Last September, influencer Olivia Jade Giannulli gave her 1.6 million YouTube subscribers a tour of her dorm room at the University of Southern California. Amazon had paid for everything in sight, but the room itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Like any other freshman, Olivia Jade knew the value of a power strip, a sign of what her brand was on track to become: #relatable college content with a splash of aspirationalism.
Five months later, that brand is shattered. Olivia Jade’s famous parents, “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were among the 50 people charged Tuesday by the Justice Department with participating in a bribery scheme to get their children admitted to prestigious colleges and universities. The influencer’s college acceptance is under scrutiny, along with the standardized test results of children born to wealthy people such as actress Felicity Huffman, who was also named in the indictment.
Huffman appeared in federal court in Los Angeles on Tuesday and was released on $250,000 bond. Andrew Blankstein, an NBC investigative reporter in Los Angeles, tweeted that Loughlin was not in town but a warrant was out for her arrest. A spokeswoman for Loughlin said there was no further information available at this time, and a representative for Olivia Jade declined to comment. (Representatives for Huffman — whose husband, actor William H. Macy, was not indicted — did not return a request for comment.)
The criminal complaint alleges that Loughlin and Giannulli agreed to “pay bribes totalling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — even though they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC,” and includes copies of emails and transcripts of recorded phone calls. It is unclear whether Olivia Jade or the other students knew about their parents’ alleged schemes.
USC released a statement on Twitter that read in part, “We are aware of the ongoing wide-ranging criminal investigation involving universities nationwide, including USC. USC has not been accused of any wrongdoing and will continue to cooperate fully with the government’s investigation.”
As details of the investigation flew around social media, attention turned to Olivia Jade, the younger of the two Giannulli sisters, who enrolled in USC in fall 2018.
Olivia Jade, 19, has 1.3 million Instagram followers and 1.9 million YouTube subscribers, a substantial following that has also earned her the title of beauty vlogger — that, and the fact that many of her Instagram captions refer viewers back to her YouTube channel: “birthday vlog went up on Tuesday,” she once captioned a family photo. She has previously posted sponsored content for brands including Sephora, Tresemmé and Smile Direct Club.
In December, she tearfully revealed her first brand collaboration, the Olivia Jade x Sephora Collection makeup palette, on a channel of makeup tutorials and hauls, though she tosses in storytelling videos about her everyday life (e.g. “sorry mom & dad …” and “day in my life college style LOL”) from time to time. At 3 million views, her most popular video is one in which she and fellow YouTube personality David Dobrik teach Loughlin and “Full House” co-star John Stamos slang terms. Stamos begins the video by muttering “YouTube stars” under his breath but praises Olivia Jade for her morals: “Can I just say how proud I am of you? You’re such a good girl, you have good values, and you project good morals.”
Judging by the comments on her YouTube videos, the vlogger’s followers are drawn to her perceived genuineness. Beneath the 11-minute “day in my life college style LOL,” which follows Olivia Jade performing menial tasks on campus, someone wrote: “I think its [sic] so cool how she’s in college like a normal teen living with a roomate [sic] and not acting like she’s too good. Olivia has always been so humble that’s why I love her so much.”
While some of Olivia Jade’s college-era videos and posts have been related to school — she promoted Amazon Prime Student, after all — most are not. Her attitude toward her education has previously attracted criticism, however. In April 2017, she tweeted, “it’s so hard to try in school when you don’t care about anything you’re learning,” but the apathy peaked about a month before she was set to enroll at USC in September. She posted a YouTube video in which she admitted she “didn’t know how much” school she would attend. She told her followers she hoped she would “try and balance it all,” and said she was looking forward to “game days” and “partying,” but didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about the experience.
She immediately received backlash to those comments from people who pointed out that she should be grateful for the opportunity to receive a college education. A couple days later, Olivia Jade was back in front of the camera as she apologized for saying she wasn’t as excited about schoolwork and preferred to go to parties.
“I said something super ignorant and stupid, basically, and it totally came across that I’m not grateful for college. I’m going to a really nice school,” she said. “And it just kind of made it seem like I don’t care. I just want to brush it off. I’m just going to be successful on YouTube and not have to worry about school.”
She added she was really disappointed in herself when she thought more about what she had said. And although she felt she often gets unfairly attacked for growing up with “a different life” than most people (meaning wealthy), she did feel remorse if she came off as spoiled.
“I genuinely want to say I’m sorry for anyone I offended by saying that,” she said. “I know it’s a privilege, and it’s a blessing, and I’m really grateful.”
Following the indictment, commenters swooped in to criticize Loughlin and Giannulli’s alleged privileged actions: “Can you do a storytime of scamming your way into USC?” one person asked under Olivia Jade’s latest video. Another wrote, “So how did you get 1.9 million subscribers? Mommy pay for those too?”
Instagram has been no kinder, and Olivia Jade has since turned off the comments.
Abby Ohlheiser contributed to this report.