Update Required: An Analysis of the Conflict Between Copyright Holders and Social Media Users

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For anyone who is chronically online as yours truly, in one way or another we have seen our favorite social media influencers, artists, commentators, and content creators complain about their problems with the current US Intellectual Property (IP) system. Be it that their posts are deleted without explanation or portions of their video files are muted, the combination of factors leading to copyright issues on social media is endless. This, in turn, has a markedly negative impact on free and fair expression on the internet, especially within the context of our contemporary online culture. For better or worse, interaction in society today is intertwined with the services of social media sites. Conflict arises when the interests of copyright holders clash with this reality. They are empowered by byzantine and unrealistic laws that hamper our ability to exist as freely as we do in real life. While they do have legitimate and fundamental rights that need to be protected, such rights must be balanced out with desperately needed reform. People’s interaction with society and culture must not be hampered, for that is one of the many foundations of a healthy and thriving society. To understand this, I venture to analyze the current legal infrastructure we find ourselves in.

Current Relevant Law

The current controlling laws for copyright issues on social media are the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA is most relevant to our analysis; it gives copyright holders relatively unrestrained power to demand removal of their property from the internet and to punish those using illegal methods to get ahold of their property. This broad law, of course, impacted social media sites. Title II of the law added 17 U.S. Code § 512 to the Copyright Act of 1976, creating several safe harbor provisions for online service providers (OSP), such as social media sites, when hosting content posted by third parties. The most relevant of these safe harbors to this issue is 17 U.S. Code § 512(c), which states that an OSP cannot be liable for monetary damages if it meets several requirements and provides a copyright holder a quick and easy way to claim their property. The mechanism, known as a “notice and takedown” procedure, varies by social media service and is outlined in their terms and conditions of service (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook/Meta). Regardless, they all have a complaint form or application that follows the rules of the DMCA and usually will rapidly strike objectionable social media posts by users. 17 U.S. Code § 512(g) does provide the user some leeway with an appeal process and § 512(f) imposes liability to those who send unjustifiable takedowns. Nevertheless, a perfect balance of rights is not achieved.

The doctrine of fair use, codified as 17 U.S. Code § 107 via the Copyright Act of 1976, also plays a massive role here. It established a legal pathway for the use of copyrighted material for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research” without having to acquire right to said IP from the owner. This legal safety valve has been a blessing for social media users, especially with recent victories like Hosseinzadeh v. Klein, which protected reaction content from DMCA takedowns. Cases like Lenz v. Universal Music Corp further established that fair use must be considered by copyright holders when preparing for takedowns. Nevertheless, failure to consider said rights by true copyright holders still happens, as sites are quick to react to DMCA complaints. Furthermore, the flawed reporting systems of social media sites lead to abuse by unscrupulous actors faking true ownership. On top of that, such legal actions can be psychologically and financially intimidating, especially when facing off with a major IP holder, adding to the unbalanced power dynamic between the holder and the poster.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which focuses primarily on cellular and landline carriers, is also particularly relevant to social media companies in this conflict. At the time of its passing, the internet was still in its infancy. Thus, it does not incorporate an understanding of the current cultural paradigm we find ourselves in. Specifically, the contentious Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act (Title V of the 1996 Act) works against social media companies in this instance, incorporating a broad and draconian rule on copyright infringement. 47 U.S. Code § 230(e)(2) states in no uncertain terms that “nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or expand any law pertaining to intellectual property.” This has been interpreted and restated in Perfect 10, Inc. v. CCBill LLC to mean that such companies are liable for user copyright infringement. This gap in the protective armor of Section 230 is a great concern to such companies, therefore they react strongly to such issues.

What is To Be Done?

Arguably, fixing the issues around copyright on social media is far beyond the capacity of current legal mechanisms. With ostensibly billions of posts each day on various sites, regulation by copyright holders and sites is far beyond reason. It will take serious reform in the socio-cultural, technological, and legal arenas before a true balance of liberty and justice can be established. Perhaps we can start with an understanding by copyright holders not to overreact when their property is posted online. Popularity is key to success in business, so shouldn’t you value the free marketing that comes with your copyrighted property getting shared honestly within the cultural sphere of social media?  Social media sites can also expand their DMCA case management teams or create tools for users to accredit and even share revenue with, if they are an influencer or content creator, the copyright holder. Finally, congressional action is desperately needed as we have entered a new era that requires new laws. That being said, achieving a balance between the free exchange of ideas and creations and the rights of copyright holders must be the cornerstone of the government’s approach to socio-cultural expression on social media. That is the only way we can progress as an ever more online society.

 

Image: Freepik.com

https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/flat-design-intellectual-property-concept-with-woman-laptop_10491685.htm#query=intellectual%20property&position=2&from_view=keyword”>Image by pikisuperstar

Social Media Addiction

Social Media was created as an educational and informational resource for American Citizens. Nonetheless, it has become a tool for AI bots and tech companies to predict our next moves by manipulating our minds on social media apps. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act helped create the modern internet we use today. However, it was initially a 1996 law that regulated online pornography. Specifically, Section 230 provides legal immunity from liability for internet services and users for content posted online. Tech companies do not just want to advertise to social media users but instead want to predict a user’s next move. The process of these manipulative tactics used by social media apps has wreaked havoc on the human psyche and destroyed the social aspects of life by keeping people glued to a screen so big tech companies can profit off of it. 

Social media has changed a generation for the worse, causing depression and sometimes suicide, as tech designers manipulate social media users for profit. Social media companies for decades have been shielded from legal consequences for what happens on their platforms. However, due to recent studies and court cases, this may be able to change and allow for big tech social media companies to be held accountable. A former Facebook employee, France Haugen, a whistleblower to the Senate, stated not to trust Facebook as they knowingly pushed products that harm children and young adults to further profits, which Section 230 cannot sufficiently protect. Haugen further states that researchers at Instagram (a Facebook-owned Social Media App) knew their app was worsening teenagers’ body images and mental health, even as the company publicly downplayed these effects.

There is a California Bill, Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act, that aims to make tech firms liable for Social media Addiction in children; this would allow parents and guardians to use platforms that they believe addicted children in their care through advertising, push notifications and design features that promote compulsive use, particularly the continual consumption of harmful content on issues such as eating disorders and suicide. This bill would hold companies accountable regardless of whether they deliberately designed their products to be addictive.

Social Media addiction is a psychological, behavioral dependence on social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, TikTok, bereal, etc. Mental Disorders are defined as conditions that affect ones thinking, feeling, mood, and behaviors. Since the era of social media, especially from 2010 on, doctors and physicians have had a hard time diagnosing patients with social media addiction and mental disorders since they seem to go hand in hand. Social Media addiction has been seen to improve mood and boost health promotions with ads. However, at the same time, it can increase the negative aspects of activities that the youth (ages 13-21) take part in. Generation Z (“Zoomers”) are people born in the late 1990s to 2010s with an increased risk of social media addiction, which has been linked to depression. 

study measured the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (“DEES”) and Experiences in Close Relationships (“ECR”) to characterize the addictive potential that social media communication applications have based on their measure of the brain. The first measure in the study was a six-item short scale consisting of DEES that was a 36-item, six-factor self-report measure of difficulties, assessing

  1. awareness of emotional responses,
  2. lack of clarity of emotional reactions,
  3. non-acceptance of emotional responses,
  4. limited access to emotion regulation strategies perceived as applicable,
  5. difficulties controlling impulses when experiencing negative emotions, and
  6. problems engaging in goal-directed behaviors when experiencing negative emotions. 

The second measure is ECR-SV which includes a twelve-item test evaluating adult attachment. The scale comprised two six-item subscales: anxiety and avoidance. Each item was rated on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree, which is another measure of depression, anxiety, and mania were DSM-5. The results depict that scoring at least five of the nine items on the depression scale during the same two-week period classified depression. Scoring at least three of the six symptoms on the anxiety scale was to sort anxiety. Scoring at least three of the seven traits in the mania scale has classified mania. 

The objectives of these studies were to clarify that there is a high prevalence of social media addiction among college students and confirms statistically that there is a positive relationship between social media addiction and mental disorders by reviewing previous studies. 

The study illustrates that there are four leading causes of social media abuse: 1)The increase in depression symptoms have occurred in conjunction with the rise of smartphones since 2007, 2) Young people, especially Generation Z, spend less time connecting with friends, and they spend more time connecting with digital content. Generation Z is known for quickly losing focus at work or study because they spend much time watching other people’s lives in an age of information explosion. 3) An increase in depression is low self-esteem when they feel negative on Social Media compared to those who are more beautiful, more famous, and wealthier. Consequently, social media users might become less emotionally satisfied, making them feel socially isolated and depressed. 4) Studying pressure and increasing homework load may cause mental problems for students, therefore promoting the matching of social media addiction and psychiatric disorders. 

The popularity of the internet, smartphones, and social networking sites are unequivocally a part of modern life. Nevertheless, it has contributed to the rise of depressive and suicidal symptoms in young people. Shareholders of social media apps should be more aware of the effect their advertising has on its users. Congress should regulate social media as a public policy matter to prevent harm, such as depression or suicide among young people. The best the American people can do is shine a light on the companies that exploit and abuse their users, to the public and to congress, to hold them accountable as Haugen did. There is hope for the future as the number of bills surrounding the topic of social media in conjunction with mental health effects has increased since 2020. 

Is Social Media Really Worth It?

 

Human beings are naturally social. We interact with one another every single day in many different ways. Current day, one of the most common ways we interact with one another is on social media.  Each year that goes by the number of individuals using social media increases. The number of social media users worldwide in 2019 was 3.484 billion, up 9% from 2018. The numbers increased dramatically during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the number of social media users jumped to 4.5 billion and it increases everyday.

Along with the increasing number of social media users, the number of individuals suffering from mental health issues is also increasing. Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which people understand their abilities, solve everyday life problems, work well, and make a significant contribution to the lives of their communities. Its very interesting to think about how and why social media can effect an individuals mental state so greatly. The Displaced Behavior Theory may help explain why social media shows a connection with mental health. According to the theory, people who spend more time in sedentary behaviors such as social media use have less time for face-to-face social interaction, both of which have been proven to be protective against mental disorders . For example, the more time an individual spends using social media, the less time this individual spends on their own social relationships off screen.

Believe it or not, many studies have linked the use of Facebook in young adults to increased levels of anxiety, stress and depression.  I know based on my own personal experiences that life changed greatly when Facebook was introduced to my generation in Middle School. We went from going for walks around town, movie dates and phone calls to sitting in front of a computer screen for hours straight trying to figure out who posted the best profile picture that night or who received the most likes and comments on a post.  Based on my own experiences, I believe this is when cyberbullying became a huge issue.  Individuals, especially young teens, take into account everyone’s opinion’s and comments on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. This why mental health is associated with the use of social media. Social media can create a lot of pressure to create the stereotype that others want to see, its almost like a popularity contest.

It makes me wonder how far is too far? When will Social Media platforms truly censor cyberbullying and put a stop to the rise of mental health issues associated with using these sites. Studies have proven that these platforms cause extreme mental health problems in individuals. The individuals who are mostly affected by this range from 12-17 years of age.  I believe that if we regulate the age groups allowed to join these sights it may be helpful to stop the detrimental affects these sights have on teenagers.  It boggles my mind to think many teenagers would still be alive if they did not download a social media platform or they would not suffer from mental health issues. We really have to think as parents, friends and family members if downloading social media platforms is really worth it.

Can you think of any solutions to this growing problem? At what age would you let your child use social media?

 

A Uniquely Bipartisan Push to Amend/Repeal CDA 230

Last month, I wrote a blog post about the history and importance of the Communications Decency Act, section 230 (CDA 230). I ended that blog post by acknowledging the recent push to amend or repeal section 230 of the CDA. In this blog post, I delve deeper into the politics behind the push to amend or repeal this legislation.

“THE 26 WORDS THAT SHAPED THE INTERNET”

If you are unfamiliar with CDA 230, it is the sole legislation that governs the internet world. Also known as “the 26 words that shaped the internet” Congress specifically articulated in the act that the internet is able to flourish, due to a “minimum of government regulation.” This language has resulted in an un-regulated internet, ultimately leading to problems concerning misinformation.

Additionally, CDA 230(c)(2) limits civil liability for posts that social media companies publish. This has caused problems because social media companies lack motivation to filter and censor posts that contain misinformation.

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (47 U.S.C. § 230).

Section 230’s liability shade has been extended far beyond Congress’s original intent, which was to protect social media companies against defamation claims. The features of this legislation have resulted in a growing call to update section 230.

In this day and age, an idea or movement rarely gains bi-partisan support anymore. Interestingly, though, amending, or repealing section 230 has gained recent bipartisan support. As expected, however, each party has differing reasons as to why the law should be changed.

BIPARTISAN OPPOSITION

Although the two political parties are in agreement that the legislation should be amended, their reasoning behind it stems from differing places. Republicans tend to criticize CDA 230 for allowing social media companies to selectively censor conservative actors and posts. In contrast, democrats criticize the law for allowing social media companies to disseminate false, and deceptive information.

 DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION

On the democratic side of the aisle, President Joe Biden has repeatedly called for Congress to repeal the law. In an interview with The New York Times, President Biden was asked about his personal view regarding CDA 230, in which he replied…

“it should be revoked. It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy. You guys still have editors. I’m sitting with them. Not a joke. There is no editorial impact at all on Facebook. None. None whatsoever. It’s irresponsible. It’s totally irresponsible.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also voiced opposition, calling CDA 230 “a gift” to the tech industry that could be taken away.

The law has often been credited by the left for fueling misinformation campaigns, like Trumps voter fraud theory, and false COVID information. In response, social media platforms began marking certain posts as unreliable.  This led to the reasoning behind republicans opposition to section 230.

REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION

Former President Trump has voiced his opposition to CDA 230 numerous times. He first started calling for the repeal of the legislation in May of 2020, after Twitter flagged two of his tweets regarding mail-in voting, with a warning label that stated “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.” In fact, in December, Donald Trump, the current President at the time, threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act annual defense funding bill, if CDA 230 was not revoked. The former presidents opposition was so strong, he issued an Executive Order in May of last year urging the government to re-visit CDA 230. Within the order, the former president wrote…

“Section 230 was not intended to allow a handful of companies to grow into titans controlling vital avenues for our national discourse under the guise of promoting open forums for debate, and then to provide those behemoths blanket immunity when they use their power to censor …”

The executive order also asked the Federal Communications Commission to write regulations that would remove protections for companies that “censored” speech online. Although the order didn’t technically affect CDA 230, and was later revoked by President Biden, it resulted in increased attention on this archaic legislation.

LONE SUPPORTERS

Support for the law has not completely vanished, however. As expected, many social media giants support leaving CDA 230 untouched. The Internet Association, an industry group representing some of the largest tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, recently announced that the “best of the internet would disappear” without section 230, warning that it would lead to numerous companies being subject to an array of lawsuits.

In a Senate Judiciary hearing in October 2020, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey warned that revoking Section 230 could…

“collapse how we communicate on the Internet.”

However, Mark Zuckerberg took a more moderate position as the hearing continued, telling Congress that he thought lawmakers should update the law.

Facebook has taken a more moderate approach by acknowledging that 230 should be updated. This approach is likely in response to public pressure due to increased awareness. Irregardless, it signifies a likely chance that section 23o will be updated in the future, since Facebook represents one of the largest social media companies protected by 230. A complete repeal of this law would create such major impacts, however, that this scenerio seems unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, growing calls for change, and a Democratic controlled Congress points to a likelihood of future revision of the section.

DIFFERING OPINIONS

Although both sides of Washington, and even some social media companies, agree the law should be amended; the two sides differ greatly on how to change the law.

As mentioned before, President Biden has voiced his support for repealing CDA 230 altogether. Alternatively, senior members of his party, like Nancy Pelosi have suggested simply revising or updating the section.

Republican Josh Hawley recently introduced legislation to amend section 230. The proposed legislation would require companies to prove a “duty of good faith,” when moderating their sites, in order to receive section 230 immunity. The legislation included a $5,000 fee for companies that don’t comply with the legislation.

Adding to the confusion of the section 230 debate, many fear the possible implications of repealing or amending the law.

FEAR OF CHANGE

Because CDA 230 has been referred to as “the first amendment of the internet,” many people fear that repealing this section altogether would result in a limitation on free speech online. Although President Biden has voiced his support for this approach, it seems unlikely to happen, as it would result in massive implications.

One major implication of repealing or amending CDA 230 is that it could allow for numerous lawsuits against social media companies. Not only would major social media companies be affected by this, but even smaller companies like Slice, could become the subject of defamation litigation by allowing reviews to be posted on their website. This could lead to an existence of less social media platforms, as some would not be able to afford legal fees. Many fear that these companies would further censor online posts for fear of being sued. This may also result in higher costs for these platforms. In contrast, companies could react by allowing everything, and anything to be posted, which could result in an unwelcome online environment. This would be in stark contrast to the Congress’s original intent in the creation of the CDA, to protect children from seeing indecent posts on the internet.

FUTURE CHANGE..?

 

Because of the intricacy of the internet, and the archaic nature of CDA 230, there are many differing opinions as to how to successfully fix the problems the section creates. There are also many fears about the consequences of getting rid of the legislation. Are there any revisions you can think of that could successfully deal with the republicans main concern, censorship? Can you think of any solutions for dealing with the democrats concern of limiting the spread of misinformation. Do you think there is any chance that section 230 will be repealed altogether? If the legislation were to be repealed, would new legislation need to be created to replace CDA 230?

 

Should Social Media Be Used as a Sentencing Tool?

Mass Incarceration in the US – A Costly Issue

The United States has a costly over-incarceration issue. As of May 2021, the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world with 639 prisoners per 100,000 of the national population. New York State alone has more prisoners than the entire country of Canada. In 2016, the US Government spent over $88 billion on prisons, jails, parole, and probation systems. Not to mention the social cost of incarcerating nearly 1% of our entire adult population. Alternative sentences can provide a substitute for costly incarceration.

incarceration statistics

What Are Alternative Sentences?

Typically, punishment for a crime is imprisonment. Alternative sentences are sentences other than imprisonment, such as:

  • community service,
  • drug rehabilitation programs,
  • probation, and
  • mental health programs.

While many generalizations about alternative sentences cannot be made, as the results vary by program and location, alternative sentences can and do keep people out of the overcrowded, problematic prison system in the US.

Could Social Media Play a Part in Alternative Sentencing?

In June 2021, a tourist in Hawaii posted a video of herself on TikTok touching a monk seal. The video went viral, and copycats hopped on the trend of poking wildlife for views. Hawaiian people, outraged, called for enforcement action and local media outlets echoed their call. Eventually, the Hawaii Governor released a statement that people who messed with local wildlife would be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

monk seal

There are essentially three avenues of prosecution for interfering with wildlife: in federal court, state court, or civil court through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Disturbing wildlife is a misdemeanor under federal law, but it’s a felony under state law, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. However, enforcement is unlikely, even after the Governor’s proclamation. Additionally, when enforcement does take place, it often happens out of the public eye. This imbalance of highly publicized crime and underpublicized enforcement led to a suggestion by Kauai Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar.

Kollar suggested sentencing criminals like the Hawaiian tourist to community service that would be posted on social media. Kollar looked to Hawaii’s environmental court as a potential model. Established in 2014 for the purpose of adjudicating environmental and natural resource violations, the environmental court has more sentencing tools at its disposal. For example, the court can sentence people to work with groups that do habitat restoration.

According to Kollar, requiring criminal tourists to take time out from their vacation to work with an environmental group — and possibly publicizing the consequence on social media — would not only be a more productive and just penalty, it would also create a positive and contrite image to spread across the internet. The violators would have an opportunity to become more educated and understand the harm they caused. Kollar wants people to learn from their mistakes, address the harm they caused, and take responsibility for their actions.

In an age when many crimes are visible on social media, what would be the pros and cons of using social media as a sentencing tool?

Some Pros and Cons of Using Social Media as a Sentencing Tool

In law school, we’re taught the theories of punishment, but not the consequences of punishment. While it’s important to think about the motivation for punishment, it’s equally, if not more, important to think about what happens because of punishment. In the case of using social media as a sentencing tool, there would likely be pros and cons.

One pro of using social media to publicize enforcement would be a rebalancing of the scale of crime v. enforcement publicity. This rebalance could help prevent vigilante justice from occurring when there is too big of a perceived gap between crime and enforcement. For example, when the TikToker posted her crime, she began to receive death threats. Many Hawaiians are fed up with their environment being exploited for financial profits. The non-enforcement and bold display of a wildlife crime led them to want to take matters into their own hands. In a situation like this, society does not benefit, the criminal does not learn from or take responsibility for their actions, and the victim is not helped.

An alternative sentence of wildlife-related community service publicized on social media could have benefited society because there is justice being done in a publicly known way that does not contribute to costly mass incarceration; helped the criminal learn from and take responsibility for their actions without being incarcerated; and, helped the victim, the environment, via the actual work done.

Additionally, this type of sentence falls into the category of restorative justice. Restorative Justice (RJ) is “a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.” The social media addition to an alternative sentence could provide the reconciliation with the “community at large” piece of the RJ puzzle. This would be a large pro, as RJ has been shown to lower recidivism rates and help victims.

While these pros are appealing, it is important to keep in mind that social media is a powerful tool that can facilitate far-reaching and lasting stigmatization of people. Before the age of social media and Google, a person’s criminal record could only be found in state-sponsored documents or small write-ups in a newspaper. As social scientists Sarah Lageson and Shadd Maruna put it, “although these records were “public,” they often remained in practical obscurity due to access limitations.” Today, any discretion, or presumed and unproven discretion in the case of online mug shots and police use of social media, can be readily found with a quick search. This can increase recidivism rates and make it harder for people with a criminal record to build relationships, find housing, and gain employment. The consequences of a readily available criminal record result in punishments not fitting to many crimes, as stigmatization is a part of punishment. Using social media as a sentencing tool could make the stigmatization situation worse, a huge con.

Perhaps there is a middle ground. To protect people from long-term stigmatization, faces and other identifying features could be blurred prior to publication. Similarly, identifying information, like names, could be excluded from the posts. By keeping the perpetrators anonymous, the scale of crime v. enforcement publicity could be rebalanced, the community aspect of RJ could be accomplished, and harmful stigmatization could be avoided. To completely avoid the possibility of stigmatization via social media postings, the program coordinators could post adjacent content. For example, they could post a before and after of the service project, completely leaving out the violators, while still publicizing enforcement.

Any iteration of the idea to use social media as a sentencing tool should be studied intensely regarding its consequences related to society, the criminal, and the victim, as it is a new idea.

 

Do you think social media should be used as a sentencing tool?

Alarming Side of Youtube

Social media has now become an integrated part of an individual’s life. From Facebook to twitter, Instagram, snapchat to the latest edition, that is TikTok, social media has made its way into a person’s life and occupies the same value as that of eating, sleeping, exercising etc. There is no denying the dopamine hit you get from posting on Instagram or scrolling endlessly, liking, sharing, commenting and re-sharing etc. From checking your notifications and convincing yourself, “Right, just five minutes, I am going to check my notifications” to spending hours on social media, it is a mixed bag. While I find that being in social media is to an extent a way to relax and alleviate stress, I also believe social media and its influence on peoples’ lives should not cross a certain threshold.

We all like a good laugh. We get a good laugh from people doing funny things on purpose or people pranking other people to get a laugh. Most individuals nowadays use some sort of social medial platforms to watch content or make content. YouTube is once such platform. After Google, YouTube is the most visited website on the internet. Everyday about a billion hours of videos are watched by people all over the world. I myself, contribute to those billion hours.

Now imagine you are on YouTube, you start watching a famous youtuber’s videos, you then realize this video is not only disturbing but is also very offensive. You stop watching the video. That’s it. You think that is a horrible video and think no more of it. On the contrary, there have been videos on YouTube which have caused mass controversy all over the internet since the platforms birth in 2005. Let us now explore the dark side of YouTube.

There is an industry that centers around pranks done to members of the public which is less about humor and more about shock value. There is nothing wrong with a harmless prank, but when doing a prank, one must be considerate how their actions are perceived by others, one wrong move and you could end facing charges or a conviction.

Across the social media platform there are many creators of such prank videos. Not all of them have been well received by the public or by the fands of the creators. One such incident is where YouTube content creators, Alan and Alex Stokes who are known for their gag videos plead guilty to charges centering around fake bank robberies staged by them.

The twins wore black clothes and ski masks, carried cash filled duffle bags for a video where they pretended to have robbed a bank. They then ordered an uber who, unaware of the prank had refused to drive them. An onlooker called the police believing that the twins had robbed a bank and were attempting to carjack the vehicle. Police arrived at the scene and held the driver at gunpoint until it was revealed and determined that it was a prank. The brothers were not charged and let off with a warning. They however, pulled the same stunt at a university some four hours later and were arrested.

They were charged with one felony count of false imprisonment by violence, menace or fraud, or deceit and one misdemeanor count of falsely reporting an emergency. The charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. “These were not pranks. These are crimes that could have resulted in someone getting seriously injured or even killed.” said Todd Spitzer, Orange County district attorney.

The brothers accepted a bargain from the judge. In return for a guilty plea, the felony count would be reduced a misdemeanor resulting in one year probation and 160 hours of community service and compensation. The plea was entered despite the prosecution stating that tougher charges were necessary. The judge also warned the brothers, who have over 5 million YouTube subscribers not to make such videos.

Analyzing the scenario above, I would agree with the district attorney. Making prank videos and racking up videos should not come at the cost of inciting fear and panic in the community. The situation with the police could have escalated severely which might have led to a more gruesome outcome. The twins were very lucky, however, in the next incident, the man doing a prank video in Tennessee was not.

In filming a YouTube prank video, 20 year old Timothy Wilks was shot dead in a parking lot of an Urban Air indoor trampoline park. David Starnes Jr, admitted to shooting Wilks when he and an unnamed individual approached him and a group wielding butcher knives and lunged at them. David told the police that he shot one of them in defense of himself and others.

Wilks’s friend said they were filming a video of a robbery prank for their YouTube channel. This was a supposed to be a recorded YouTube video meant to capture the terrified reactions of their prank victims. David was unaware of this prank and pulled out his gun to protect himself and others. No one has been charged yet in regard to the incident.

The above incident is an example of how pranks can go horribly wrong and result in irreparable damage. This poses the question, who do you blame, the 20 years old man staging a very dangerous prank video, or the 23-year-old who fired his gun in response to that?

Monalisa Perez, a youtuber from Minnesota fatally shot and killed her boyfriend in an attempt to film a stunt of firing a gun 30 cm away from her boyfriend, Predo Ruiz, who only had a thick book of 1.5inch to protect him. Perez pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.

Perez and her boyfriend Ruiz would document their everyday lives in Minnesota by posting pranks videos on YouTube to gain views. Before the fatal stunt, Perez tweeted, “Me and Pedro are probably going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever. His idea, not mine.”

Perez had previously experimented before and thought that the hardback Encyclopedia would be enough to stop the bullet. Perez fired a .50-calibre Desert Eagle, which is known to be an extremely powerful handgun which pierced the encyclopedia and fatally wounded Ruiz.

Perez will serve a 180-day jail term, serve 10 years of supervised probation, be banned for life from owning firearms and make no financial gain from the case. The sentence is below the minimum guidelines, but it was allowed on the ground that the stunt was mostly Ruiz’s idea.

Dangerous pranks such as the one above has left a man dead and a mother of two grieving for fatally killing her partner.

In response to the growing concerns of filming various trends and videos, YouTube have updated their policies regarding “harmful and dangerous” content and explicitly banned pranks and challenges that may cause immediate or lasting physical or emotional harm. The policies page showcases three types of videos that are now prohibited. They are: 1) Challenges that encourage acts that have an inherent risk of sever harm; 2) Pranks that make victims they are physical danger and 3) Pranks that cause emotional distress to children.

Prank videos may depict the dark side of how content crating can go wrong but they are not the only ones. In 2017, youtuber, Logan Paul became the source of controversy after posting a video of him in a Japanese forest called Aokigahara near the base of Mount Fuji. Aokigahara is a dense forest with lush trees and greenery. The forest is, however, infamous for being known as the suicide forest. It is a frequent site for suicides and is also considered haunted.

Upon entering the forest, the youtuber came across a dead body hung from a tree. The actions and depictions of Logan Paul around the body are what caused controversy and outrage. The video has since been taken down from YouTube. An apology video was posted by Logan Paul trying to defend his actions. This did nothing to quell the anger on the internet. He then came out with a second video where he could be seen tearing up on camera. In addressing the video, YouTube expressed condolences and stated that they prohibit such content which are shocking or disrespectful. Paul lost the ability to make money on his videos through advertisement which is known as demonetization. He was also removed from the Google Preferred program, where brands can sell advertisement to content creators on YouTube.

That consequences of Logan Paul’s actions did not end there. A production company is suing the youtuber on the claims that the video of him in the Aokigahara resulted in the company losing a multimillion-dollar licencing agreement with Google. The video caused Google to end its relationship with Planeless Pictures, the production company and not pay the $3.5 million. Planeless Pictures are now suing Paul claiming that he pay the amount as well as additional damage and legal fees.

That is not all. Youtube has been filled with controversies which have resulted in lawsuits.

A youtuber by the name of Kanghua Ren was fined $22300 and was also sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for filming himself giving a homeless man an oreo filled with toothpaste. He gave 20 euros and oreo cookies to a homeless which were laced with toothpaste instead of cream. The video depicts the homeless man vomiting after eating the cookie. In the video Ren stated that although he had gone a bit far, the action would help clean the homeless person’s teeth. The court, however, did not take this lightly and sentenced him. The judge stated that this was not an isolated act and that Ren had shown cruel behaviour towards vulnerable victims.

These are some of the pranks and videos that have gained online notoriety. There are many other videos which have portrayed child abuse, following a trend by eating tidepods as well as making sharing anti-Semitic videos and using racist remarks. The most disturbing thing about these videos is that they are not only viewed by adults but also children. In my opinion these videos could be construed as having some influence on young individuals.

Youtube is a diverse platform home to millions of content creators. Since its inception it has served as a mode of entertainment and means of income to many individuals. From posting cat videos online to making intricate, detailed, and well directed short films, YouTube has revolutionized the video and content creation spectrum. Being an avid viewer of many channels on YouTube, I find that incidents like these, give YouTube a bad name. Proper policies and guidelines should be enacted and imposed and if necessary government supervision may also be exercised.