Thursday, 16 February 2017

YouTube: Contentless. Soulless.

If you use the internet there is probably no doubt that you use or at some point have used YouTube - it is arguably the biggest employer in the world and has completely changed the way people watch and create. YouTube is no longer the site for cat videos and 3 minute long videos by 20-something year olds in their living rooms. Everyone seems to have a lighting set up, people have ‘offices’ bigger than a lot of peoples own homes just to make a few YouTube videos. It’s a glossy, full-of-promise business with a lot of seemingly squeaky clean professionals in the limelight.

Now I am not old - I’m 18 - but compared to a lot of the viewers and the target audience for these professionals that is 6-8 years older. It also means that I’ve been through my YouTube mad phase, the 2010-2013 period where the front page of YouTube was mainly the VlogBrothers or Alex Day or someone like that. I went to Summer in the City 2013 and stood awkwardly with other teenagers waiting for these idols that we had created for ourselves to emerge from a back room and pose for hundreds of photographs before being hushed away by a group of bodyguards. I ate cold £6 chips whilst waiting for Jason (VeeOneEye), got trampled on by Alfie Deye’s fans and on the train on the way back I listened to Alex Day as I dreamt of being back in the sweaty mess of teenagers.

Today this is my worst nightmare and some of the people I saw that day are a distant memory in terms of their YouTube career. They’ve been through the YouTube mess and have barely made it out on the other side because life has got in the way and either fucked their mental health over or left them without a career and no way of paying the bills. YouTube and the people who regularly interact with it are powerful - it is the most power 13 year old should have, and it is potentially too much. 

Take Alex Day - he was at the height of his game 2013/2014 in terms of YouTube (whether he felt personally that everything was going great is something I will never know and don’t need to know). He had a book deal, singles out and he was back together with his girlfriend, and then the accusations happened. He was accused of everything - rape, sexual assault, cheating etc. and he lost everything for quite a long time. He didn't use his YouTube, he broke up with his girlfriend and he lost his book deal. Now whether or not he did what he was accused of is something that I can not talk about because I do not know. Nothing was ever proven and no charges were ever brought against him. He lost so much over a short period of time because the power of YouTube was used against him.

By ‘the power of YouTube’ I mean the audience, the links with social media, the ease at which a video or a comment can be spread. The wrong thing said at the wrong time will be scrutinised ten times over and, if for whatever reason, you are not the YouTube perfect person it is likely to hurt you at least and in the most extreme cases ruin your life. If Alex Day (for example) applies for a job in the future and his employer Googles him the first thing that comes up is his Wikipedia page and the second section is listed ‘Sexual manipulation allegations’. Is this the best thing to have stuck to you for the rest of your life? Probably not.

Now content creators have to be so careful about what they say and who they interact with - this is their job and if something slips that people disagree with it can be next to impossible to ever rebuild that community and earn the same as they were before. So it became safe. YouTubers began making videos for their audience and not even the majority of their audience but its most active members. These are professionals who need to sell their content as ad revenue is not enough to build a career on - if a YouTuber knows that the vast majority of their audience is 18-25 year olds; however the majority of comments and products sold are to 14 year olds who are they going to aim their videos towards - the people they aren't making any money from or the group that are providing them a big enough income for their flat in London?

This in turn attracts a bigger and even younger audience making it even harder for a YouTuber to create original content that can not offend anyone. If they swear too much then they are in trouble because they have a young audience, if they talk about sex they become the subject to a DaiyMail article because they shouldn’t be taking about a natural thing as a nine year old may get a bit confused. The worst part of all is it only needs to take one person to lie about the YouTuber for their life to come crashing down - if they are telling the truth and charges are brought against that person or there is sufficient evidence then so be it - they shouldn't be in such an influential profession. But if the YouTuber can not defend themselves - no matter if it is a lie or not, the audience and the consumers will always outnumber that person and their online career is pretty much over.

SITC was a disaster in my books - I try to avoid the majority of teenagers who scream and cry and only talk about why they think certain people should get together; however I would say that it was the turning point. Before then YouTube had a limited number of creators and a limited audience - the creators could make content for whom they pleased because sponsorship was only just beginning to emerge and their audience was generally the same age as them. The reason that YouTube is getting so big is killing slowly - in 10 years time a lot of the people that people currently worship will have left either on their own accord or forced out. As every day passes it becomes less content based and more money focused until one day it will literally be like watching 30 minutes of adverts one after another. Contentless. Soulless. 

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