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.