The first weeks of 2018 have proven that people who are highly involved with social media and content sharing platforms are driven by their pursuit of internet clout.
Clout, as it is used now, is someone’s power, influence, or popularity on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Youtube.
The idea is that the more likes, followers, or subscribers you have, the more popular and influential you are to those who follow you. Content creators who gain or maintain this status do so by continually posting quality content — content with click bait titles, or jumping on a challenge trend.
The most recent example is the Tide pod challenge. The challenge originated from a meme surrounding the idea that the laundry detergent pods look delicious — the underlying joke being that one wouldn’t actually eat one since they are dangerous to be consumed. The meme gained momentum over winter break, and in the first week of this month, people began to post videos to social media outlets of themselves actually doing the challenge, gaining millions of views. At least 10 deaths have been linked to eating the pods and as of Jan. 24, 86 calls have been made to report an incident where someone has ingested one.
Right before this Tide pod craze was the controversy over Logan Paul, a YouTuber with over 16 million subscribers, who uploaded a video where he and his team ventured into Aokigahara “Suicide” Forest in Japan in search of something haunted, but instead encounter a dead body belonging to a man who committed suicide. The cameraman panned back and forth from Paul and the body and zoomed into the body; Paul and his editing team did blur the man’s face, and added a clip of Paul talking about the severity of suicide.
Nonetheless, as most would agree, their choice to film the man who took his life and keep that footage in their video was a horrendous decision to both his viewers, and the friends and family of the victim. As a result of the uproar from the public as well as other creators, Paul removed the video from his channel a week after posting it.
Before Paul removed the video, however, he had received over 6 million views on the video, where the comment section was full of messages in support of the video. His following, who are mainly children and adolescents, did not seem to believe anything was wrong with filming someone who had recently taken his own life.
In response to Logan Paul, YouTube released official statements via Twitter. One of which quoted fellow YouTuber Anna Akana: “That body was a person someone loved. You do not walk into a suicide forest with a camera and claim mental health awareness.” The company also acted upon the wave of Tide pod challenge videos by removing those videos since their guidelines state that they “prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm.”
Viral videos such as these encourage audiences that certain actions, like eating poisonous things or showing someone’s deceased body to the world, is ethical.
People who are making these videos are blinded by the idea of building this clout and making a living off of it rather than the influences their videos have on others.
Would people be uploading outrageous videos if it weren’t content that gets views and followers? People are throwing away their common sense, or lack thereof, to make videos with click-bait titles to build their online clout.
The problem seems to be rooted in the content-creator culture and community. The strategies that YouTubers can take to reach the top are either to constantly upload videos and build a following or to make outrageous content that becomes viral. The latter is what has been making the community so toxic, and has been especially growing since the shut down of Vine, where creators were expected to entertain audiences within 6 seconds. Many of these Viners moved on to Youtube to regain their following by producing videos that share the same exaggerated and outrageous qualities as those they created on Vine.
Those with a large presence and clout on social media websites have great influences on the type of media that is shown to their audience and therefore have a responsibility to not promote things that are inherently immoral or senseless. Not only is it YouTube’s responsibility foster a culture of uploading quality videos, but also the YouTubers who have power and influence over millions of people around the world.