In the aftermath of the August 2023 Maui wildfires, users on the TikTok video platform repeated false and misleading claims about country star Dolly Parton's past award-winning charitable work. These users appeared to be spreading these falsehoods about Parton's humanitarian activities in order to cast aspersions on two other celebrities, Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne Johnson.
Here's what this is all about: Recently, TikTok users criticized Winfrey and Johnson (who is better known as The Rock), after they announced in a video that they would be joining together to create the People's Fund of Maui.
The fund will provide $1,200 per month to individuals or families who were affected by the Maui wildfires.
Winfrey and Johnson said they had pledged $10 million of their own money up front and also invited viewers to provide additional donations.
In the video, Winfrey added that she was inspired by a fund that had been created years earlier by Parton. That fund, dubbed her My People Fund, helped the victims of the late-November 2016 fire that scorched areas in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park in parts of Tennessee and North Carolina.
In response to Winfrey and Johnson's video, TikTok users were quick to criticize the pair for requesting donations to their fund, falsely claiming that Parton had only provided her own money in 2016 and had not asked for donations. Other TikTok users questioned why Parton's name was being mentioned by Winfrey and The Rock at all, as they did not understand the full truth of the matter.
One popular TikTok video with over 1.3 million views promoted the false rumor that Parton hadn't requested donations from the general public.
This false rumor also spread in a seemingly countless number of comments, like one that read, "Dolly donated her own money and supported victims without fanfare or asking for public donations."
A comment with 800 likes said, "Dolly didn't ask for money. She gave from her heart." Another one read, "Dolly gives from her heart and doesn't ask others to give."
These same kinds of untrue remarks were promulgated in comments under many other TikTok videos, usually with likes from tens or hundreds of users.
Another fact not acknowledged in TikTok videos and comments was that Parton's team had consulted with Winfrey's team multiple times following the Maui wildfires in order to share the lessons they'd learned from managing the previous Smokies fire fund in 2016 and 2017.
Parton's previous efforts to establish the My People Fund included pledging $1,000 per month to each individual or family affected by the tragedy. The fund ended up bringing in so many donations from a telethon and other efforts that her Dollywood Foundation was able to provide more money than expected to victims who had been affected by the fire.
Further, in 2019, the FBI acknowledged the efforts of Parton's donation drive success with its Director's Community Leadership Award.
For readers who are interested in learning more, we previously published a more detailed article about both Parton's past efforts and the misinformation about her that spread following the Maui wildfires.
Beaty, Thalia. "Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne Johnson Launch Fund with $10 Million for Displaced Maui Residents." The Associated Press, 31 Aug. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/maui-wildfires-oprah-dwayne-johnson-donations-0e59c2e1dc06b8519c9b453c978ed1b9.
Liles, Jordan. "Dolly Parton Didn't Ask for Fire Victims' Donations, in Contrast with Oprah and The Rock for Maui?" Snopes, 5 Sept. 2023, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/dolly-parton-fire-donations/.
"The FBI Honors The Dollywood Foundation." Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, 6 May 2019, https://imaginationlibrary.com/fbi-directors-community-leadership-award/.