Is being a YouTuber/online influencer a legitimate career?

How YouTube has impacted society

May 30, 2021


Wikimedia Commons

A recent example of getting canceled is the widely-enjoyed YouTuber Jenna Marbles, whose old videos were resurfaced on Twitter for being racist, particularly towards Asian people.

If someone were to ask a child what they would want to be when they grow up, the answers they would usually expect to hear would be “doctor,” “lawyer,” “astronaut,” “firefighter…” but don’t be surprised if the child says, “I want to be a YouTuber!”

A research firm called Morning Consult conducted a report in 2019 where they surveyed 2,000 people ages of 13-38. This report found out that 86 percent of these people were willing to post sponsored content for money and 54 percent would like to be an influencer if given the opportunity

With YouTube’s popularity skyrocketing since its release in 2005, it’s not shocking that so many people have become dependent on it. According to statistics from Business of Apps, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced in May 2019 that there was a 39 percent increase in people’s watch time, specifically 180 million hours reported a year before.

YouTube’s impact on society is especially prominent over the years, with so many people from musicians, artists and independent creators depending on the platform as their main source of income. However, the question still stands as to whether being a YouTuber (or social media influencer in general) is considered a stable or safe enough career for today’s youth. 

“I think there is an important distinction between creators on YouTube and the platform itself,” said senior and 2020-2021 Clark Capstone director Damien Knight. The film idea he came up with and directed is called Mindsick. “Industry professionals should look at creators as a pool for talent and inspiration,” he said. “I, personally, do not want to be a YouTuber full-time, but I can’t fault anyone who does. As far as I’m concerned, it is an equally valid entertainment profession as any other entertainer with similarly likely odds of success.”

Cinematography teacher Joshua Bishop believes that a YouTube career is certainly possible, but hardships are definitely present. “The problem nowadays is that viewers have such a short attention span, it really requires you to come up with content that can get a loyal following,” he said. “I believe it is possible, but it takes a lot of experimenting and strong will to make it happen. Once you think of your niche, there is a chance that someone is already doing that.

With over 500 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute, Bishop is correct in the sense that more than one person is bound to have the same ideas as another. Coming up with original ideas for content is another issue. Regardless of this, finding a unique niche that others can relate to is essential to becoming somebody on the platform. “Make content, but make sure your content is something that potential viewers would want to see,” Bishop said. “If you want to be an internet celebrity, make sure you have a personality.

Clark senior Jaren Bautista has dabbled in making videos for fun, and is also directing another Capstone film called Takeout. “I don’t have a YouTube channel that I regularly upload to, but I do occasionally upload weird content on my Instagram: @definitelyjaren,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of the term ‘influencer,’ so making videos has always been more about fun for me. I don’t try to force a video out of myself.”

One of the bigger issues within the YouTube community that didn’t exist just a few years ago is “cancel culture” and the idea of “canceling” someone, which to Psychology Today is defined as “an individual’s volitional act of publicly rejecting and actively pursuing harm against a perceived transgressor.” In simpler terms, cancel culture consists of completely ruining someone’s (social media or actual) reputation by calling them out on offensive things they might have said or done in the past.

According to Psychology Today, cancel culture is often dismissed as a form of social media activism, but the psychological aspects of it run deeper than that. Cancel culture is similar to boycotting and “ghosting” someone in a way, where all three aim to punish the person being canceled, but cancel culture specifically is different in that it eventually becomes “social canceling.” However, unlike ghosting, which is deemed to be “private, passive rejection,” canceling someone is “vigorous, public, retaliatory rejection.”

Though being canceled is a factor to consider when wanting to become a social media influencer, something equally as important is the possibility of copyright infringement, which can still be an issue no matter how careful one is.

Knight expressed his own concerns about copyright infringement issues within large companies. “YouTube as a platform has declined in quality primarily due to its lackluster implementation of its [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] rules that harms creators in favor of large conglomerates,” he said. “For example, [Universal Music Group’s] blatant abuse of the DMCA strike system infringes on fair use; many music-oriented creators, such as Rick Beato and Adam Neely (both also YouTube creators), have frequently commented on this issue to no avail.”

When it comes to first hand experience with copyright, Bautista, for example, has had to deal with this issue in the past. “Thankfully, I have not had any major copyright issues except when I was 13,” he said. “I used a clip from The Simpsons, which got my whole video blocked and taken down… no serious repercussions, but it was discouraging since I put quite a bit of effort into that video.”

With these things in mind, it’s easy to pin blame on those aspiring influencers for not succeeding. Why is this the default assumption? Because these people are actively, consciously pursuing a career in social media. If they fail, they are to be held accountable because they made that choice. 

Unfortunately enough, not every social media influencer and/or YouTuber has had the privilege of choice.

The rise of “kidfluencers” — children who make money off of the internet under their parents’ supervision — is also no less of an issue when it comes to social media and how deeply it can impact developing children. With brands like Walmart, Mattel and Staples constantly scrambling to get kidfluencers to promote their products, it’s evident that children are being targeted by advertisements in the content they watch daily, and brands are hyper aware of this.

Interviews with parents who are required by law to run their children’s YouTube and social media accounts, such as the YouTube channel “Kyler & Mad” with over 4 million subscribers as of 2021, show that brands that ask for them to post sponsored content can make anywhere from $10,000 to as much as $50,000.

According to this article, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood Josh Golin says, “The fact that brands are using actual children as influencers is a very clear sign that they’re targeting children that they know are on these platforms.”

In light of being a social media personality, it’s a lot more common now for people to be earning their income off simply posting content. Bautista personally views the potential career option as feasible, with a few consequences. “If you really want it as a career, I’d say go for it,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not gonna be an instantaneous thing, so don’t expect it to be your sole job at the start. But, I think, if you really want it and are willing to put forth effort, then you can achieve that goal.”

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