In recent months, several Teen Mom cast members have attracted criticism as a result of sponsored content that they've posted on their social media accounts.
If you follow any of the Moms on Instagram, you probably know the sort of post we're talking about:
They usually consist of a brief, vague description of a celebrity gossip or news item (often having to do with another cast member) along with instructions to follow the "#LinkInBio" for the full scoop.
Most of the time, these posts are harmless, and in the best cases, they constitute a sort of win-win situation:
Fans get directed to content that's likely to be of interest to them, and the Teen Mom cast member gets to supplement her income by serving as a sort of go-between.
Recently, however, this practice has sparked some major ethical concerns.
The trouble began when fans complained about clickbait posted by Maci Bookout on her page.
First, she was accused of knowingly spreading misinformation about her co-stars.
Shortly thereafter, Maci's followers criticized her for exploiting the tragic death of Gabby Petito by posting sensationalist content about her murder.
Maci has not commented on the situation, and it's unclear if she intends to be more conscientious with regard to the links she posts in the future.
In any event, Teen Moms and paid content are making headlines once again this week, thanks to claims made by Mackenzie McKee on Instagram Live.
As you may recall, Mackenzie was snubbed by the other Moms when the cast gathered in Los Angeles for this year's Teen Mom OG reunion show.
In the video, McKee says that despite the mistreatment she's endured at the hands of her castmates, she'll never post misleading content about them.
As a result, she was disappointed to learn that they apparently don't hold themselves to the same ethical standards.
Briana DeJesus and Jade Cline both posted Instagram Stories directing fans to an article in which "Mackenzie confirms her sibling died."
The link leads to a story about Mackenzie's brother Mike, who died of a blood clot when she was just 11 years old.
While the details of the situation are made clear in the article, the description of the story might give the impression that the death happened recently.
In addition to the obvious ethical concerns, Mackenzie says this is a problem because it might lead fans to conclude that her other brother has recently passed away.
In her video (above) she calls out the cast members who posted the content, as well as Relic Agency, Inc., the public relations firm that offered the sponsored content deal to several Teen Mom cast members (including Mackenzie, who reluctantly turned it down).
"Everyone knows I have a brother who is alive, he works for me. It sounds pretty insensitive. This is a really touchy topic," McKee told her followers.
"This is about my brother, who passed away. You're trying to make people think my brother who is alive is dead, or this is recent. He died 15 years ago," she continued.
"I get on social media media and they've all posted it. This is no hate towards anyone because I know they probably don't even know it's up," Mackenzie said.
"This clickbait stuff is not okay. It's toxic and it's evil and it's spreading lies about each other. It is not a good way to make money."
In an exclusive statement to The Hollywood Gossip, Relic gives a very different account of the situation.
The company also provided us with screenshots of text messages as proof that Mackenzie's claims about their interactions are inaccurate.
[We should note here that while we do not endorse misleading teases, THG has worked with Relic Agency to promote its content on social media.}
A statement from the company reads as follows:
“We have worked with Mackenzie McKee for many years on and off. She has made over $14,000 over the years over this ‘clickbait’ she now claims to have an issue with.
"For a long time, Mackenzie took no issue with posting about the other women. And, while she did eventually stop doing daily postings with us like [some others] do, she still would allow us to occasionally do posts that were about her (like she said in the video).
“We should also note Mackenzie is far from innocent in her behavior.
"She’s in the past texted us cursing at us over articles we’ve never written and then used us to get her truth out there.
"It is our feeling that her 'calling us out' isn’t about us but to seek revenge on the other women for them excluding her and to cover up her racist comments.
"In other texts with us last night, she stated she is calling the girls out and that her business has suffered.
She didn’t call the girls out; her business suffering is in no way related to stories about her."
So what really happened behind the scenes?
For reference, the teaser she was so offended by is above. Below, we offer some context as to how it came to be.
Screenshots from the text messages between Mackenzie and Relic reveal that McKee did turn down an offer to post a link to the story about her brother for a one-time fee of $500.
It should be noted, however, that she did not raise any objections to the story or the idea of posting it for a fee.
Mackenzie and Relic were simply unable to agree to terms, initially because she had an agreement with another firm that prevented her from changing the link in her bio.
When she contacted that company and received permission to change the link, however, a new complication arose.
Mackenzie and the Relic representative were unable to reach an agreement with regard to what sort of language she should use while promoting the content.
"Let's say 'opening up about my brother's death' people are not liking the original click bait captions let's make it more organic," Mackenzie wrote at one point.
"When it comes to death. People get really upset it's a pretty touchy topic," she later texted in response to Relic's efforts to offer a more palatable arrrangement.
"Confirming sounds like this [is] new ... Like my family will kill me."
"I understand this is a business and I hate that I'm so hard to work with I really do but I'm already under a lot of fire and I don't think my family is going to like this," Mackenzie explained to the company.
The conversation ended on civil terms, with the representative making it clear that the offer would be passed on to Mackenzie's co-stars.
"Ok maybe just pass then [never mind]," the representative wrote.
"We'll just let the others post it -- we'll figure out something else eventually."
Obviously, this is a complex situation, and both sides make compelling arguments.
Mackenzie's brother Mike, who was developmentally disabled, was adopted by her parents when his biological mother passed away.
He died at the age of 55, and while Mackenzie was just 11 years old at the time, she says the two of them developed a very close bond during his time with the family.
So it's not hard to see why social media content related to Mike's passing would be a sensitive subject for Mackenzie.
That said, she didn't raise any objection to the content during her conversation with Relic.
Indeed, it seems that she would have happily posted a link to the story for $500 if she and the firm had been able to sort out the details.
But even with that being the case, it's easy to see how Mackenzie might be upset by the fact that her co-stars - several of whom have become rivals in recent weeks - were cashing in by offering the public misleading information about her brother's death.
It's a lot to digest.
Stories such as this one serve to remind us that social media is still relatively new, and we're in unprecedented territory with some of these thorny ethical conundrums.
The best thing that any of us can do is err on the side of caution and proceed with empathy and compassion in all of our online interactions.