Comment editor Nataila Carter explores the moral ambiguity of Youtube, and how over exposure to stranger’s lives can negatively impact our own
The idea of the internet being a world filled with corrupt morals and questionable ethics is nothing new. The fact that YouTube is fast becoming the entertainment platform of choice for the younger generation, is also nothing new. Yet when these concepts are combined and explored together, we reach an alarming dynamic between the accessibility of platforms such as YouTube and the messages that they are allowing to slip through their fingers.
The issue is, anyone anywhere can become a YouTuber. There are no contracts when you become a YouTuber, you do not sign anything that states you get ‘X’ amount of money per video. You merely have to adhere to the YouTube community guidelines (which are filled with loopholes and vague ambiguities), and even if you break these guidelines – what do they do? Take Logan Paul’s stint in the Suicide Forest, for example. What came of that incident? As far as I am aware, Logan Paul has gotten off relatively scot free since his interviews with major TV Networks. Rather than being ostracised and shunned, he has become a household name. If anything, the incident made him more famous than he was before. What kind of example does that set to the public and fellow creators if such a scandalous event can go virtually unsanctioned? I would argue that even though YouTube has become somewhat more vigilant since the highly controversial video, it has only created a sense of immunity and the belief that ‘If Logan Paul can do it, I can too’.
What control does YouTube really have over the content that is published on their platform? Over 300 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube every 60 seconds. With such a high income of content, it is impossible for YouTube to monitor and filter the videos being shared. You can subscribe to any channel at any age and view any content that they are uploading. This could include morally questionable clickbait content or even triggering and upsetting content such as Logan Paul’s video mentioned above. As viewers, we are drawn to these clickbait titles with an ‘I can’t believe they did that’ mentality, we click to see whether they really will pepper spray a random stranger or destroy a random car – and they do. Their views climb and climb and entice them to make more and more content of a similar strand of thought, thus an environment of ‘anything goes if it gets views’ is created. After all, the more views they receive, the more money they might make. Why would a $100 billion company take down videos that are drawing high quantities of traffic to their site? That’s just bad business.
But what happens when the YouTubers making these videos not only have questionable intentions behind the damaging content they are uploading, but they are placed in a position of great power – potentially being a role model for millions of impressionable viewers. Many YouTubers did not start out on the platform but moved online after appearing in the mainstream media. For example, Jake Paul started out on the popular platform Vine and was part of Disney’s Bizardvaark. Now he has over 17 million subscribers on YouTube, creating videos of an arguably destructive nature (we’re talking a lot of fire pranks). Where do you think his young Disney fans are watching him now? Of course, they have followed their favourite actor onto the online platform that allows him to make these videos without any repercussions. Not only does this create the ‘anything goes’ mentality, but it creates a generation of budding YouTubers – it is the newest career craze, requiring no qualifications. But what do you need to be a YouTuber? What does becoming a YouTuber do to you?
You are voluntarily placing yourself in the public eye, exposing yourself to potentially millions of viewers should you become successful. What do you need to do or have to become successful? Must you have an element of narcissism to voluntarily record and share your life with who knows how many people? How many of the YouTubers that you watch on a weekly basis potentially have sociopathic tendencies? Considering the ability to edit your own content and control your own branding, as a creator you could manipulate and fool your audience into thinking that you were someone completely different to who you really are. Is YouTube just a moving image Instagram? We are all being fooled one by one into stepping into a dystopian universe where anything goes without repercussion. You can create an entirely fictional world in which you and your audience live. If you’re smart enough you can make millions with clickbait titles that manipulate your audience into submission, absentmindedly clicking links to see what happens before you’ve considered it. We are all guilty of caving in to our desire to know and be involved in online content, to see what the hype and controversy is around the latest videos on the trending page.
If we detour for a second and take a moment to consider the deprecating effects of social media on your mental health, body image and day-to-day life – what must the effects of this be when you are literally living in your platform? When you are vlogging every day and presenting your life to the world, the pressure of performing must be mentally and physically draining. But as an audience, we have come to accept that we can consistently stare into people’s lives – whether that be through video, image, or blog content. We are a society accustomed to voyeurism. Social media provides a platform of voyeurism that we no longer feel privileged to see, but we have come to expect. The internet has founded a society of voyeuristic entitlement. We expect to be welcomed into people’s lives and to share their experiences with them – yet they do not know who we are. We create these bonds and relationships with people that do not know we exist.
We see their relationships, career journeys, their emotional turmoil – all filmed and perfectly packaged in an 8 minute video. How must this affect our real-life relationships? We’re more committed to perfectly edited performers than we are to our partners and friends – just think how many people you swipe through on tinder without even pausing to think. We’re so addicted to the short-form content of the internet that we cannot connect with real life. We are choosing to talk over text than in person, perhaps because we have become adjusted to the short snippets of people’s lives rather than the real thing.
We all know that our lives are consumed by social media. Platforms of voyeurism and moral escapism surround and engulf us. A lot of the things that we see on social media and YouTube would be considered too outrageous and scandalous to do ourselves in our real lives, but on social media it’s perfectly fine. It’s the purge – internet edition.