YouTubers are calling out the platform’s ‘cancel culture’ that subjects them to a rampant hate mob and sees them lose thousands of subscribers in a matter of hours
- YouTuber Manny MUA released a vlog this month about what it was like to lose 250,000 subscribers when he was “cancelled.”
- Manny, who has over 4 million subscribers, said it was time to end “cancel culture” because it was “toxic and disgusting.”
- “Cancel culture basically says ‘oh you fucked up, you’re cancelled, you’ll never be brought back to life because you’re literally dead in the water,'” he said, likening his experience to a line of thousands of people insulting him one by one.
- Many YouTubers have been subjected to the mob mentality of cancel culture and lost subscribers due to allegations, many of which turn out to be exaggerated or false.
- The problem is the reasons to cancel someone are so inconsistent, lessons are rarely learned.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
“I went through a really hard drama,” YouTuber Manny MUA told his 4 million subscribers in a candid vlog about the time he was “cancelled” last year. “Through that drama I lost thousands of followers, thousands of subscribers, I went completely red on Social Blade … It was very hard.”
In August 2018, Manny, whose real name is Manuel Gutierrez, had a fall from grace thanks to a photo tweeted by Gabriel Zamora. It showed the pair with fellow YouTubers Laura Lee and Nikita Dragun giving the middle finger alongside the caption “B—- is bitter because without him we’re doing better.” It was widely believed to be aimed at another beauty guru, Jeffree Star.
Gutierrez, Lee, Zamora, and Dragun all felt Star’s fans come at them with full force, dredging up any past social media posts that could be used against them. They subsequently posted their own apology videos one after the other which were met with mixed reactions.
Manny released another video this month about what happened even though it’s been over a year since “Dramageddon.” He talked about what it was like to receive such an overwhelming volume of angry, hurtful comments after he was “exposed” by an online hate mob. He lost 250,000 subscribers in total.
“I went into a complete shutdown mode, I actually left social media for two months, and I didn’t know what else to do other than that,” he said. “I couldn’t even function as a fucking human being.”
Many YouTubers have faced “cancel culture” and seeing their Social Blade — the site for measuring social media statistics and analytics — turn from green (gaining views and subscribers) to red (losing them). James Charles, another beauty influencer, used to joke about such things because he was considered untouchable. He even named one of the green shades in his eyeshadow palette “Social Blade.” But just a few months later, he suffered the same fate as Manny.
It was one of the few times drama on YouTube has trickled into the mainstream press, along with Logan Paul filming a dead body in a Japanese forest, and Liza Koshy and David Dobrik’s break up.
A quick recap of the drama:
- Charles advertised Sugar Bear Hair on his Instagram story, which is a rival company to his former friend and mother-figure Tati Westbrook’s brand Halo Beauty.
- Westbrook made her grievances about it public, releasing a long video detailing how Charles was backstabbing and manipulative, as well as throwing around several accusations about his alleged inappropriate behaviour around straight men.
- Others made their own claims and videos about Charles’ behavior, including men alleging to have been in contact with him.
- Star also got involved and called Charles a “danger to society” and a “predator” in a string of now-deleted tweets.
- As a result, Charles lost over 3 million subscribers in a matter of days.
Some YouTubers have had enough of cancel culture, including Manny, who said it’s time to have a “very serious conversation” about how “toxic and disgusting” it is. He said the situation last year was “probably the worst thing I have ever gone through in my entire life.”
“Cancel culture basically says ‘oh you fucked up, you’re cancelled, you’ll never be brought back to life because you’re literally dead in the water,'” he said, likening his experience to a line of thousands of people insulting him one by one.
“Cancel culture does not allow for growth and forgiveness and learning and allowing people to be people,” he said. “And I know it’s so easy to be like ‘bitch you’re online, you’re not a real human, you’re a little entity online’ … But it’s my life and it hurts and it sucks and it’s bullying.”
“Is this canceling to protect other people, such as maybe a minor being abused, stopping bad behavior, or someone trying to scam their audience?” Ryan Brown, who runs the channel Crimson Studios, said. “Or you know, is it just for clout and views? Maybe with a little topping of moral superiority.”
Our brains have had to adapt to how huge the internet is
Psychologist Pamela Paresky told Insider that the human brain’s concept of community makes us start to see strangers on the internet like neighbors. And if we think they do something we think is wrong, we don’t like to associate with them any more.
“What looks to some people like an opinion or a mistake looks to other people like a violation of a moral taboo, and moral violations provoke an emotional response,” she said. “When people broadcast their outrage about what they see as moral violations, other members of their moral communities are likely to signal that they, too, are outraged.”
What this means is thousands, if not millions, of emotional people leaving comments on channels and social media pages, responding in glee as they watch subscriber counts dissolve. It’s like a sport for viewers when they see a creator’s numbers go down and down.
The fall of big YouTubers like Charles and Manny were widely noticed, but cancel culture is something that affects smaller creators on the platform nearly every day.
There is often a predictable cycle: a creator is called out for something they said or did, they start trending because of the intense backlash, they release an apology video, then eventually more information comes out that reveals the YouTube community jumped to conclusions too soon.
In other words, what viewers originally thought was a black and white case of problematic behavior was actually more of a grey area.
Here are just three cases from the last few months
- Shane Dawson has evolved from a sometimes comedian and conspiracy theorist to one of the most respected creators on YouTube, with 22 million subscribers. His latest docu-series, looking into the beauty community, is being released on October 1. But despite his success, Dawson’s past “edgy humor” comes back to haunt him. For instance, in March, he had to apologize for a joke he made on a podcast in 2015 about sexually assaulting his cat. “I’ve apologized many times for all the dumb s— I’ve said in videos and podcasts over the years,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s embarrassing and I f—ing hate myself for it.” He said he wasn’t going to make another apology video because he had already spoken about his past comedic choices many times.
- ProJared, a gaming YouTuber with over 800,000 subscribers, disappeared from the platform eight months ago when claims started circulating that he’d sent and received sexually explicit messages and pictures to underage fans. The Verge reported the story here. Around the same time, his ex-wife Heidi O’Ferrall also accused him of cheating on her. Almost every commentary channel on YouTube desperately tried to piece together the evidence to come up with a narrative of what really happened, but it was universally believed ProJared has been in the wrong. He lost thousands of subscribers. That was until August, when he released a video called “YOU’VE BEEN LIED TO.” In it he admitted to sending and receiving explicit images with fans, but proved with conversation screenshots that he had always asked fans whether they were over 18 first. He also apologized for abusing his position of power and accepting sexual content from fans in the first place. Some former fans remain uncomfortable with the situation, but the majority have resubscribed after hearing his side of the story — over 110,000 in the last 30 days. At the end of his video he made it clear he did not want anyone to send hate towards the people he mentioned.
- Slazo also has over 800,000 subscribers on his channel, but he lost many and was the subject of many negative videos in June when his ex-girlfriend Chey posted a Twitlonger about him being abusive and pressuring her to have sex when they were together. The allegations made against Slazo were soon found to have two sides after he released a video telling his story, which meant people started to go after those who had defended Chey instead. Two large creators, ImAllexx and Hyojin “Squizzy” Choi, were then turned upon for believing Chey and spreading her story. The abuse got so bad for Choi, she tweeted: “and for my next trick I’m going to f—ing kill myself.” Slazo publicly stated that he didn’t condone anybody being hateful to those who had believed the allegations.
Being cancelled is a way of dehumanizing someone
The problem with cancel culture is there’s no real consistency in it. It’s completely legitimate that a channel should cause outrage if they say something homophobic, racist, transphobic, or hateful in any way, but sometimes a creator’s fate is decided before they’ve even had a chance to respond to any allegations being spread about them. This was the case with Charles, ProJared, Slazo, and many more.
Chris Boutté, who runs a channel called The Rewired Soul with around 80,000 subscribers, told Insider what it was like when dozens of channels started posting critical videos about him because he speaks about mental health without being a licensed therapist. He lost around 10,000 subscribers as a result.
“It felt like I couldn’t do anything right,” he said. “It was just so overwhelming … The mob mentality of YouTube is just absolute madness. It was coming from all these different angles.”
—The Rewired Soul (@TheRewiredSoul) May 13, 2019
He said it started with one DM that snowballed into a strange alternative reality where people started accusing him of being racist, a fraud, and even ruining their lives.
“That’s what happened with James Charles too,” he said. “Tati Westbrook accused him of being a bad friend, then next thing you know people are calling him a sexual predator and all sorts of stuff. It starts with something so small and trivial and then they blow it out of proportion.”
Boutté wrote and self-published a book about what it was like to have the whole of his internet world, including some of his own friends, turn on him. He said he found it fascinating from a social psychological point of view because friends don’t leave each other in the lurch like that in real life. It seems like empathy goes out the window when people are trying to propel their own narrative of a situation on the internet.
“People kind of switch things up to whatever suits them best,” he said. “They don’t have any true morals, they just go after whoever they can go after and try to pretend ‘oh yeah I’m just this great person trying to hold people accountable.’ No you’re not.”
He added that confirmation bias is very strong on YouTube, which is what happens when we subconsciously seek out information that confirms what we already know, and ignore everything else.
“Their brain says, ‘well there are this many people saying it so it must be true,'” he said. “But you can find a whole convention of people saying the Earth is flat. That doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Paresky said this the mob mentality on the internet has many parallels with the bullying behaviors typical of teenage girls, which she calls the “mean girls” ethos.
“Some mean girls engage in reputation destruction and other acts of relational aggression as a display of power,” she said. “Some get caught up in these behaviors without thinking about the damage they’re doing [and] some go along out of a concern for self-preservation.”
In nearly every case, a school bully won’t have the insight to realize they’re lashing out at someone because they’re internalizing pain. The same is likely the case with online hate mobs, Paresky said.
“People who engage in this kind of behavior don’t have any interest in engaging in a civil way with their targets,” she said. “Hate mobs are fueled by anger and contempt at a minimum, and sometimes disgust.”
When the target is minimized down to their mistake, they are completely dehumanized and ordered up to the public to reap their own punishment. Even if they do apologize, they’ll be told they did it the wrong way or they weren’t convincing enough.
A subset of channels play a huge part in how much reputational damage is ultimately done
Drama, “tea,” and commentary channels follow all major influencers to keep their subscribers up to date with everything that’s going on in the YouTube world: every falling out, every unfollow on Instagram, and every shady tweet.
“There are two types of channels in the drama community,” Sam from Here For The Tea told Insider. “Channels like mine, that are fact and receipt based and channels that are more drama [and] commentary.”
Loosely, drama and commentary channels are eponymously run by one person (Petty Paige, Peter Monn, and Angelika Oles) while tea channels (Teaspill, Here For The Tea, and What’s The Tea?) are usually anonymous and lay down the various sagas in a factual, step-by-step slideshow of screenshots and captions.
“Drama [and] commentary channels are based more on the creator’s opinions of the drama and their personal feeling toward the influencers they are speaking about,” Sam said. “Those channels don’t always have all of the information regarding the topic and that sometimes can lead to a problematic outcome.”
Then there’s Keemstar who is the face of one of the biggest channels that reports on YouTube gossip, called DramaAlert. He wasn’t available for comment for this article, but on social media he often stokes the fire when a creator is in the middle of their downward spiral.
—KEEM 🍿 (@KEEMSTAR) July 18, 2019
Sam thinks it’s vital the biggest YouTubers are held to high standards, because they have such a huge influence.
“The cosmetics industry is a billion dollar business,” she told Insider. “The YouTubers you see in the beauty community are not just everyday people sitting in their house playing with new makeup they purchased at their local Walgreens. The beauty community is driven by sales.”
She said with the exorbitant amount of money some of the biggest stars receive for their sponsored videos and posts, she tries to bring as much attention to her subscribers as possible.
“Without drama channels, influencers wouldn’t have anyone holding them accountable,” she said. “I feel that drama channels have played an integral part by informing their viewers what to look out for when viewing dedicated [or] sponsored videos.”
Sam isn’t a stranger to people throwing around the terms “cancel culture” and “mob mentality,” and to some extent she expects it. She often receives backlash herself when she makes videos on influencers doing “something shady.”
“It’s definitely not fun,” she said. “With that being said, the influencer is also going to receive backlash for their problematic behaviour. I think both influencers and drama channels know this sort of thing comes with the territory of being in the public eye. But it definitely goes both ways.”
Sam thinks the difference between fueling the fire of a hate mob and making fair, warranted criticisms of influencers is gathering all the facts and evidence first, rather than relying on her own opinion.
“Can I be sassy at times? Of course,” she said. “However, I try to make my videos with the intention of presenting all sides involved.”
Sam has given influencers advice on what to do when they find themselves in the middle of a scandal. Manny even mentioned her in his vlog saying she had been a great friend in his time of need.
“It’s important to me to have an open line of communication with the people I discuss on my channel,” she said. “[I] encourage them not to engage with trolls [and] haters that are just looking to get a rise out of them for a scandal.”
She added that many huge influencers are barely out of their teens — something that’s easy to forget when you look at the success they’ve had at such a young age.
“They are growing up in front of their audience,” she said. “It’s easy for them to have juvenile reactions, but I think it’s very important for them to pick their battles wisely.”
Everything is awful in the short term, but the long-term could look brighter
Paul Groseclose, a young and upcoming YouTuber, explained in a video that he’d had enough of cancel culture because there’s a new scandal every week.
“It’s a shame to see people’s careers destroyed because of a misunderstanding or a decade-old tweet,” he said, adding that being cancelled doesn’t necessarily mean the death of someone’s career.
If creators keep doing what they’re doing, he said, the majority can keep gaining subscribers and it all balances out.
“You’re going to continually reach a new demographic that didn’t know you were cancelled and you’ll be perfectly fine,” he said.
James Charles, ProJared, Laura Lee, Slazo, and Manny have all managed to gain back some, if not all of, the subscribers they lost after their names were dragged online. Some don’t recover as easily, usually because they have smaller followings to begin with. Gabriel Zamora and Chris Boutté, for example, don’t get the views they once did.
“It’s easier to shift that momentum when you have such a massive audience,” Boutté said. “But for people like myself who were just on the come up, we were still in that place of the community not knowing if we were a good person or not.”
In Manny’s video, he talked about how hard it was to see any way to recover because it felt like all his hard work was slipping down the drain.
“I had worked years and years to become Manny MUA, to become this person people could look up to and see and be inspired by, and someone who has made a living off of that,” he said. “And I was scared that was going to go away.”
But he also realized how important it was not to give up and let the wave of cancel culture sweep him away for good.
“When you get thrown on the ground, when you get kicked down on your ass five times, you get back up the sixth time,” he said. “You always get back up. Yes, I fell down, but I also got the fuck back up.”