This month, a YouTuber shot and killed her boyfriend in a failed attempt to create a viral video. The news was shocking, but for many in the online world, depressingly unsurprising. A quick search on this very website for the words ‘stunt’ or ‘prank’ will reveal an endless series of ever-more-dangerous attempts at viral fame.
Some involve physical harm, some harassment, and some vaguely pretend to be ‘pranks’ despite actually just being straight-up crimes. Yet all have two things in common: a insatiable thirst for hits – and a noticeable increase in extremity as time goes on. Sad as it is to say, a person being directly killed in the pursuit of YouTube views was not only unsurprising – it was inevitable.
But how did we get to death?
A successful YouTube video can be a fun and straightforward way to make money and achieve (a kind of) fame. The most successful videos are ones based on original creativity – but these are also the hardest to make, as they require, you know, effort. So people tend to flock towards videos that rely on shock value, as they are very easy to make (“let’s just go to ‘the hood’ and yell at black people!”) and can easily pull in a boatload of views thanks to the morbid curiosity of online viewers.
The problem is that the only way to top a shocking video is to be even more shocking. And with countless creators competing to be number one edgy boy, videos become increasingly more extreme. Let’s take a look at some things that have occurred on video in just the past year:
- A YouTuber was coaxed into saying the N-word on camera, and did
- A couple abused their children, on camera, to the point where they lost custody
- British YouTubers were jailed for ‘bomb pranks’ (???!!!)
- A YouTuber buried themselves alive and live-streamed the experience.
- A YouTuber frames blatant homophobia as a prank
- A YouTuber dresses up as a clown and chases people with a chainsaw
- YouTubers were warned they could be shot by police if they continue terrorism-themed stunts
If this is the state of YouTube, are we really surprised that a life was eventually lost? The death was undoubtedly tragic, but as long as creators are blinded by the need for online fame – and as long as we validate them by watching – the more this kind of tragedy will become more commonplace. YouTube stunts have reached the edge – and now they need to step back, before anyone else dies.
What can be done?
In situations like this, everyone can be quick to blame YouTube themselves. But, in truth, there is only so much control YouTube has as a platform. They can take videos down, but they cannot prevent dangerous videos from being made in the first place. The only way to incentivise creators not to take these risks is to stop rewarding dangerous behaviour. Decrease the demand for deadly videos and the supply will surely decrease too.