Ariadna Jacob, an agent who represented TikTok stars like Charli D’Amelio and other online Influencers, filed a defamation lawsuit on Thursday against The New York Times and reporter Taylor Lorenz for an August 2020 article about her business.
Jacob says the article contained “numerous false and disparaging statements” about her and her business, including the accusation that she leaked nude images of one of her clients and hiked up the rent on her content house tenants. She said the article also accused her of misleading her clients into believing they would get a certain amount of brand deals.
She is seeking damages in excess of $6.2 million. Jordan Cohen, spokesperson for The Times, said the company will back Lorenz: “Ms. Jacob’s main complaint is that The New York Times gave voice to young people who felt they had been mistreated by her. It’s troubling that she has turned to litigation to try to silence those who criticize her business practices. We plan to defend against the suit vigorously.”
In the lawsuit, Jacob says that after the article was published, she lost all 85 of her clients and the money that was tied to their contracts and that she had to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. After being fired by all her clients, Jacob said she had a hard time approaching new talent and that major brands stopped doing business with her firm. She told TheWrap she did not recover any money that she said her clients owed her.
The complaint details how Jacob had to seek mental health treatment and experienced suicidal thoughts following the article’s publication. She said she was forced to leave California and relocate to Las Vegas in order to “seek new careers and business ventures.”
“After the New York Times article, I was radioactive in my industry,” Jacob told TheWrap. “People believed Taylor’s lies that I stole from clients, leaked revenge porn, filmed young people without consent and pretended to be friends with social media God Gary Vaynerchuk, someone who’s actually been a close friend and advocate of mine for over 10 years.”
“I spent every last penny,” Jacob said. “It was overnight, I went from all these people I invested in, for months and much longer, and now being told they should not work with me in Hollywood.”
Known as the TikTok agent for influencer marketing, Jacob is CEO of Influences, a firm she started in 2018 that managed as many as 85 TikTok stars and worked with brands including Mastercard and Universal Music Group. Jacob’s TikTok influencers included Brittany Tomlinson, Addison Easterling and Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. Some of them boast tens of millions of followers on the platform, and five of them have been included on Forbes’ highest-earning TikTok creators list.
Jacob started leasing out content collaboration houses for some of her clients, providing a place where they would live and create content together in the mansions of Los Angeles. In August 2020, however, several members in the content house known as Kids Next Door were featured in The New York Times exposing Jacob’s business practices and relationships with influencers — claiming that they were harassed over covering rent, not getting paid for their work and getting pressured to produce content daily.
Marcus Olin, a member of Kids Next Door who lived in the house leased by Jacob, said that he and his fellow creators feared getting sued by Jacob if they did not comply with the content creation quotas she had dictated. “We were expecting a quota where we could pay our half of rent through brand deals. But we weren’t getting enough deals to cover our half of rent,” Olin told The Times, adding that he had unsuccessfully tried to be released from his contract. “Anytime talent wants to leave, she goes straight to suing them,” he said in the interview.
Another creator, Tomlinson, known on social as Brittany Broski, filed a state labor complaint stating that Jacob withheld more than $23,000 from her. Tomlinson told Lorenz that Jacob tries to “lock” creators into her contracts. Her complaint also claimed that Jacob demanded up to 20% in commission.
Jacob denies the claims about her in the article and said that “nothing (Lorenz) wrote in the article was true.”
Jacob said some of her TikTok creator clients — including Charli and Dixie D’Amelio and Tomlinson — left and signed with United Talent Agency. Others joined Digital Brand Architects, an influencer and marketing agency acquired by UTA in 2019.
Jacob’s complaint also states that Lorenz failed to disclose her own working relationship as a client of UTA, a firm that she has covered in the Times. “(UTA was) really positioning to get my clients. They didn’t like that I was signing them to physical contracts,” Jacob told TheWrap. She says that the companies went around her in order to avoid breaching clients’ contracts.
A rep for UTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The most powerful newspaper in the world and one of the most powerful companies in Hollywood teamed up against me. My startup Influences.com represented social media influencers and we were disrupting a very lucrative industry,” Jacob said. “This isn’t the first time New York Times and its powerful, privileged owners have published lies to line their own pockets and, as a consequence, ruined innocent people’s lives. This abuse of power in media can’t keep happening because while New York Times and Taylor Lorenz act as a watchdog for the world, canceling those they deem to be dishonorable — who’s watching them and holding them accountable?”
In the year since the article was published, Jacob said she has pivoted from Influences to work on a new project to create a management platform for creators. She has also tried to get her side of the story out, with little success. “There was not much interest in what happened to me. A lot of people don’t understand social media and Hollywood,” she said.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is a free, 24/7 confidential service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information and local resources.