For more than ten years I have watched videos on YouTube, and over time, as creators and the platform evolved, I began using the website as a source of entertainment on par with more traditional mediums. But, last year, it became something more. See, there was a point when I was at the height of my anxiety. In most aspects of my life, I was content, happy, excited for the future, but when it came to my academic work, I was stuck. I was so close to the end it ached, but then like a snowball turning into an avalanche, I lost all logic. My heart hurt to think about my thesis, about emails that may or may not exist, about endless scenarios that played over and over in my heard. I was at a standstill sponsored by anxiety. Seemingly without warning, I fell into a personal prison of crippling anxiety and panic attacks. I found myself in need of metaphysical council with myself. What I mean by this, is that I felt this overwhelming need to reflect internally and figure out what my heart and head needed on my own and without outside input. While retreating inwards, I found strength and inspiration in people I had never met – YouTubers.
The creators that I watched mostly produced their content from the United Kingdom and the United States and they were filming everything under the sun – comedy sketches, podcasts, short films, playing games, eating food, documentary series, make-up tutorials, DIY and so much more. While these genres are entertaining, people who share their lives and make videos with their friends are dominating forces online. Perhaps this is because a group of friends experiencing life is endearing, or maybe it is because the people who make these online videos offer authenticity or at least the illusion of authenticity. They put fragments of themselves online, sometimes their entire selves, warts and all, and that is something that I have always found remarkable and truly inspirational. Even with original content that isn’t vlogging, they surrender themselves to the public eye on a boundless global stage. By inviting the world in and showing their lives or their art, the audience that watches them feel a connection; I felt a connection. I would go so far as to argue that this personal connection, or the knowledge that creators on YouTube are somehow more accessible than more traditional celebrities, are fundamental reasons for the success of the platform. This isn’t necessarily a bond with the person on the screen that fosters a personal relationship, but it is a relationship that can become personal. Viewers feel a sense of community and can see themselves reflected in these online personalities. Whether these creators intend to or not, they are impacting people’s lives in incredibly profound ways. In my case, I was determined to find my passions in life again, to find my love for writing again, and thanks to some friends with cameras halfway across the world and the internet, I have.
But, oh, the wonders of the internet! We live in a moment in time that has fosters a new generation of livelihoods through social media. It’s making waves in the entertainment industry and rivals mainstream media. We see people creating brands, individuals posting high-quality videos several times a week across multiple channels. To gain traction requires enormous mental, physical and time commitments alongside the careful balance of developing engaging content, nurturing a community, and networking and collaborating with other creators. Behind the videos there could be a team helping out, but often, just one person becomes the star, videographer, producer, writer, video editor, marketing and social media executive, talent acquisition and public relations. Like any profession, YouTubers often need to rely on the bonds they make with their viewers, but also with other peers in the industry. It was inevitable in many ways, that groups of vlogging friends – squads, if you will – emerged. Mutually beneficial arrangements, whether genuine friendships or purely orchestrated business partnerships are plentiful. I’m talking about those people who manufacture a secondary brand that acts as an umbrella over their individual channels. However, even for those who do not have solidified vlog groups to which they belong, the most fruitful YouTubes share more than just their ability to connect with each other. They increase their production value over time, the quality of content over time and grow their brands by constructing a community of followers. It results in creators relying on their fans watching, attending conventions, buying merchandise and keeping their content relevant for deals from outsiders. Empires are being built, one video as a time, and often with sacrifices to privacy.
As such, YouTubers and internet personalities face their fair share of criticism. In today’s day and age, even if you might not be aware of the behind-the-scenes and daily grind of YouTubers, I’m sure the concept of influencers is ever-present in popular culture narratives. On this journey through the landscape of internet influencers, trials and tribulations are many, especially in a time of cancel culture is a hard truth that accompanies the notoriety of internet stars. With all the controversies, drama, and irrelevance in some circles of non-internet enthusiasts, there is a lot that can be said about YouTubers. So, why should you care?
Out of all the content being produced on YouTube, there is one phenomenon that seems to receive the brunt of the negative side – vloggers. We circle right back to the participatory nature of the platform, where the social negotiations reign supreme and the complex give-and-take audience-creator relationship holds immense power. Ironically, in a space where authenticity and relatability are celebrated, the internet is all too quick to pass judgment on people who are just like those handing out criticism like candy on Halloween. In the weird merry-go-round of selective vilification, people who have put a fraction of their lives in the public sphere can be dissected and destroyed for the smallest of slipups. While there are some examples where the reactions to the behaviour of these revered people are warranted, there is also a bandwagon mentality that has an awfully forgetful memory. They seem to ignore the fact that these are human beings who are allowed to make mistakes like everyone else in the angry mob of internet villagers eager to move to the next trending takedown without ever knowing the full side of the story. Trolls, and everyday people who aren’t in the public eye, benefit from the fact that their mistakes of the past aren’t frozen in time and brought back to haunt them long after they happened. In fact, these people make it hard to move on and condemn people for previous actions, even when they are remorseful and educate themselves.
When you speak about controversial YouTubers, one name probably springs to mind: Logan Paul. He has made some naïve and misguided mistakes in the past that resulted in near fatal blows. But Paul has chosen to continue creating, this time self-aware that he will always have something to learn as he tries to be a better person. There was a choice that involved electing to use the platform to do what every other vlogger does; share their life experiences as they grow and learn, the good and bad. As one of the most hated people online even now, Logan Paul has achieved something that few have been able to do; he has harnessed the power of the haters to promote his content. See, the problem with these people hating so passionately, is that it actually means they are caring about the actions of an individual while using a lot of energy to try and make them irrelevant while explicitly achieving the opposite. Paul isn’t the only one to have faced the wrath of the anonymous ether. The internet brought with it an evolutional of our social worlds and the feeling of some level of transparency, even more so for influencers. The juxtaposition of human and something less than, is rife on social media and opinion hate is constantly reinforced with each scandal.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for people fighting for what they believe in, and yes, making the world a better place is important, but at what cost? Fighting hate with anger never works, and a lot of the time, two people who commit the same ‘crime’ don’t receive the same punishment, where’s the justice in choosy defamation if it isn’t universal? And on that note, shouldn’t our united energy be spent actually dealing with the world’s problems instead of pooling our energy ripping an internet stranger apart at the seams? It’s hard and I don’t know anything, so let’s move on. Maybe this instant gratification, hyper-critical attitude is one rooted in an age-old motivation for bloodstained differentiation – money. It is an elusive topic that is hidden in a cloud of confusion for people unaware of the significance of the new generation of careers that fall under the ‘online influencer’ banner.
In a recent article from The Financial Times, they outline the risks – both financially and mentally – for content creators on YouTube. Let’s take a trip back down to the beginnings of a match made in heaven when Google bought YouTube in 2006. For creators who started their channels before the merger or a few years down the line, YouTube wasn’t a career option, but instead an opportunity to express themselves creatively online. Now, despite Google not even breaking even, countless YouTubers have built global businesses.
The question on the tip of your tongue is how, and the answer is…complex. When people started to earn money, it mainly came from advertising and an algorithm from the overlords at Google. Now, we are facing a situation where creators are feeling robbed by the same hand that initially made being a YouTuber an opportunity to make a living. David Dobrik, a member of the informal group known as the ‘Vlog Squad’, has recently voiced his opinion on the matter in is weekly podcast Views with Jason Nash. He noted, that out of eight of his friends, he has the most subscribers which is just shy of 10 million, the most views per month sitting at roughly 185 million, and more posts, however he is earning close to the least based on YouTube alone. David Dobrik, like many other internet famous creators, no longer rely solely on YouTube revenue, but instead have empires made possible through brand sponsorships, merchandise, and other creative content including books, TV shows, movies, podcasts, and more.
But with power, comes great responsibility. Having built these brands and businesses that are often intrinsically connected to the real lives and identities of the YouTubers creating them, the biggest obstacle that people can face is the effect on their mental health. Between the pressures of creating content consistently that they are proud of, and that their audience would enjoy, landing the sponsorships and potential life-changing deals to maintain financial security to grow, and maintaining a healthy personal life that is separate from their jobs, it is no wonder that stress plays a big role. They work hard, and if they aren’t careful, they can burn out. At the end of the day, with the uncertainty, deadlines, guidelines and anxiety involved in creating online content, it seems that vlogging as a job might not be so different from traditional jobs after all.
By Naomi Eleanor – @naomieir on all socials
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