15/12/2014

2014: The YouTubers Crisis Year



2014 has not been a good year for the community known as YouTubers. An increasingly large and popular set of video bloggers aka vloggers who now reach millions of followers the Youtubers’ ethos seemed to be one of good clean fun. Some mocked the lack of social comment and detachment from the reality of the world- plus the fact that the majority of them are white and middle class- yet it seemed to be a world built on a new aesthetic and a genuinely vibrant use of online media. Yet this year the cards have come tumbling down in a series of scandals and stories that have left the community shocked at how quickly a brave new world can resembled a flawed old one. 


The list of YouTuber woes throughout 2014 reads like a soap opera except some of the issues it raises are serious. Depressingly too they span exactly the same sort of issues that always floor celebrities in the end. The world of the YouTubers seems to be exactly the same as every other world; more fool some people for expecting any different. 
It started in the Spring with allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour against under- age girls by several prominent Youtubers whose reputations were subsequently vilified. Some of them are names who had made it into the outside media such as Alex Day and Tom Milsom both of whom lost lucrative deals and much of their following. It should be stressed however that in all but one case (of a  vlogger who was convicted) these remain allegations unproven in any court of law yet seemingly found to be true in the far less rigorous court of online opinion. The perpetrators are being shunned; Day for example used to have followers numbering in the hundreds of thousands yet his recent low key return was watched by around about 11,000.
Naturally there was shock and outrage amongst the tight knit community some of whom had worked or even lived with the accused. The tailspin continued recently with contrite videos from some of the accused which far from calming things down seem to have upset even more people. Considering the accused made a living from communication they sometimes seem surprisingly uncommunicative now though the public mood is not to listen.


Meanwhile there was the case of Sam Pepper which caused a media storm in the autumn when he was accused of posting videos encouraging sexual harassment. In this case the evidence was clearer because you could see the videos which I would say go beyond what would be acceptable in any other context.
Oddly none of this was mentioned when there was fairly widespread press and media coverage of Summer in the City, the increasingly large gathering of vloggers that takes place in August. Instead the media reaction was decidedly mixed marking something of a step change. Till this year YouTuber’s profile in the wider media has been along the lines of how a new generation are changing the face of the media. This year’s Summer in the City seemed to evoke a chippier reaction with one journalist’s description of vloggers as “vain and inane” being repeated ad nauseum ever since. .
In recent weeks two controversies did make the national press. Accusations that some YouTubers were being paid to promote particular products surfaced. The detail of how top vloggers make a living from the art has always been a murky one. What was being suggested is that they are less than clear when they are actually promoting something. The Advertising Standards Authority has now introduced a rule that anything promotional must be identified as such. Just this month there top vlogger Zoella’s first book Girl Online came out but she found herself vilified by the mainstream media for having used ghostwriters even though this is common practice amongst celebrity authors.
In some ways you might interpret this as the year YouTubers had to grow up. Watch much of the content they produce and though enjoyable enough it does suggest some form of arrested development, Perhaps because they started when they were teenagers they have never really moved on whereas most of the best known vloggers are now well into their twenties. Given this platform to communicate why is it that pranks and escapades, silly games and messing about predominate over views on issues and the world?. To be fair there has been laudable charity work and there are vloggers who discuss issues rather than trivia but they are in the minority and have fewer followers. You could argue that it is up to them what they use the medium for; surely they are entertainers not politicians and just like pop groups no more is really required of them.
Undoubtedly vlogging will recover and go on with new names and faces who will perhaps learn from the foibles of their predecessors. It is to be hoped though that as well as entertaining the medium can be used for something more productive and fulfilling and also that all of its leading lights can show their followers more respect in future.


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