YouTubers face unique challenges in online identity management, sometimes being careful not to proverbially turn a crowd of adoring fans into a pitchfork-wielding angry mob.
Interacting with fans, posting on Twitter and traversing the much dreaded YouTube comments section on their videos all become unique challenges the more popular a Youtuber gets, occasionally leading to situations ranging from awkward to deadly serious.
“There are definitely times where fans would be inappropriately touchy,” says Lindsay Ellis, who runs a film criticism channel known for more than an hour’s worth of Transformers critique. “(They will) send way too familiar emails and the way I deal with those is I just don’t. I’ll ignore it.”
Speaking during a Q+A panel at VidCon in Anaheim, Ellis told a story about a fan unexpectedly kissing her on the cheek and how uncomfortable she felt during the experience.
However, she said a much worse experience befell her last year when alt-right activists took screenshots of old tweets she made jokingly supporting “white genocide,” a term made by white supremacists to describe a conspiracy of “diversity” and “forced assimilation” to exterminate white people.
Using the tweets as evidence that Ellis, who is white, hated white people, alt-right Twitter mobs tried to get her fired from PBS, where she hosts a literature show called It’s Lit.
“I genuinely think they wanted me to die because I got a lot of ‘kill yourself’s,’” Ellis said. “It just degrades your mental health and crushes your ability to function.”
Not all audience backlash YouTubers can receive reaches the level of vitriol spewed by an alt-right mob, sometimes it can be more humorous.
For example, Danielle Bainbridge made a video on her history channel, Origin of Everything, about why people are afraid of clowns–and was surprised by the response.
“For some reason, it got shared from a lot of clowning social media groups and they were writing to me to defend their career,” Bainbridge said during a VidCon panel. “It sounds funny, but that’s part of their identity. I spent a lot of time apologizing.”
When YouTubers sift through comments on their videos, it’s important to keep a level head and know when to step away from the computer, according to Bainbridge.
Comments can range from effusive praise to caustic hatred, but Bainbridge said that the YouTuber has a responsibility to behave well to set an example for their audience.
“There are times where I lose my cool. I caught myself writing practically a bible to this comment on my video,” Bainbridge said. “If you start doing it then that’s what this space is. The creator models what the community is.”
Everyone who works in media must consider their audience when creating content, but YouTubers can have conflicting feelings over who exactly they want to be their target audience.
For example, Natalie “ContraPoints” Wynn, who creates political and social essay videos, said that as a transgender woman, she wants to represent her community well but also wants to reach those with zero knowledge about LGBT people.
Wynn wrestles with how her harshest critics are other transgender women who don’t think she represents them well. Her content should be accessible to mainstream viewers who might not know the culture at all, but she also wants to represent her community as holistically as possible, according to Wynn.
For others, finding their audience is more simple.
“When I create content, I am talking to me and people who are similar to me,” said Evelyn Ngugi, who runs Evelyn From The Internets. “If you don’t get knuck if you buck, you don’t get knuck if you buck.”
An editorial intern and news junkie with a hankering for all things spicy, Jackson gained a passion for journalism writing about housing and homelessness in the Bay Area for the Daily Californian and the Tenderloin Tribune. When not writing, Jackson can be found rambling to anyone who listens about old movies no one else cares about. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.