step back from the internet and consider the fact that likely none of these viewers or commentors is personally acquainted with Fulmer, his wife or any of the Try Guys. They’re not familiar with Fulmer’s relationship behind closed doors, nor do they have the authority to give the couple relationship advice on a social media platform for millions of people to see. While this seems obvious, the advent of parasocial relationships clouds one’s judgment and blurs the line between internet fandom and reality.

Medical News Today defines a parasocial relationship as an “enduring, one-sided connection between a viewer and a public figure.” The distinction between being a fan and engaging in a parasocial relationship is that the former admires a celebrity’s work from a distance, whereas the latter believes they have a personal relationship with a figure and are therefore qualified to judge their character. 

Parasocial relationships encourage unhealthy dynamics between a follower and a public figure, putting the admirer at risk of mental health issues, such as depression, or having an unfulfilling social life outside of the internet. Even if a viewer does not suffer detrimental effects to that extent, most fans are overly involved in the personal lives of their favorite internet celebrities and are abnormally attached to the disingenuous internet personas that public figures adapt for their audience. 

It is irrational to feel deceived and personally offended by the actions of a YouTube persona with whom one has no personal relationship. It is equally absurd to generalize one man’s actions onto the entire male population simply because that particular man happened to have garnered a following on the internet. It is also bizarre that a national news outlet is broadcasting the affair of an internet celebrity, which is an incredibly traumatic, sensitive subject that should be dealt with privately.

Nowadays, when anyone online can film their personal lives and monetize “relatable” content, it is harder than ever to keep the virtual world separate from reality. However, for the sake of our mental health, viewers must be cognizant of the need to take a public figure’s internet persona with a grain of salt, and prevent themselves from developing a relationship with an online celebrity. After all, followers don’t know the public figure; they only know the image they choose to present online.