The “Golden Age” of most big YouTubers — Zoella, Shane Dawson and so on — has passed. Having a career that depends solely on social media presence is risky; no one knows where the public’s interest can lead. In an effort to keep their money-making ventures worthwhile, some YouTubers are engaging in emotionally manipulative and scamming behaviors.
Most recently, Zoe Sugg (Zoella) has been heavily criticized for her new advent calendar. Sold by the outlet Boots, the calendar costs 50 pounds (around $67 USD) for 12 items. According to a multitude of people who forked over the money as a gift to themselves or others, the advent calendar is far overpriced. All 12 items are estimated to only cost around 21 pounds ($27 USD). People immediately chastised Zoella for manipulating her young audience into buying overpriced merchandise.
Analyzing YouTube scamming culture, Bobby Burns made a video called “How to Emotionally Manipulate Your YouTube Audience.” In the video, he explains the tactics that YouTubers such as Anthony Padilla, Shane Dawson, Ingrid Nilson and many others use to gain sympathy (and views) for them and their videos. He identified that there are some specific mannerisms that YouTubers use when they are manipulating their audience, including showing themselves turning on the camera, sighing, a format change (filming it on a webcam, etc.), avoiding eye contact with the camera lens and several others.
Obviously, a YouTuber being emotional about a topic isn’t necessarily manipulation, and Bobby Burns pointed out that in Ingrid Nilsen’s Coming Out video, the time she cried after saying “I’m gay” was likely over-exaggeration. Before preparing the background, lights and herself for the video, it’s hard to believe that she didn’t say that to herself at least once. Burns infers that all the videos he talked about were not spontaneous. They were planned, premeditated and acted out for optimal results.
Fortunately, not every YouTuber does this, and it definitely isn’t one of the worst atrocities in the world. However, avid consumers of internet content should know when they are being lied to. It is important to keep in mind that the relationship that viewers have with YouTubers is not personal. YouTubers build their selective brands through the internet, and it is extremely misleading to think that any viewer has a transparent relationship with a YouTuber.
YouTubers show exactly what they want people to see and will do what it takes to make the most money. As YouTube continues to dominate world content creation, it is of utmost importance that viewers don’t fall for the manipulation meant to trap them.