Since its establishment in 2005, YouTube has rapidly become one of the world’s most-visited sites, as well as a cultural behemoth in its own right. Not only has the concept of sharing short videos and personal stories changed global media irreversibly, YouTube has spawned a new generation of content creators and presented revolutionary new opportunities for freelancers to monetize their personalities.
No longer is it an impossible dream to become a millionaire from the comfort of your sofa; as long as you’re business-savvy, willing to invest hours of unpaid labor and open to corporate sponsorship, the opportunity is there to grow a channel which could eventually rake in the big bucks.
Naturally, a rise in popularity has resulted in an inevitable rise in YouTube scandals. Minor controversies revolve around sponsored posts going undisclosed – a crime which the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) takes extremely seriously – whereas others focus on glitches and bugs which seem to sabotage subscriber counts.
Occasionally, however, a scandal erupts and becomes a global news story. The most recent case comes courtesy of PewDiePie, a Swedish blogger whose channel has over 53 million subscribers, making him the most popular (and, according to reports, wealthiest) content creator on YouTube. These rare, huge YouTube scandals are a key reminder that we can ultimately be held accountable for everything we put online – a lesson which the following YouTubers learned the hard way:
Recently, The Wall Street Journal published an article accusing PewDiePie – the alias of blogger Felix Kjellberg – of anti-semitism. Nine videos were highlighted as examples, the most notorious of which features a photograph of two men holding a sign saying "Death To All Jews."
Kjellberg contributed financially to the creation of this image through Fiverr in order to prove, in his words, “how crazy the modern world is.” Regardless of his intentions, the video was met with severe consequences: his show was cancelled and his ties with Disney severed.
Kjellberg was swiftly called out by the likes of J.K. Rowling and responded with a video arguing the images cited were merely jokes taken out of context. He then clarified that there were no malicious intentions before raising the debate of whether or not jokes about literally any subject should be permissible.
In this case, the blogger’s questionable humor incited widespread fury, was undeniably offensive in the eyes of millions worldwide and trivialized genocide. Whether or not you believe that censorship of discrimination is an attack on "free speech," it’s fair to argue that, as the most-subbed man on YouTube, PewDiePie deserves to be pulled up for his actions.
A slightly tamer YouTube scandal comes courtesy of Zoella, the online name of Zoe Sugg, a blogger renowned not only for her haul videos and make-up tutorials, but also for her frank discussions of mental health.
Suggs has amassed millions of followers and created a business empire by being likable and seemingly honest, which explains the negative response to the revelation that her first novel, Girl Online, had been partially penned by ghostwriters.
Suggs initially responded to the wave of negativity by taking a break from her YouTube channel and later clarifying that the Penguin editorial team had helped her. One of the writers was identified as Siobhan Curham, who later pointed out that the "scandal" was ironic considering the book’s attempts to hone in on cyber-bullying.
While the revelations did indicate problems with transparency in celebrity publishing, the backlash ultimately had no effect on the novel’s success – Girl Online became the fastest-selling book of 2014.
TmarTn & ProSyndicate
“HOW TO WIN $13,000 IN 5 MINUTES!” This was the title of a now-deleted video uploaded by YouTuber TMarTN last year. The video was one of several which showed him gambling on a site named CS:GO Lotto and seemingly winning big before telling his viewers – many of whom were presumably underage – how to do the same.
Another user, HonorTheCall, quickly became suspicious and started investigating, soon discovering that another YouTuber – ProSyndicate – was releasing similar videos using the same site. Research soon showed that the two YouTubers were actually the owners of the gambling site, a fact which they had never disclosed.
TMarTN later published an apology video – which opens with him snuggling his dog, presumably to soften the blow – which saw him argue that his ownership was public knowledge. Still, the videos were essentially a huge conflict of interest and saw the YouTubers promoting their own site as well as opening up potential for underage users to gamble. A lawsuit was filed and is still ongoing.
Most of us appreciate a good prank. When these pranks involve sexual harassment or fake murder scenes, however, the lines get blurred. YouTuber Sam Pepper discovered this the hard way when a hoax video depicting a fake kidnap and execution went viral.
Complaints flooded in – not only did thousands find the clip extremely distressing to watch, many noted that Sam Golbach, the YouTuber tricked into believing he was watching his friend get shot in the head, was visibly shaken.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time that Pepper has made the news. You might recognize him from a stint on Big Brother, but it's more probable that you’ve seen the god-awful, now-deleted viral video of him posing as an interviewer and groping women on the streets with a fake hand. Another video sees him stood with his arm draped awkwardly around women on Venice Beach as he tries to convince them to kiss him – one woman refuses repeatedly yet eventually ends up with the YouTuber on her face.
Trisha Paytas is one of the most useful examples of the ways in which YouTube’s content-sharing format can encourage oversharing. Her videos range from clothing hauls and bikini lookbooks to clips entitled "he cheated. i’m done." and, most controversially, "is sean van der wilt gay?"
In the now-removed video, Paytas alleges her then-boyfriend was caught kissing another man on camera in a gay bar – a revelation which, understandably, upset her. However, many criticized her for "outing" Van Der Wilt so publicly – it goes without saying that speculating about somebody’s sexuality, especially on a platform like YouTube, is unacceptable.
The case soon escalated into a lawsuit which resulted in another video from Paytas in which she states that she was simply responding to material which had circulated online and argued that she had to respond. She also alleges that the lawsuit was a ploy for money and jokes that she had always told him – “I got you boo!”
Paytas has come under fire in the past for failing to disclose product placement and for posting such honest videos. There are, however, a few benefits to her emotional transparency – she is, at least, one of the YouTubers speaking openly about mental illness and publishing what appear to be uncensored accounts of her undeniably eventful life.
Last year, the hashtag #SaveMarinaJoyce began trending after speculation surrounding a 19-year-old YouTuber made national news. Concern was sparked by a video entitled "Date Outfit Ideas," which featured the young blogger posing in a series of dresses.
Viewers, however, seemingly picked up on something more sinister – they began highlighting bruises on her legs, the apparent fear on Joyce’s face and a moment where she apparently mouths "Help Me" at the camera. The story began to spread, so Joyce followed the advice of other bloggers and stayed silent.
Then, days later, Joyce shared a link to a rave in Bethnal Green – many immediately speculated that it was a dangerous hoax conceived to lure viewers into a potentially fatal situation. This was, of course, not true – Joyce later clarified that these were entirely fabricated rumors and apologized to anyone that had been concerned.
She has repeatedly stated that she had no part to play in what weirdly became one of the biggest YouTube conspiracy theories ever. Still, the apparent "ordeal" gained her a grand total of 1.4 million subscribers over the course of just a few days and “motivated” her to keep creating content for her new fanbase.
Speaking of YouTube, here's how you can make money on the platform.