American travel influencer, Kristen Grey, who was deported from Bali together with her girlfriend, for violating their visa stay, has apologised to local residents for what she said was a "mistake".
Deported for visa violation
The self-described digital nomad’s public Twitter thread on Jan. 17 had stirred controversy for encouraging other Americans to move to Bali at a time when the province was still struggling with an ongoing pandemic.
Gray, 28, had also boasted of living an "elevated lifestyle" in a "treehouse" for just a fraction of what she used to pay for renting a studio back in Los Angeles, among other statements she made.
Her girlfriend, 30-year-old Saundra Alexander, had sparked further furore when she hit back at Twitter users who asked if they were paying local taxes like local citizens were.
Alexander responded: "Why would I have to pay taxes if I never made IRD? I pay American taxes for making USD."
In the wake of the overwhelming outcry on social media, the Indonesian government announced on Jan. 19 that the two American citizens would be deported for violation of their visa stay by conducting business and working in Bali despite holding visitors visas.
Kristen Gray, an American and self-described ‘digital nomad,’ is being deported from Indonesia after her tweets sparked a social media backlash, after she said Bali was ‘LGBT friendly’ https://t.co/QsnTDwbspQ pic.twitter.com/P9JMKitciZ— Reuters (@Reuters) January 20, 2021
Tweets were misinterpreted
On Thursday, Jan. 28, in a lengthy post published on the public "Ubud Community" Facebook page, Gray apologised for the "mistake" she made in talking about her experience in Bali on a public Twitter thread, adding that it was never her intention to "disrespect" Indonesian culture.
In her first public statement since the controversy, she said even though her words were "picked apart, misinterpreted and misconstrued via translation", she still takes full accountability for "the poor wording and the privileged language" in her tweets.
Had not intended tweets to go viral
And while she said she is "sorry for the spreading of this information" as it was perceived to be hurtful by the "local and indigenous Indonesian people", she claimed that she had not intended the public thread to go viral when she published it.
Her now-deleted tweets, however, appear to tell a different story.
Gray, who had deleted her Twitter account after making it private following the backlash she received, had initially ended her thread by saying they were just trying to "build a community of humans who know their divinity and want to thrive vs survive. Twitter do your thing?"
Several hours later, after seeing that her last tweet had blown up on Twitter, she followed up with another tweet that said: "Wow just waking up in Bali, this thread took off!"
She had also attached links to her e-book that was priced at US$30 (S$39.80), as well as her and Alexander's social media pages.
Happy to have been made an example for other westerners to learn
In her apology post, Gray continued to say she had learnt a lot about issues such as "neo-colonialism" and "gentrification", and that she is "happy [she] has been made an example for other westerners to learn from".
Adding that she had been a victim of hate speech even after her deportation, she clarified that she had never made any claims about her race nor intended to start a virtual race war.
Various groups of Twitter users had argued about whether the backlash against Gray from Indonesian netizens was due to her identity as an African-American, over other reasons.
ACTUALLY we don’t care about your skin color but the audacity to overstay ur tourist visa, work from here and not pay the obligatory income taxes for foreigners who stayed more than 6 months, encourage people to travel & live a luxury living w/ low cost in bali during pandemic 🖕 pic.twitter.com/Lqg9CMOQgR— benjy (@redfolklore) January 17, 2021
Deported for "unsettling the public"
In addition, Gray emphasised that she had left Bali without being charged with any crimes, taxes or fines. She also stressed that the reason for her deportation was that she was "suspected of unsettling the public" with her statements.
Previously, speaking to reporters before she was deported from Bali, Gray had said she was being deported because she is LGBT.
In her post, Gray further claimed that government officials had read her e-book, and even thanked them for promoting Bali.
She ended her statement by reiterating her apology to the locals:
"I am sorry to Balinese people for promoting travel to the island during this time.
I ask you kindly accept my apology and I will do my best to spread the message of ethical travel to Bali when it is safe."
As of 2:10am on Jan. 30 (Singapore time), slightly more than a day after posting her apology, Gray's Facebook post appeared to have been taken down from the platform.
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Top image adapted via YouTube & Ubud Community/Facebook