July 21, 2022
DHAKA – Nashville , USA. December 2021. With a friend, Timothy Wilks – butcher knife in hand – approached a group of people at an Urban Air playground, looking like they were about to commit a robbery. In the threatening situation, David Starnes Jr, one of the crowd, swiftly pulled out a firearm, then opened fire at Timothy Wilks, killing him on the spot. The bloody incident that day was not the result of an expected robbery, but a consequence of prank content that Timothy had intended to upload to his YouTube channel. Unfortunately, David Starnes didn’t know that the threat he felt was just a sham and his act of self-defence resulted in the loss of the life of a young YouTuber.
In June 2017, in Minnesota, US, a young woman named Monalisa Perez was asked by her boyfriend, Pedro Ruiz, to fire a Desert Eagle revolver at him from a distance of 30 cm. Meanwhile, Ruiz shielded himself with a thick book. Before Monalisa fired, Pedro was sure the bullet would not penetrate the thick book. But the experiment failed. The shot made him fall, covered in blood, and he died on the spot. The incident was not a movie scene, but a reality that was once again produced for the sake of fame in cyberspace, that is, on YouTube.
Perhaps even worse, a YouTuber from Russia, Stanislav Reshetnyak, had the heart to torture his girlfriend, Valentina “Valya” Grigoryeva, by making the pregnant woman stand for a long time on the balcony of his Moscow apartment in freezing temperatures. The moment when Grigoryeva died of the cold, in only her underwear, was broadcast live on “ReeFlay,” Reshetnyak’s YouTube channel. When Stanislav dragged in Grigoryeva who was no longer breathing, the stream was still going on.
The accumulated number of viewers being the basis for calculating monetisation for creators in the YouTube system actually contradicts the original idea of the YouTube platform itself. At its inception, founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim were at a party, and one of them recorded some small events there. They realised that there was no one way to share and exchange videos in the digital space. Then, Karim, a brilliant programmer and Stanford graduate, worked on creating a website. He was also the first person to upload a video on YouTube, titled “Me at the zoo,” on April 23, 2005.
Despite a slow start, Karim’s hard work resulted in Sequoia Capital being interested in funding most of YouTube’s operational costs. Soon, YouTube was bombarded with uploads of all kinds of videos. A few months later, YouTube videos were downloaded more than 100 million times every day. Shortly thereafter, Google acquired YouTube for USD 1.65 billion.
But the monetisation scheme offered by YouTube after being acquired by Google seemed to indicate that the spirit of sharing of its founders was lost. And now, YouTubers share videos not because they want to benefit the audience, but because they need to convert views into money. Since YouTube became a part of our daily life, the platform has gained a lot of profit. In 2019, YouTube earned revenue from advertising amounting to around USD 15.15 billion. YouTube’s success as a “money machine” for Google cannot be separated from its strategy of treating viewers as well as broadcasters. The company stimulates viewers to produce videos by offering a revenue sharing scheme received from advertisers.
Prank content and exploration of private spaces, including content created by risking lives, is seemingly preferred over educational or knowledge-sharing content. Extreme actions, such as blocking a truck or eating really spicy chips, feel more sensational. If it’s not sensational, it won’t go viral.
It is undeniable that fame, as well as the abundance of money earned by successful YouTubers, has sedated many people of all ages. As long as creativity is still minimal and safety is ignored while passion for fame and wealth is uncontrollable, admiration for famous YouTubers will occasionally be punctuated by news of avoidable deaths.