‘With great power comes great responsibility’ – Voltaire
We live in a generation where people can become famous over night. With one video, capturing a few minutes of what was until then probably a boring life, complete strangers can enter the big time. They might only be talking about makeup and how to apply it, playing video games and commenting on their genius moves, uploading short films, vlogging (video blog) their lives, or teach us how to bake a perfectly moist and muddy chocolate cake.
With that said, what most people do not even see while watching videos on online platforms such as YouTube, is that with this new-found fame comes power. And with power comes responsibility.
A few weeks ago, on a stormy day in the middle of November, Jill Bearup, quite a successful YouTuber herself, came to give some lucky University of Hamburg students a workshop on the mechanics behind creating great online video content. Needless to say, she did a great job. However, she pointed out the latest scandalous incidents in the relatively young YouTube community: young and successful male YouTubers who have sexually harassed some female members of their young audience. These men abused their power, given to them by their viewers, and totally forgot about their social responsibilities.
Voltaire’s quote, that somehow serves as a table of contents for this article, sums up the clockwork of Youtube fame (and probably any other form of fame but this is supposed to be an article on YouTube) perfectly.
So, let’s have a look at the first part of Voltaire’s quote – ‘with great power’. The YouTube community is literally expanding every second. Every moment a new video is uploaded to the site, a new member signs up, a new viewer discovers the joy of watching online videos. And there seems to be no end in sight. I myself noticed that I am nowadays watching more videos on YouTube and other online video websites rather than the generic shows, series and films on the TV.
The audience is growing and likewise a relatively small channel on the online platform can grow from having a few hundreds to several hundred thousand subscribers within a few weeks these days. The audience is the key factor here. The viewers subscribe to channels they want to continue watching, and expect subsequent videos to be as good. In turn, YouTubers earn money from the views of their videos and channel views, and a solid number of subscribers promises exactly that. The creators are expected to produce continuously great video content but at the same time they receive money, support, and power through their audience.
Youtubers have an increasing impact on their viewers, most of whom are quite young, influencing not only their choice of mascara and eyeshadow, but also their political and cultural views. This is something that strikes one the most: how can people sitting in front of a camera in their bedroom have such an immense effect on their viewers?
Because we can connect with these people. Even if they earn more money than most of their audience members, they are seemingly normal people. Like you and me. And people are known to trust and believe in what they know, in people who resemble them. A young twenty-something woman talking about her newest mascara has more credibility than a model in an advertisement talking about the same product. Because we know this model is photoshopped, not real. However, the girl sitting in front of a lens in her own room, is just as real as us, the viewers. Even if this person has ten million subscribers.
The young men I mentioned at the beginning abused this power, they profited from their viewers’ trust (and probably romantic crushes), to gain something else out of them.
What they forgot about was the fact that once you have a certain influence over people, a certain power, responsibilities are assigned to your persona. Which brings us to the second part of Voltaire’s quote.
When people trust you, they expect you not to mistreat them, not to lead them on, and the more people trust you, the more of an example of a good person you are supposed to be. This does not only refer back to the quality of their videos, the creative part of the job, but concerns social responsibilities in particular. Big YouTubers, those who have channels with a plethora of subscribers, sometimes feel this pressure of being a role model once people start commenting on their videos, demanding them to touch on important social matters, such as anxiety or bullying rather than talking about their current favourite video games. However, these comments are often nullified by the sheer amount of people who are only there for entertainment. Needless to say, these are the ones who are then especially shocked to hear about incidents such as the abuse of young girls by male video makers.
Clearly, there are YouTubers that do meet their responsibilities and point out or even educate their viewers on recent and current global affairs. One of the most known channels to spend a great deal of time on informing their audience members on important affairs are the vlogbrothers a.k.a. Hank and John Green. Zoella, Zoe Sugg, a so-called beauty guru and vlogger, amassing around eight million subscribers, and one of the twenty-something young women, attempts to shed light on the subject of anxiety, as she herself suffers from the condition, as well.
Nevertheless, there is an abundance of famous YouTubers who are not so much focussing on the good they could do with their power and influence. And there is evidently a number, however small, of people who abuse their power and do no good at all.
Oh, and yes, the quote was cited by Spiderman’s uncle.
Maria was listening to various videos on YouTube playing in the background while writing this article.