The Rise Of The YouTube Troll
3 March 2016, 17:32 | Updated: 17 July 2017, 12:14
They love it when we hate them - but why?
Another week, another troll. It's a tale as old as time: A person comes along who generates huge amounts of publicity by being Hashtag Controversial and whipping everyone up into a small frenzy. The matter of whether or not the person in question genuinely believes the things they say becomes irrelevant, because they're playing more on reaction than on actually pushing a message. These figures have long existed in politics (see: the current US Election) and on TV (see: reality TV), but until recently they have not found significant status on YouTube. Now, though, a new breed on uber-troll is rising, much to general annoyance and boredom of people everywhere.
Figures like Nicole Arbour, the newly-arrived Hunter Avallone and others thrive on being as controversial and 'straight-talkin'' as possible. They position themselves as the voice of the 'hard truths' of the world and seem to drink-in backlash as if it fuels them, or somehow proves them right.
You're probably sick to death of hearing about Nicole Arbour (trust me, so are we) but it's worth mentioning her for a second as she is arguably the poster child for a YouTube troll. She posts rants that she has scientifically-engineered to be as controversial as possible, in order to generate hype (albeit negative about herself) and in turn increase her status and, presumably, YouTube income.
It's an interesting development on a platform that is traditionally so focussed on personality and personal branding. Whereas vloggers have built empires upon being relatable and likeable, figures like Nicole build their's (ultimately) around being unlikeable - around being spiky. It's a strategy that can be lucrative in the short term but lacks long-term potential. Fans will follow a YouTuber they love for years - but how long will people follow a YouTube they hate? It's not a viable long game.
You may not have heard of Hunter Avallone, he's an American teen who recently caused a stir with a video that roundly denounced transsexuals (you honestly don't need to watch it, it's exactly what you'd expect.) It sparked in my mind the age old question of 'yes you can do this, but should you?' It's not clear what Hunter is really trying to achieve with this video. One of the topic comments on the video summed it up well:
Trans people are hardly a group that are broadly accepted (yet) by society or who enjoy any advantages over other groups of people. Instead they face widespread bullying, derision and have a very high risk of suicide, especially among young people. Why he decided that this was the group that needed to be brought down a peg or two just doesn't seem very clear. What is clear is that he did not get a universally warm response to his video.
Of course, backlash is part of the game for people like Hunter. His top comment on his video plays along with the narrative that the troll does not care about people's opinions and in fact relishes in their revulsion:
Similarly, on his twitter he describes himself like this:
If you visit his twitter, though, you see that he routinely retweets people who support him. This does not give the impression of someone who does not care about people's opinions of him. It appears to present someone who does care and who is finding solace in people's support in the face of a backlash that might be unsettling for him. No matter how hard-hearted Hunter may claim to be, I refuse to accept that a 19 year old can stare into the void of hundreds of strangers calling him a bigot and not feel anything at all. It may not be regret he feels, but it will be something. He's only human after all.
I'm hesitant to criticise Hunter too much, no matter how much I may subjectively disagree with his views or objectively disagree with the way in which he presents them. Ultimately he is young and may not fully understand the consequences of what he is doing. For example: In an age where nothing can ever be truly deleted from the internet, it may hurt his future employment prospects if there is a video of him online where he expresses bigoted views against a vulnerable group. I honestly wonder how much he has thought about this - after all, it is common for people to make short-sighted decisions when they're young and foolish. If he were reading this, though, I would ask him: As a young person, do you really want the world to define you as a figure of hatred? It doesn't seem like a happy existence.
Is this really the kind of human being you want to be?
Nicole gets no sympathy, though. She is a grown woman making deliberately inflammatory (and short-sighted) decisions and she is now, rightfully, paying the price. Her shock value has dwindled and her appeal as a troll has grown tired. Basically: No one cares any more. Incidentally - I'm calling it now: before 2017, Nicole will have released a video where she apologises for her videos and tries to reinvent herself. I'm putting money on this happening - because it always happens.
A Lesson For Future YouTubers
In the age of the internet, the question always seem to be whether someone can do something. Whenever anyone's statements are questioned they always spring to the argument that they have freedom of speech and can say what they want. This lacks the nuance of the real world, though. Don't ask can I say this - ask yourself should I say this? Will me saying this achieve anything productive? Will me saying this stuff just bring more sadness and misery into the world? You have to stop and ask whether being a hub for hatred and unhappiness is really the persona you want for yourself, because at the very least, I can't imagine it's a state of being that leaves you very happy. Does Nicole Arbour ever look truly happy in her videos? I would say no. She looks defiant, she looks defensive - but there's no happiness there. How can there be when your name is synonymous with anger and bullying*?