YouTube is one of the most viewed and most used websites to ever have existed. It has become a meeting place for some of the greatest creators, talent, and upcoming personalities currently. With constant uploads and a massive amount of people going back to the site daily it is a powerhouse. There is no other video site that can even come close to what YouTube is and in that way a lot of great and original people have come forward to make the platform a better place. Talented creators have used it to really change how people view content especially online and there is a lot of good, but there is something that is incredibly hard to shake as someone who has been using the site since the beginning. It has changed and in some ways certainly not for the good. While I could easily discuss the issues with the YouTube system I will be discussing how the culture of the site has changed and in a lot of sectors it has become a hub for toxic ideas and individuals. I very much deeply care for the site because I’ve been a supporter of creators for so long, but I can’t ignore the huge negative aspect it has and 2018 has been a hub of some of its lowest points, but before we discuss where it is now it is crucial to take a step back and see where it came from and how it became what it is today.
As a precautionary Warning there will be discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with issues like this I will add additional links to important numbers and sites that you can contact.
Where YouTube Started and How It Became What It Is
The website YouTube began with the very first uploaded video on April 23rd, 2005 called “me at the zoo”. Created by 3 former Paypal employees their goal was to create an easier way to share videos on the internet. The site quickly found its footing and by 2006 it became the most viewed video uploading website. Google proceeded to buy the website in 2006 and they have been the sole proprietor for it ever since with currently a foothold on website traffic. The site has not looked back on constantly building it’s audience and having creators make it a site that people come back to on a daily basis. While this was a successful transition for the people who run YouTube the culture present in the site has changed drastically.
When the website started I noticed that it was quickly able to gain a small amount of creators making original content and while music and other clickbait issues were common there was a group of independently and cheaply produced videos that surfaced and because of this independent spirit and their talents they quickly gained a following. One of the earliest and biggest channels to come of that time was Smosh who still produces videos to this day. In addition to the success of Smosh you had other channels and individual videos reach popularity such as the now infamous History of Dance and Charlie Bit My Finger videos, which reached incredible amounts of views. They became some of the most viewed content and while individual videos and viral hits were the first to really come out of the new platform over the next several years original content creator channels found success in creating web series. In 2006 James Rolfe uploaded his first episodes to his hit series the Angry Video Game Nerd. Those videos brought original gaming content to the platform and helped to pave the way for similar gaming videos. Today’s personality based gaming videos are thanks to pioneers like him creating a space on the site.
It has constantly gone through trends and the gaming trend was a massive one starting a few years back with gamers using their personalities to create entertaining “Let’s Play” content for the platform. This trend isn’t as strong as it once was, but it has still allowed for gaming to be a huge and consistent area of success with creators like the Game Grumps and Markiplier. They rode the trend of personality based content to find major success in the field. They are just one small part of the gaming community, but they are a huge part as to why it’s so successful.
The site essentially kept growing and it’s creators found success. Some of these creators stuck to what made them who they were while others expanded while many famous personalities faded away. These popular creators paved the way for these individuals to become celebrities and this is made even more important with the rise of the vlogger content where people chronicled their daily lives. Some of the popular people had pretty normal, but eccentric lives but as time went on and the culture around internet content changed these people became much more extreme to reach their audience and presented a multitude of overly glamorous or reckless content, which is where the most dangerous content creators reside in right now and where things have to change.
How It Has Changed In Negative Ways
It’s impossible to discuss this topic of change without realizing the disturbing qualities that have come from the popularity of certain individuals. These celebrities have amassed large followings and for a lot of young people they have become idols to them. It’s very easy to fall into fandom and there is a level of expected responsibility especially when one’s audience is very young. Some of the most talked about individuals this year has been the Paul brothers. Their content has just increased in popularity ever since they made their name on Vine a few years back. With their content they have done a lot of vlogs and they have an army of viewers who adore them. They both have done a lot of dangerous activities including Jake’s recklessness in terms of a potential arson incident and in terms of alleged abuse of people who were a part of his crew. His antics are horrible, but what his brother Logan did this past year took it to a whole other level.
On December 31st, 2017 Logan Paul uploaded a video where he took a trip to the infamous “Suicide Forest” located on Mt. Fuji in Japan. The video consists of Logan making jokes excited to visit said forest, but halfway through it he discovers a person has decided to commit suicide by hanging. Instead of stopping the video like any person should Logan proceeds to film the body and talk into the camera that suicide is bad right next to the man’s body while also laughing at awkward times. This video sent off a media firestorm and for very good reason. Logan Paul did essentially one of the worst things to have happened on YouTube. He showed his young audience a deceased person and exploited this man’s worst point in his life for clickbait to make money off of it. What made the situation even worse is the long time it took for YouTube to react to it and dealing out any sort of punishment for Logan. It eventually came in the form of demonetization, but it sent a clear message amongst the internet community as well to traditional media. It painted the entire community of YouTube in a terrible light and it highlighted YouTube’s fears of losing individuals who make them a lot of money in the process.
What made this event so terrible was not only was an innocent man’s body was paraded, but the message that Logan’s actions has sent to his fans. That this behavior was normal and since then he has issued apologies, but his popularity amongst the fans is still intact. He’s gotten very little repercussions because of this and a lot of people have moved on, which is dangerous. While this video was at the front of my mind when working on this I wanted to use it to display the fact that YouTube culture has changed in multiple ways and often times in dangerous ways.
The biggest and most noticeable changes is the fact that YouTube has gone from independent talent making content for the joy of creation and building a community to now becoming about how insane can you do to make things even more popular to get clicks to in turns have money and fans based upon whoever is backing you to do so. It’s mainstream now when it used to be much more of a fringe place for content. It was small groups of talented people coming together and helping to fill out a platform, but now it is corporations sponsoring content creators pushing to gain as much money as possible and this is scary. It’s scary because of how potentially dangerous this can be. Another example of the danger was this year’s Tanacon. A convention designed to rival vidcon with Tana Mongeau’s name attached. The event which happened in Anaheim was a complete disaster with people getting severe sunburns, having inadequate space for 5,000 people , and for people paying for what was meant to be a free event. The event didn’t even last a day and was cancelled due to how unsafe everything was. This was a clusterfuck and because of the complete lack of management young fans hoping to have a good time they were hurt.
While a change in culture from independent to corporate is inevitable what isn’t inevitable is the potential danger and horrible situations to have occured. There is a lot of moving parts and people like the Pauls are a face to put to a growing problem that is being unchecked. Unchecked recklessness not only puts a stain on the company of YouTube it also puts a stain on those that don’t cause any issues.
Conclusion- How Things Can Improve
I think there needs to be a shift in the type of content that is created in addition to the system of YouTube to hold these content creators responsible. These celebs have so much impact upon their fans. In some ways this can be a good thing. I’ve seen people use this to raise money for charity, but in other ways it’s a bad thing as these fans are die hard and they can follow people even when they are in the wrong. While I don’t think that media can necessarily really impact a decision someone makes I do think that unchecked creators can potentially embolden certain people. There needs to be more structure and their needs to be a sense of genuine consideration of the audience. Especially when kids make up a huge percentage of the audience. There is a lot of work to be done and it starts with actively working to help return to what the site was meant to be. A place for creators creating for the sake of doing something different in a positive way.
I don’t expect a return to exactly what was before, but it is possible that instead of forgetting what happened this year that they can learn from it and move forward with gaining a sense of creative freedom. I look forward to the day that a completely independent individual does something new and becomes one of the biggest creators without the help of a larger company bolstering them. Instead of factions of fandoms that work to separate themselves some more collaboration can take place and that the independent spirit can return. A return to these creators having a more intimate relationship with their fans instead of a show put on to make money. Greed can really stifen creative energy and to really have a beneficial change then greed needs to be a back seat to the joy of creation.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline