The issue of whether it’s the place of celebrities to weigh in on political issues (which, in this article, will cover a spectrum of political views and social issues) is as old as time. The second a non-political public figure expresses anything that could be construed as a political view, there will be some person messaging them, telling them in no certain terms to ‘stick to the entertainment, fool’ or ‘stay in your lane, boy’.
Do they have an obligation to be political?
At this point I should I clarify that yes I am aware that YouTubers have freedom of speech and can say whatever they want – well, to a point, anyway. What I’m asking here is whether YouTubers, especially larger YouTubers, have an inherent social obligation to at least engage in the political climate. When I wrote that I was disappointed that PewDiePie made a video that included the phrase ‘death to all jews‘, many people commented questioning why I was calling him out when (apparently) many people online make jokes like that. The answer is simple: because they’re not the biggest YouTuber in history. It’s inescapable that when you have the kind of audience and platform that a lot of YouTubers have, you also have a lot of power and, in the words of Spiderman’s other, lesser-known uncle Gary: ‘with great power … uh … something about being responsible, I forget.’
Pictured above: Uncle Gary.
That power is not to be overlooked. YouTubers, even silly YouTubers, have to the power to spread messages and ideas to millions of people – from a diverse range of ages, beliefs and countries of origin. Ultimately, the way they choose to use that power is up to them, but the argument that big YouTubers don’t actually have influence, or that they can simply ignore that power, really doesn’t hold water.
Can YouTubers have any positive benefit by getting involved?
Obviously people will have varying opinions on this but I would personally argue that YouTubers can have a profound impact on political discourse. I argued that Tyler Oakley was, in many ways, one of the heroes of the 2016 election season because of his unashamed advocation of Secretary Hillary Clinton – not because that aligns with my political beliefs (I mean, it does but that’s not the point), but because he had the guts to take a stand and urge people to get involved in the democratic process.
Yes, he was clearly arguing in favour of one party, but he was also encouraging discussion of the event and the surrounding issues; he was motivating people to be take action in their approach to the election, even if the action was disagreeing with him.
Is it worth it for the YouTubers’ careers?
YouTubers may be free to express their opinions, but from a cold, cynical business-focused standpoint, it may not be wise (not that YouTubers are ever coldly cynical and business-focused… oh wait). When Casey Neistat announced, in no uncertain terms that he would be voting for Hillary Clinton for President and challenged fellow YouTubers on their radio silence regarding the election, he received a lot of backlash from passionate pro-Trump supporters. Similarly, when retro games expert JonTron slammed the January Women’s March and basically outed himself as a Trump supporter in a bizarre Twitter meltdown, some of his subscribers said they weren’t sure if they’d be able to keep watching him.
What I’m saying is that I get why YouTubers might be coy about revealing their political views for fear of backlash – especially when they never entered the platform to discuss those matters in the first place. This is especially true of YouTubers who may turn out to have unexpected, broadly unpopular opinions.
Regardless, it’s evident that however they may choose their power, the potential to influence people is definitely there and more potent than some YouTubers (or viewers) might like to admit.