By Jonathan Reed
Video courtesy of ABC News©
You would be forgiven in failing to remember a time before Social Media, it is frightening how quickly platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have nestled into the daily world of our youth. In recent years these social media networks have been heavily criticised for their lack of regulations, and rightly so. But another has become much more problematic, and as recent scandals have proved, completely incapable of dealing with them adequately.
YouTube was first launched in 2015 as a basic video sharing website. Founded by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, the site became an instant hit with over 8-million views a day, and has gone from strength to strength. And after Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006, the video sharing website has grown into one of the most lucrative and powerful media outlets on the planet.
But, in the words of the late comic creator, Stan Lee, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” something which YouTube seems to have forgotten.
In recent years, the site has evolved way beyond its original concept, creating original TV series and films. The company now has its own film studio and editing software. But perhaps the biggest development stems from those who use YouTube, or ‘Influencers.’
For those who have no experience of the YouTube community, ‘Influencers’ are a collection of users who post videos which influence todays media community. These can be anything from make-up videos, daily vlogs, or channels dedicated to a particular subject. From these themes have grown certain users who have garnered personal online celebrity, as well as envious wealth. But as more ‘Influencers’ emerge, the competitive battle for relevance has turned the YouTube community into a pretty controversial place.
Today, in a world where audiences change faster than a Wi-fi signal, the struggle to keep them invested into a channel is harder than ever. Yet one thing which seems to work, for good and bad, is controversy, and the once red lines creators would never cross, have faded into almost non-existence.
But have Influencers gone too far, and have they become so powerful that even YouTube can’t control them?
In most cases, the answer is yes.
Take Logan Paul, for example, who has maintained a level of controversy ever since he transitioned his content from the now defunct Vine App to YouTube. From filming a suggestive video claiming to sleep with his brother’s girlfriend, to a tour of a Japanese forest, which caused international outrage. It was the latter which would almost end his growing success.
Filming a tour of a forest in Japan may not sound too shocking, but when that forest is Aokigahara, any tour takes on a completely new tone. The forest has another name, ‘The Suicide Forest’, yet Logan Paul took the subject of suicide to new depths when he and his friends discovered a body and blatantly exhibited the shocking find. The video was viewed by nearly 15-million people, with many appalled at the disturbing content.
But what some people found much more disturbing, most publicly other YouTubers, was the lack of response from Google and YouTube themselves. It took days for the popular video sharing website to respond to the outrage, and even longer for them to punish Paul for the senseless video.
It was here, where the lack of regulation and its enforcement was fully exposed. Many questioned whether YouTube ‘turned a blind eye’ due to Logan Paul’s popularity, something that caused even more backlash. It wasn’t until the story made the rounds on mainstream media outlets, and Paul released a questionable apology video, that YouTube finally responded to the outcry by stripping all sponsorships from Logan’s content.
Whilst many praised the eventual move, most believed the expanse of time between the uploading of the video and the response was too damaging for either Paul or YouTube to bounce back from.
However, as time has passed, it seems YouTube has forgiven one of their most successful Influencers. Though now, once again, Logan Paul has landed right back in the midst of public outrage, this time through his Podcast, “Impaulsive”.
In a segment detailing numerous New Year’s resolutions, Paul mockingly stated that he would “go gay” for one month. Laughing, he said: “What is it, male only March? We’re gonna attempt to go gay for just one month.”
The backlash was intense with many siting his comments as ‘insulting and vile.’ Social Media influencer, Daniel Preda went one step further referencing his previous actions, saying: “He continues to be an awful representation of the YouTube community and shows he truly has learned NOTHING over the last year.”
In what is seemingly history repeating itself, YouTube have yet to take action against the comments even though many have the Podcast is in clear violation of their updated Guidelines. And this is a running theme across the whole uncontrollable nature of the video sharing community. It seems that you can say, show and do anything you want without fear of any repercussions. It doesn’t matter, as long as the view counters keep climbing.
It wouldn’t be fair to state that all of YouTube is within the realm of Logan Paul’s content, there are many who use the site in a creative and entertaining way. Take Shane Dawson for example, whose latest Docu-series on other YouTubers boast over 20-million views each. Here you have a creative filmmaker who is taking the media format into compelling areas, and instead of there being the controversy, he is using everyone else’s.
His most recent series, documenting Logan Paul’s younger and arguably more popular brother Jake, became a world-wide talking point. Here you had a YouTube Influencer creating a series of films that rival documentaries seen on Netflix, BBC and beyond. It was an utterly addictive and fascinating series, that highlighted both what is wrong with YouTube, but also how far content creators like Jake are willing to go in the quest of fame and notoriety.
But if Shane’s documentaries have proven how YouTube can bestow success, they have also highlighted the dramatic and often chaotic downfalls of the many. And when it comes to drama, there is no bigger community than ‘Beauty’.
There are a few notable make-up Influencers who have achieved immense success. Jeffree Star, James Charles, Nikki Tutorials, Patrick Starr, to name a few. And most have faced their own scandals and mistakes, but whilst they have taken ownership for them and actively learnt from the backlash, others haven’t, or even if they have, many have questioned the authenticity of the ‘apology’.
The most recent scandal within the make-up community came from Laura Lee, who was ousted for defamatory and racist comments. Similar to most who face controversies, she made an apology video which only added to the furore. Heavily criticized for ‘fake crying’, she ended up removing the video from YouTube and instead chose to ignore the backlash.
Another who decided to do this was Manny MUA, another popular make-up channel. As the argument surrounding Laura Lee erupted, the lava flowed to Manny’s doorstep, resulting in thousands unsubscribing from his channel.
As much as we would love to dive into the whole drama-filled episode of the whole affair, we don’t have enough time, and most likely, neither do you.
Instead, what do these constant controversies and ‘pushing boundaries’ mean for the entire YouTube concept and community? Like most things, controversy eventually stops selling. When the offensive becomes unentertaining or unmanageable, the whole system implodes. Unlike a comedian submerging the offensive into a diluted pool of comedy and humour, YouTubers cannot hear the crowd laugh or groan in real-time. They have no such luxury.
With each post, it is a sink or swim moment, but you can only stay afloat in calm waters. It is up to YouTube to determine how stormy the sea of controversy gets, and whether they throw a lifejacket to their Influencers or not. But as Logan and Jake Paul, Laura Lee and Manny MUA prove, YouTube is like the video sharing version of the Titanic, sailing towards an Iceberg it can’t see, and there aren’t enough lifeboats onboard for everyone. And unlike Jack and Rose, when push comes to shove, YouTube will let go.