TenEighty considers whether sexual abuse allegations have changed what audiences find acceptable on YouTube.
When the sexual abuse scandal began to unfold to its full extent there was a split among the commentators. Some hoped that it would usher in a new era of awareness while others voiced concerns that the outrage would be little more than a flash in the pan.
There was a danger that the community would get sufficiently outraged, pat itself on the back for bringing light to the issue, and then move onto the next shiny distraction… ooh! An Alfie Deyes video about dog poo!
However, it seems like there may be some glowing coals left in the remains of the abuse scandal flash-fire.
On Wednesday several UK YouTubers urged their followers to flag and report a video by Vitaly Zdorovetskiy where he approaches women on the street and kisses them unexpectedly.
One particular scene shows a woman physically push Vitaly away before he kisses her a second time. Vitaly told TenEighty that he would “absolutely not” take the video down.
It’s no surprise the video has proved controversial after victims of the sexual abuse scandal wrote detailed descriptions of how they were coerced into intimacy. Some people argue Vitaly’s video is an example of assumed consent. Most of the women don’t refuse to kiss him, but none of them clearly agree to either.
The video’s description claims all women in the video gave consent to be featured after the recording had taken place.
Why has a video uploaded in May 2013 suddenly attracted new attention? Are creators and fans discovering the video for the first time, or are we in the midst of a witch-hunt in response to the sexual abuse scandal?
Delayed backlash on a video is nothing new. In 2012 the popular gaming and football YouTuber KSI uploaded a video of himself being ‘awkward’ with booth girls. The ‘awkward’ moments included KSI telling one woman that she had small breasts, and asking another to motorboat her.
The video was later removed and KSI was banned from Eurogamer Expo, but he faced another backlash after attending promotional events for the launch of the Xbox One in November 2013. Microsoft released a statement distancing themselves from the YouTuber, and KSI’s management had to reply stating he had learned from his mistakes the year before. They said: “sexism is not something that [KSI] condones or wants to be associated with.”
A popular and comprehensive description of the incident was uploaded by VideoGamer’s Matt Lees, which you can watch below.
Prank videos regularly become problematic. Former Big Brother contestant Sam Pepper uploaded a video similar to Vitaly’s in June 2013, kissing strangers on Venice Beach. In January 2014 he posted another where he handcuffed himself to girls and asked one to kiss him in return for her being set free.
Unlike Vitaly, Sam Pepper makes no claim that the girls in his videos have provided consent. But it is not just the videos that are the problem, but the message they send to the YouTube audience.
YouTube creators often have very young, impressionable fans. In a world where everyone is a potential YouTuber, their viewers are inevitably going to try to recreate these ‘hilariously awkward’ videos in a bid to find internet fame.
Exactly such a thing happened at VidCon 2013 when a group of young creators filmed a video titled How To Pick Up Girls at Vidcon. The boys ran up to girls and literally picked them up. When some of the girls claimed the prank was an invasion of their personal space and could be seen as harassment, their concerns were treated as a joke.
VidCon founder John Green responded to the video in a Tumblr post. He said:
“I’m not linking to any of the videos that have surfaced in the last 24 hours of young men talking about ‘how to pick up girls at Vidcon,’ because I don’t want to give them traffic and ad revenue. If you happen to come across these videos, I hope you’ll join me in reporting the videos as violating YouTube’s Terms of Service, which they certainly do.
“Those who assault or harass people (many of whom are children!) at Vidcon will not be allowed back at the conference ever. Period. We have your names. You cannot come back.”
Other YouTubers have received heat for badly though out videos showing a bad attitude to women. Nash Grier was criticised for his 2013 video What Guys Look For in Girls. The video inspired a series of memes which sum up the video’s content.
The 16-year-old vlogger was set up in the gallows mere months after he had migrated his huge audience from Vine to YouTube, and was chastised by a number of YouTubers who were older and much more experienced in the medium than him.
Thankfully, it’s good that these creators are being held accountable for what they choose to put on YouTube, and it’s likely that that community is going to be even more vigilant after the sexual abuse scandal. When the audience convinces the creator that their content is inappropriate, like with KSI and Nash Grier, videos are removed, apologies are made and it feels like lessons are learned.
However when content receives heat but is left online – be it for monetary reasons or otherwise (36 million views isn’t half bad) – there can be frustration in the community.
There has also been confusion surrounding the flagging system for videos like this. Does the video show ‘Sexual Content’, ‘Hateful or Abusive Content’ or ‘Harmful Dangerous Acts’? It would be helpful to know where YouTube stands when it comes to this kind of content, which is all over the site and earning the company, and creators, a lot of advertising revenue.
Perhaps “don’t try this at home” messages for prank videos of this nature could help. We already see them on YouTube’s stunt and extreme sport channels. When there is a chance for fans to copy content, and for them to get in trouble as a result, maybe this should be seen as a necessity.
More and more we hear about the inevitable day when YouTube will have to rein in its creators and teach them what is appropriate behaviour and what is not, whether the camera is on or off. Many YouTubers may still have the illusion of being dorky kids in front of a webcam in their bedrooms, but many are now full time creators who need to learn how to behave responsibly and accountably.
By providing creators with their platform, YouTube must shoulder some of this responsibility, and we as members of the community need to continue making a noise until it does.