YouTube Prank Culture Needs To Take A Long, Hard Look At Itself

Can we go back to the good ol' days of the handshake buzzer? Please?

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A couple of weeks ago, popular Youtube prankster Arya Mosallah decided it would be funny to throw water in people’s faces in London and record it. Apart from being a childish nuisance, it takes on a whole other level of insensitive in light of London’s rising acid attacks.

Mosallah, who in the past has gotten away with a fake bomb prank, is just one of the many YouTube personalities taking us down a dangerous road, and we desperately need to hit the brakes.

What started out as harmless jokes have escalated to stories of abuse, trauma and public endangerment all in the name of views and subscribers. This single-minded thirst for online popularity has made many throw human decency out the window. It’s just one lapse in empathy after another.

Confusing Indecency With Shock Value

One recent instance is the polarising DaddyOFive YouTube channel. Michael Christopher Martin, the aforementioned Daddy and his wife Heather were heavily criticised in 2017 for both emotionally and physically abusing their young children for their prank channel. This abuse included yelling at them only to turn around and say it’s a prank, to pushing, hitting and forcing their children to slap each other. When the children understandably showed signs of distress, Martin actually replied: “I need to vlog my life.”

This insensitivity isn’t just constrained to pranks. I can’t degrade shock-factor content without mentioning the infamous Logan Paul incident, wherein he decided recording and lauding a dead body in Japan’s Aokigahara was both in good taste and an appropriate way to discuss suicide awareness. But that’s far from Paul’s only faux pas. He and his brother Jake’s content is centred on stirring up the most controversy, including him faking his death in front of his child-aged fans, complete with a blood splattered window.

Remember the handshake buzzer? Can we go back to that please? I’d rather be annoyed than psychologically scarred, personally. 

Where Will This Leave Us?

If we’ve already wrought child abuse, psychological trauma and exploiting the dead, I can only imagine what our prank landscape will look like in a few years.

We’re on the fast track towards our very own Hunger Games culture, where death and abuse is lauded for the masses to consume

In fact, we have very recently seen the beginning of a new low in the form of YouTube fights: YouTubers physically fighting each other for views and to settle online beefs. YouTubers KSI and Joe Weller, known for having a long-standing feud, broadcasted an actual boxing match which has drawn in over 20 million views.

Filmmaker and YouTuber Hazel Hayes, director of horror-satire of YouTube prank culture Prank Me took to Twitter to call it out, describing it as “gladiatorial”.

We’re on the fast track towards our very own Hunger Games culture, where violent behaviour is lauded for the masses to consume, and it seems like there are no signs of stopping.

The real kicker is this shock-factor content is largely consumed by children, who are slowly being desensitised with every line these creators cross. Kids are sponges, and they are being brought up by popular, rich, influential role models who are actively disregarding empathy and common decency. That doesn’t just stay in a 10-minute vlog.

YouTube has revolutionised how we create and consume content, and has opened many doors for creativity to thrive and transform. But its unregulated nature has also seen the rise of those who would do just about anything for a couple million views, and I can only imagine what “anything” will look like in a year.

There has been a clear discord between the powers that be at YouTube and creators pushing for a culture change on the platform. While moves are being made to increase accountability and transparency – which are great first steps – Youtube ultimately needs to do a better job at spotting and quashing problematic content, instead of putting it on the trending page.

(Lead image: Logan Paul Vlogs/Youtube)