The Dangers of YouTube – Is Accessibility Really a Good Thing?
Youtube's platform has grown considerably, with over 3 billion views per day and its 14th anniversary coming up, there are now more content creators online than ever before.
In 2017 there were an estimated 1 billion channels available on the website, all of which are free to access. For the creators, management companies and brands that secure deals with YouTubers, viewer numbers are an extremely positive sign that their businesses will thrive and grow.
YouTube launched in 2005 and has only grown since, with YouTubers utilising the unique tools and analytics available to them. One of the things that make YouTubers so unique is that they are able to earn fame, fans and money from filming their daily lives. In this way, popular YouTubers are considered a new species of celebrity, they are seen as more accessible and down to earth than those on television, for example.
However, recently, several incidents regarding YouTube~stars~have come to light and with it the realisation that this intimate and accessible platform has huge drawbacks.
In July of this year, family vlogger Chris Ingham from ‘The Ingham Family’ YouTube channel was accused of inappropriately messaging and ‘sexting’ his fans, some as young as 16 years old.
Several girls provided evidence of direct messages on Twitter as well as emails. After weeks of silence around the issue, and still posting daily vlogs on his family channel, Ingham released a video on YouTube addressing the accusations. He revealed that his lawyers had adviced him not to comment on the issue and emphasised the impact that the media attention had on his family.
He did not, however, mention any of the evidence that the girls had provided. Whilst these allegations are for the court to investigate, this incident is a clear demonstration of the dangers of YouTubers crossing boundaries with their viewers.
In an interview with Metro, the NSPCC claimed that ‘YouTubers have been warned that they have a responsibility to ensure their relationship with young viewers didn’t put children at risk.’ While this statement seems obvious, it has become clear in recent years that YouTube is a website on which boundaries can easily be misjudged or, in some cases, ignored.
Not only does the site allow anyone with a phone/camera and an internet connection to upload videos, but it also allows anyone with an account to post comments on videos. As most creators manage their own channels, every comment is delivered straight to them. Thus, viewers of any age have a direct line of contact with their favourite YouTubers.
Whilst creators cannot see every individual user that views their content, through YouTube Analytics they can assess their channel’s demographic in terms of age, country of residence and sex. Alongside this, creators can view the channels or social media accounts of viewers who have commented on their videos- if they so wish.
Though this may seem harmless, danger can arise when a creator chooses to contact a viewer privately. And, while a creator's accessibility may seem like a positive thing, it can cause a significant power imbalance between them and fans, which must not be ignored.
Having a creator/celebrity directly message you can, understandably, leave fans feeling pressured into replying. For example, one of the allegations against Chris Ingham was that he tried to persuade a young woman to send him nude photos by telling her he could make her famous.
With YouTube channels covering topics like religion, makeup, sport and weight loss, it is easy to believe that the people on our phone screens are showing us everything about themselves. Young people, in particular, may feel as though they know the creators behind their favourite channels. Subsequently, they place their trust in creators- something they may be unlikely to do with their favourite television or film stars - as these celebrities feel inaccessible.
YouTube is a popular platform with a pretence of intimacy that promotes trust in content creating idols. Unfortunately, with the website's growth and more and more names hitting the headlines for inappropriate conduct with viewers, this trust can clearly be abused.
[Photo Credits: By YouTube]