The Creator Ethics & Responsibilities Panel took place on Saturday at Summer in the City 2018 in Panel Room C. It featured Alex Bertie, Lex Croucher, Chris Ballinger, Taha Khan, and Sanne Vliegenthart. The panel was chaired by Mary Akemon.
The panel began by defining ethics and responsibilities in the context of YouTube. Sanne Vliegenthart brought up the important distinction between the rules for individual creators within the community and the rules for companies or brands. “There are some rules of ethics that apply to everyone, like kindness,” explained Chris Ballinger, “but different channels have different rules beyond that.” Taha Khan agreed, noting that news channels like Philip DeFranco‘s should hold themselves to different standards of objectivity than, for example, vloggers.
A key part of the discussion revolved around media literacy and whether creators had a responsibility to have disclaimers accompanying their videos. Mary Akemon said that this should come down to both the creator and the viewer, striving towards a relationship akin to the one audiences have with reality television. Taha makes a point to explicitly state that his videos are “scripted pieces of content” in order to close the viewer/creator divide.
Mary then turned the conversation to brand partnerships, and any responsibility creators have to educate viewers about the nature of their relationships with various companies. “Most of the reason brands can sell things on YouTube is because of that relationship creators have with their viewers,” she explained. Sanne said she feels an obligation to only recommend books she loves as “books are very personal things”, and she believes her audience would be able to tell if she was recommending something she didn’t personally enjoy. Lex Croucher added that the people who succeed the most at a wide range of brand partnerships are typically “blank slates” who tend to be very general in their interests, thus sacrificing a bit of individuality.
The discussion then moved to reactions to controversy within the community, namely the infamous American event TanaCon that happened in June 2018. Taha said that, while he shouldn’t have any obligation to police the behaviour of creators who share his platform, there was “clear malicious intent” in that case which led him to actively oppose the event. Sanne mentioned that this event served as a reminder to creators to thoroughly check the events they’re attending or participating in, asking, “Do I really want to be associated with this?”
“In that scenario,” Chris added, “it’s hard to tell what was happening until it was over. You knew she was starting it out of spite, but if you identified with any of the issues she brought up, it’s hard to predict the event itself was going to cause problems.”
Alex Bertie mentioned Shane Dawson’s recent three-part Tanacon documentary series. “This kind of thing had never happened before,” he said, “and I think it’s important to pick apart exactly what happened so that we know for next time.”
But even calling out creators for problematic behaviour can be tricky, especially in a community of peers. “The interesting thing there is that everyone talked about [Shane Dawson’s documentary] like it was a neutral source, when he very much is friends with Tana,” said Lex.
“As creators, we get caught up in incredible content,” mentioned Taha. “This thing was very great as art, but there were a lot of points that were missed, and I felt genuinely frustrated.”
An audience question prompted further conversation about public reactions within the community, building on the “call-out culture” that exists so frequently in online spaces. “It’s really difficult when these issues are spotlighting a certain person,” said Alex, explaining that getting personally involved in these controversies can be damaging for your brand. “Do I risk everything and call you out, or just say nothing?”
“Especially when people ask you to make videos about it,” added Lex. “Videos are only one of the ways we communicate within the community.”
Photos by Rebecca Need-Menear.
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