The Calling People Out panel happened Saturday at Summer in the City 2016 in Panel Room 1. It featured creators including Alexa Losey, Tom Ridgewell, and Jack Dean. It was chaired by Alex Brinnand.
Over the course of the hour, the panellists participated in a sometimes tense, but candid, conversation about originality, as voices of both the community and a potentially impressionable audience.
As someone who has notoriously been involved with online drama and calling people out in the past, Tom kicked off the panel with his views on the subject and his journey towards a less heated online presence. “On my twenty-fifth birthday I found myself having a fight with KSI on Twitter and I was like, ‘Why am I doing this? What am I doing with my life? I’m with my mum, we share a birthday, it’s a special day’,” said Tom.
“I’ve always been very feisty, very aggressive,” he continued, “and I’ve tried to adopt a new policy which is to fill the darkness with the light. So, whenever I see something that is absolutely bullshit, instead of making a video about why that person is wrong, I try to make a video about the issue instead of the person.
Off to a controversial start, the topic of “shade” was quickly introduced, and the misconceptions surrounding the word. “Shade has to be intelligent,” observed Joseph Harwood. “There is a difference between saying something like ‘you look ugly’ and being a little bit witty. Witty has to have some semblance of truth, it can’t be objective.”
“I just feel like, if you’re calling people out, it should be for their actions. So, if someone has… I don’t know… sexually abused someone or exploited their fans – tell them,” Jack said, opening the door to an important conversation.
“So, where do you think the boundary is between saying something privately and establishing the situation a bit more? I feel like people are so quick to jump on and be like, ‘You’re an abuser’,” asked Alex.
“So, obviously, I won’t mention any names but there is only one person I’ve outwardly called out and that’s the person who admitted it themselves, because that’s the proof right there,” answered Jack. “You need to know the facts before you call someone out.”
This comment closed the discussion on sexual abuse. Although it did open up again later on, when Tom pointed out that because of the events in 2013, the UK YouTube community’s trust in each other was completely shattered and, understandably, drama did ensue.
The panel moved on to discuss whether it is all about facts, or whether you can you call someone out if you have a strong opinion on something that they’ve said, and whether this can be considered as starting a wider discussion.
Leena Normington‘s personal experience with this is somewhere on that blurred line: “I did make a slam poem about a big YouTuber,” she said. “I thought very hard about it and I didn’t upload the video for four weeks because I needed to make sure it was the right thing to do.
“But my stance on it is:; When someone makes a comment about the community or the quality of YouTube videos, then I do think you have a responsibility to say what you think when they are talking about other people’s content.”
It seemed that the consensus among the panellists was that the definition of “calling people out” was more about pointing out a problematic action, rather than a trait, or even something that can be perceived as offensive. As both Jack and Tom pointed out, you can’t please everyone and someone is bound to be offended, but if something is harmful then perhaps you should step in.
“I’ve made a couple jokes, like ‘oh naughty naughty Joe Sugg, stop gay-baiting’, but that was just whatever,” said Tom. “When I’ve gotten pissed-off, it’s because of the effect that the content has had on the audience, usually in relation to being a negative influence.
“I still hold people accountable for their character and persona online,” he continued, “because at the end of the day, what matters is what their audience takes away from it. Because even if it’s satire or something, their audience walks away with some shitty opinions that were given to them by this YouTuber.
“One of my biggest problems was when I called out a YouTuber and they said, ‘Oh, I have no influence over my audience’, and I’m like, ‘Clearly you fucking do because you’re a millionaire. You sell shit, and they buy it’. You do – you have so much power.”
Alex asked Alexa if she had noticed any differences between the way the UK and US creators handle these situations, as she had been silent for a lot of the panel. “People at this table have called out a lot of my friends personally,” she said, “so right now I’m like honestly pretty uncomfortable because I know these people really closely and if you knew what life was like for them behind closed doors, they are incredible people.
“Of course, I’m not saying they are just incredible, because everyone makes mistakes, but it’s sad because these bigger YouTubers are put in this place where they can’t make mistakes.”
She then brought the topic back to herself, explaining that she too has faced this issue as her channel has continued to grow. “Honestly, people have sat me down and said, ‘You’ve said this and it really wasn’t that awesome. You have to remember that you have really young people following you and you can’t do this – it’s not cool to post videos of you popping champagne on Snapchat.’ I think it kind of goes beyond this. I think in America, there are people that call people out as much as here, but we do it more in person maybe? I don’t know.
“I feel like me calling people out online will just bring more negative attention to it,” expressed Alexa. “So, I would rather lead from example. I think there are ways to call people out in a positive way instead of just saying, ‘This was wrong. You did that.’”
She recalled a situation where a fellow YouTuber had made a video, essentially shaming and making fun of mental health problems, something Alexa personally struggles with and found to be disheartening. Instead of simply making a post about how problematic she found the content of this video, she twisted it to create a positive post about where you can get help if you too are struggling with these problems.
The parting words of the panel? If you’re going to call someone out, you need to have an outcome in mind – don’t do it just for the sake of it.
Photos by Aria Mark.
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