Life

Lori Loughlin’s Instagram-Influencer Daughters Are the Best Bit Players in the College Admissions Scandal

Olivia Jade Giannulli, Lori Loughlin, and Isabella Rose Giannulli standing together in formalwear in front of a step-and-repeat for the gala they're attending behind them.
Lori Loughlin with her daughters Olivia Jade Giannulli (left) and Isabella Rose Giannulli.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

It’s a lot to process that Lori Loughlin—Aunt Becky!—is among the 50 or so people who have been charged in a huge college admissions cheating scandal uncovered by an FBI investigation. It’s like the Panama Papers or the Sony hack, kids’ edition. But it’s crucial not to let the sudden resurfacing of the beloved sitcom actress (whose last name is pronounced “Locklin,” by the way, who knew?) distract you from the real stars of this imbroglio: Loughlin’s Instagram-influencer daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose Giannulli. Together with the girls’ father, designer Mossimo Giannulli, he of the eponymous Target brand, Loughlin allegedly paid $500,000 to get Olivia and Bella into the University of Southern California. The young women reportedly passed themselves off as crew recruits to gain admissions preference.

It’s not altogether clear whether the girls were aware of the scam, but they did appear to pose for pictures with rowing machines to be sent onto USC’s subcommittee for athletic admission. (Though the swindle seemed to work beautifully—twice!—according to the criminal complaint it created a tricky social situation for Mossimo, who is golf buddies with USC’s athletic director. How awkward!)

With a popular YouTube channel and two highly trafficked Instagram accounts between them, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose are almost as popular online as their mom, but without having ever starred in a long-running, ratings-topping TV show. Younger sister Olivia is the more well known of the two thanks to her YouTube channel (1.9 million followers), where she vlogs about beauty and fashion—but occasionally also finds reasons to include her famous mother in her videos. She has parlayed those YouTube followers into 1.3 million Instagram followers. With 260,000 Instagram followers, Bella isn’t quite as big a phenom as her sister, but she did manage to land the handle @bella on the platform, which seems like quite a coup when you consider who her competition might have been.

Now that the admissions scheme has been exposed, internet detectives are racing to rummage through the girls’ old social media posts and interviews, which are not in short supply, for newly incriminating or amusing material. And they are finding plenty, since the girls have been putting their lives online themselves for years—with nary a mention of an early-morning crew practice we can find. Pity the Gen Zer who thinks she’s building a brand, not leaving a paper trail.

In a culture that increasingly likes to sneer at both rich people and influencers (and has never had a problem making fun of young people, especially young women), Olivia Jade and Bella check all the right boxes for ridicule. Case in point, the sponsored content Olivia posted on Instagram showing off her dorm to promote Amazon Prime can now be seen in a whole new light. It’s pretty rich that she’s profiting off her dorm room when her parents had to bribe her way in! In a Teen Vogue interview from September, Olivia seemed to shill for Amazon again, without disclosing her arrangement with the company. She’s also done (presumably paid) collaborations with brands like Sephora and Tresemmé.

And this isn’t even the first time Olivia’s education has been the subject of controversy, according to Yahoo News. Last year, she posted a video where she spoke about her college plans and said, “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend … But I do want the experience of like game days, partying … I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.” After some of her fans called her “spoiled” and “privileged,” Olivia posted an apology video. However, she recently made similarly ill-considered comments about attending college in an appearance on another YouTube channel, and some of her tweets have … not aged well.

Though Bella’s public comments and posts don’t stand out in comparison to Olivia’s, it would be easy to paint her with the same brush as her sister and parents. Doesn’t it already read like a movie script? The two beautiful, internet-famous daughters of a TV star who scammed their way into USC and continued to scam right on through it? Lucky for them, it’s their parents who were indicted, not them. But this is going to be a hard one to spin on Instagram.

Read more about the college admissions scandal in Slate.