Since this weekend, the YouTube community has been in mourning following the senseless killing of musician, inspiration and friend, Christina Grimmie. Making videos on her channel since 2009, Christina had been a valuable member of the community, and had risen to other levels of success such as competing on The Voice, touring with Selena Gomez, and a promising record deal with Island Records.
Christina’s killer was a lone gunman; who had reportedly travelled 100 miles to the Plaza Live in Orlando, where she was performing, seemingly with the intent to kill her. She was shot three times, after greeting the shooter at a post-performance signing.
With the exception of an autistic trans YouTuber dying at the hands of police earlier this year, Christina’s killing has been the most prolific one that the YouTube community has faced so far. As such, with so many public creator/fan events planned in the next few months, everyone is on high alert. VidCon, which is less than a couple of weeks away, have already begun reassessing their plans for security around the >20,000-capacity event.
Meanwhile, individual YouTubers such as Tyler Oakley are taking a breather after a devastating weekend; after admitting to being “so scared” about the very targeted attacks on both Christina and gay nightclub Pulse, Tyler postponed a book signing he had scheduled for Sunday.
Gun violence is not a new problem for America, and regrettably it isn’t even new for the entertainment industry as a whole. But after this weekend, it is a very new and very real potential threat to the YouTube community – and it’s still just a worse-case scenario. In light of the latest tragedy, it is now finally time for YouTube as an industry, the media that surrounds it, and even the fans that support its growth to reconsider just how we view our accessibility to creators.
YouTubers have a relationship with their fans unlike any other form of celebrity. Born on the very social platforms that their audiences use to connect with each other, digital creators thrive on the fact that no matter how big their audiences get, they will always be seen as a part of “Team Internet”; revered as idols, but still just seen as “one of the gang”. Sadly, no matter how much we might resist it, the reality is that YouTube is mainstream now – and it’s biggest and brightest stars are subject to the same scrutiny, pitfalls and dangers as the celebrities of other media.
In recent years, we’ve seen the necessity for limited, orchestrated and ticketed meet-and-greets for YouTubers increase – a meetup in a local park just won’t cut it anymore when you can have five thousand unchecked fans descending on you 20mins after Tweeting your location. And as much as we have all had our reservations about furthering the divide between creators and their audience, it’s quickly becoming clear that we need to accept this and evolve much quicker, in order to ensure the safety of influencers everywhere. I posit that a lot of this needs to start with the mainstream media, and the way in which they represent YouTubers in their press.
At the tail end of December, we wrote about yet another breach of privacy that Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes were dealing with – as fans and their parents were routinely visiting the couples’ home in Brighton, and looking over the walls or waiting outside. Back then, we put it to you in a poll to help us decide who should be blamed the most: the fans, their parents, the media for disclosing the address, or Zoe and Alfie themselves.
The general consensus seemed to be that fans need to be more respectful and understanding of those boundaries – but at this stage, we really need to shine a light on the dangerously flippant way the local and national press have dealt with Zoe and Alfie’s pleas for privacy, ever since they moved into the house.
From the Daily Mail’s reveal of their property listing under a headline about Zoella’s £1million Mansion, to the way that local paper The Brighton Argus have previously published their address under arrogant headlines about their “social media moan”; there is a frightening level of disconnect between two of the country’s most influential 20-somethings, and the way the press flat-out refuses to respect them as such.
Gross: The Brighton Argus’ print headline of the story
If Zoe and Alfie received this kind of coverage about their home in a country with easier access to firearms, the consequences could be devastating. As long as we maintain the unfair discourse in the public sphere that YouTubers and influencers are “young internet people who get rich for doing nothing”, they are being put at risk because the surrounding world refuses to take them and their influence seriously.
Of course, better representation in the wider media, while a huge step, would still merely be a first step. There is a lot of work to be done internally amidst the YouTube sphere between creators, and how they all present themselves to the wider world to ensure their own safety.
The YouTube community and industry has almost become its own sentient being, growing relentlessly and offering little to no professional training or unionisation for much of the talent and business that it breeds. And it is quickly becoming apparent that creators – and their respective management – all need to unite on a common idea of just how accessible they wish to continue making themselves, in order to ensure the safety and security of every single creator.
Viners at VidCon who cause stampedes by Tweeting “I’m in the lobby, come find me!” need to be curbed as much as creators attending their own book signing need a security detail that actually understands them and their swarming fans. Some kind of program or class dedicated to security and conduct, instigated by YouTube and the various networks and management centres, could be massively beneficial in ensuring the continued safety of influencers of every platform.
Witnesses say Christina Grimmie prepared to embrace her attacker with open arms. It could have been completely avoided if we offered creators half the respect and security they deserve.