Meet the YouTubers taking over the world
In 2019, video bloggers are attracting hoards of devoted fans and making millions in the process, but some fear they could be exploiting and misleading their young subscribers.
On Sunday, January 27, Birmingham came to a standstill. More than 8,000 screaming fans, mostly teenage girls, flocked into the city centre. The roads were gridlocked, the streets were packed.
They had come from far and wide to see James Charles, a 19-year-old make-up artist who was opening a cosmetics store at the city’s Bullring shopping centre. His YouTube videos, in which he teaches viewers how to apply make-up, have amassed 14 million subscribers. He refers to his fans as “the sisterhood”.
“Who is he?” fumed angry locals. Despite inspiring devotion among their millions of young fans, YouTubers are still largely ignored by the mainstream media.
YouTube is now the most popular platform among young people, with 85% of teenagers using it. At the same time, traditional TV viewing among teenagers is plummeting.
Typically, YouTubers post videos from inside their homes and share intimate details of their lives. Meanwhile, social media allows YouTubers to interact with their subscribers by creating online communities and recording Q&As, giving the impression of a close, reciprocal friendship.
In 2015, a survey by culture magazine Variety found that young fans appreciate “an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities”. It concluded that teenagers’ emotional attachment to YouTubers is “as much as seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity”.
This attachment gives bloggers a great deal of influence over their fans. One study found that around 63% of 13 to 24-year-olds would use a product recommended by a YouTuber.
Zoella, who shares videos promoting new fashion and beauty products, is one of YouTube’s most widely-known stars. Last week, she joined a group of influencers who agreed to “clearly state” if they have been paid or received gifts for the products they endorse, amid concerns that they are misleading their fans.
Elite influencers can be paid tens of thousands of pounds for a single post.
And some fear YouTubers can have a more insidious influence. Swedish vlogger PewDiePie, who has over 84 million subscribers, used racist slurs in several videos. He has also regularly featured symbols associated with the alt-right, like the Pepe the Frog meme.
Do YouTubers have too much unchecked power over young minds? Their appeal is often based on being relatable, normal people. Is this “relationship” with fans fake and exploitative? Or do these communities offer real support and comfort?
Becoming a YouTuber is now one of the most popular aspirations among young people. Should we celebrate that young people want to express themselves creatively and forge their own path? Or be deflated that today’s heroes are, as some claim, “talentless narcissists”?
- Has YouTube had a positive or negative impact on society?
- Why are YouTubers so popular with young people?
- In pairs, make your own YouTube-style video talking about something you are passionate about.
- Write your own account of the affect that YouTube has or has not had on your life. Do you watch YouTubers? Do you think the trend will last?
Some People Say...
“The great thing about YouTube is there are no gatekeepers.”Lindsey Stirling
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Last month, YouTuber and make-up artist James Charles made a personal appearance at Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre. More than 8,000 of his fans flooded the area, sparking anger among local residents whose day was disrupted. YouTube also hit the headlines recently when influencers, including fashion vlogger Zoella, were criticised for failing to point out when their product endorsements were paid for.
- What do we not know?
- Whether influencers have a positive or negative impact on young people. They are immensely popular, and many have positive messages about self-expression and acceptance, but others have doubts. We also don’t know whether YouTubers are a passing fad or a permanent change, but there is little doubt that YouTube has transformed celebrity culture.
- According to a 2018 report by the Pew Research Centre.
- Shared by both sides. These kind of one-sided relationships between celebrities and fans are known as parasocial relationships because they give the illusion of shared intimacy.
- Conducted in 2014 by Hunter Qualitative Research for digital media company Defy Media.
- Zoe Sugg started posting videos in 2009. Aside from fashion, she has also discussed her struggle with anxiety. Her boyfriend, Alfie Deyes, is also a popular YouTuber, as is her younger brother, Joe Sugg, who recently appeared on Strictly Come Dancing.
- A person with a large social media following who exerts influence on what is considered “cool” and what products their followers buy.
- Something that has subtle but harmful effects.
- A term broadly used to describe a young male internet sub-culture that is very conservative, non-politically correct and often white supremacist.
- Pepe the Frog
- A cartoon image of a green frog that is regularly posted on alt-right forums.