Last week, YouTube’s biggest creator took a stand against some of the most important people in his life – Pewdiepie denounced his fans.
After spending the day with a with a young disabled fan named Daisy, whose Make-A-Wish dream was to meet and play games with him, Felix shared photos of the event to his Facebook page – where so-called “Bros” started making fun of Daisy and sharing hateful memes to mock her appearance. Pewds was forced to not only clean up the comments himself, but to share a longer post on his Tumblr titled ‘“Fans” that I don’t want‘.
“I don’t want anything to do with fans like these!” he exclaims. “I would honestly pick 1 Daisy bro, over 43 million like the ones in the post.”
Felix’s post has obviously been met with some fairly divisive reactions: a huge outpouring of support for Daisy, as well as fans who insist they “aren’t all like that”, not to mention a few angry subscribers who think it was a harmless joke. But overall, the general feeling is that Pewdiepie was right to call out his fans for their behaviour.
But surprisingly, Felix’s decision to keep his audience in check, especially when they are acting problematically in his name, isn’t something that is common amongst some of the site’s biggest creators. Many YouTubers have massive and feverishly passionate audiences; and many of these people are young teenagers who choose to shape their entire online identity around their idols’ existence. But for the most part, the creators in question leave their fans to act in whatever manner they please across the internet, without regulation or repercussion.
Obviously we aren’t saying that creators should be monitoring their fans’ internet activity, or anything else as extreme. But when your whole appeal as a YouTuber is your connection to your audience, and someone is harassing or bullying other users online, with your face as their profile picture and a variation of your name as their name: how much responsibility do you have to keep those that follow you blindly in check?
One of the most devoted and sprawling fandoms in the entire YouTube community belongs, of course, to Dan & Phil. Since they started becoming frequent collaborators, their endearing personalities and excellent onscreen chemistry has caused their fans to grow meteorically over the past six years. The Phandom has unfailingly been there to support the duo with their content, their radio career, several stints of presenting on TV shows such as the BRIT Awards, and of course the obligatory book deal and subsequent tour.
But as we all know, fame is a double-edged sword – and the passionate following that Dan & Phil have cultivated often seems to be the sharper edge. The Phandom boasts a level of strength and devotion that rivals fans of mainstream acts like like One Direction, Twenty One Pilots, or Benedict Cumberbatch. And while it’s truly wonderful that millions of like-minded young people are finding each other online, and connecting over a mutual love of their idols – their shared excitement and devotion to their faves often reaches a fever pitch that can end up being quickly misdirected.
While still popular and well-loved amongst fellow members of the creator community, it’s hard not to notice that Dan & Phil’s collaborations with other YouTubers (apart from each other) are few and far between; not to mention their appearance at casual social events with other creators have apparently dwindled over the years.
And while a lot of this may be down to their own personal preference, it would evidently be naive to say that the Phandom’s intense investment in the pair’s daily lives hasn’t contributed in some way. Whether it’s friendship or shade, every YouTuber knows associating with Dan & Phil means getting involved with the Phandom. And given their attitude towards anyone who associates with them – especially women – few actually take the risk.
Oddly enough, the behaviour of the Phandom often seems to be regulated internally, with fans dividing into “factions”; where the more influential and rational members do their bit to keep the more excitable ones (read: the “shipping side”) in check.
But when it comes to Dan & Phil themselves, the pair often seem to either not acknowledge the darker aspects of their fandom, or just yield to its problematic actions as just “a thing that’s going to happen”. Of course, their resigned attitude often only spurns the more impressionable of their fans on.
Of course, not every creator turns a blind eye to the behaviour of fans that they disagree with. But in some cases, the tact in which they handle it could be greatly improved – as we have seen a few times from Zoella and Alfie Deyes.
While the couple were dealing with some unwanted attention from fans at their home in December, they took to Twitter to vent their frustrations. But when one fan noted that their fame was what attracted people to their house, both of the couple publicly put her on blast – leaving her to the mercy of their combined 6 million followers.
The pair were no doubt frustrated, but apparently didn’t consider the consequences of unloading that onto one young follower – who had done little else but disagree – resulting in an anxiety attack that was triggered by the inevitable gang-up from the rest of the Zalfie fandom.
When it comes to a lot of the world’s most successful YouTubers, the reality is that a lot of them started their careers at a young age, and springboarded into unexpected stardom. Few have had any major media training; and in some cases, never truly understand the level of responsibility that comes with being an “internet cult leader”. But whether creators actually sought fame or not, the reality is that their unique relationship with the thousands of young people they have inspired and connected with across the internet gives them a level of responsibility for how those fans conduct themselves online in their name.
Of course it’s impossible to control every teenager who uses your face as a profile picture across the internet – and as is evidently the case with Zalfie and their fan, going after individuals usually just leads to disaster. But if Pewdiepie’s statement is anything to go by, a little bit of housekeeping goes a long way. Even if creators don’t want to be seen as “controlling” their fans, making preferred boundaries and some sort of code of conduct clear is a step in the right direction for improving the reputation of their fans (and by extension themselves). Not only that, but it’s also a huge sign of progress towards making your corner of the internet a healthier and safer place.
What do you think? Do YouTubers have a responsibility for their fans’ behaviour? Vote below.