Netflix Chronicles Byron Bay’s ‘Hot Instagrammers.’ Will Paradise Survive?

BYRON BAY, Australia — The moral quandaries of life as an Instagram influencer in the famously idyllic town of Byron Bay are not lost on Ruby Tuesday Matthews.

Ms. Matthews, 27, peddles more than vegan moisturizers, probiotic powders and conflict-free diamonds to her 228,000 followers. She is also selling an enviable lifestyle set against the backdrop of her Australian hometown’s crystalline coves and umbrellaed poolsides.

It’s part of the image-making that has helped transform Byron Bay — for better or worse — from a sleepy beach town drawing surfers and hippies into a globally renowned destination for the affluent and digitally savvy.

“I do kind of have moments where I’m like, ‘Am I exploiting this town that I live in?” Ms. Matthews said recently as she sat at The Farm, a sprawling agritourism enterprise that embodies the town’s wellness ethos. “But at the same time, it’s my job. It puts food on the table for my children.”

The tensions between leveraging and protecting Byron Bay’s reputation, always simmering in this age of entrepreneurial social media, exploded last month when Netflix announced plans for a reality show, “Byron Baes,” that will follow “hot Instagrammers living their best lives.”

Local residents said the show would be a tawdry misrepresentation of the town and demanded that Netflix cancel the project. One woman started a petition drive that has gathered more than 9,000 signatures and organized a “paddle out” — a surfer’s memorial usually reserved for commemorating deaths — in revolt.

Several store owners, many of whom have substantial Instagram presences, have refused permits that would allow Netflix to record on their premises. A number of influencers who were approached by the show also said they had decided not to take part.

Others said they worried that a mere portrayal of Byron Bay as a shallow party town would make it come true.

“Personally, I have nothing against influencers,” said Ben Gordon, who runs The Byron Bay General Store, a “mostly plant-based” and oft-Instagrammed brunch spot, which was originally involved in the show before he withdrew it.

“It’s about a town being perceived in a completely false way,” added Mr. Gordon, who has more than 80,000 Instagram followers between his personal and store feeds. “My biggest fear is that the show will become self-fulfilling.”

To some, though, the pushback against the reality series smacks of elitism and hypocrisy, and is ultimately futile and even counterproductive, as the protests and resulting media coverage have given it free publicity.

“It’s absurd and ridiculous to think people can control how Byron is, or isn’t, represented,” said Michael Murray, a buyer’s agent who has spent more than three decades in the region. “It no longer belongs to a certain clique.”

Netflix has brushed off the criticism, saying it is going ahead with production of a show that it said would be “authentic and honest.”

Que Minh Luu, the director of content for Netflix Australia and New Zealand, said in an emailed statement that “our goal is to lift the curtain on influencer culture to understand the motivation, the desire and the pain behind this very human need to be loved.”

A woman with a yoga mat slung over her shoulder shouted to him. The woman, Lucia Wang, had just moved to Byron Bay the previous evening. She had come, she said, for the town’s beauty and healing properties.

“The first thing you need to do is just go to the ocean and have a swim,” she said. “Everything will be OK.”

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