Being a teenager I am a member of the so-called "vlogging generation". The youth of today that has spent its teenage years glued to the screens of popular video-sharing website YouTube watching the "completely ordinary and down to earth" people who choose to share parts of their lives with a camera and an audience. The vloggers by any other name. Today the largest proportions of this audience is filled with pre-teens, mostly girls, and in the eyes of these pre-adolescent, admiring children these YouTubers are nothing short of idols. They're the new breed of celebrity, the ones that built themselves an empire on the backs of impressionable children and young people.
Now I'm not saying that that's always a bad thing, there are amazing, genuinely good people on YouTube who are trying to make a difference - whether that's to just one person or the entire world. Take the vlogbrothers for instance. These two - John and Hank Green - have spent their YouTube careers making various educational shows which focus on teaching science, history and literature among other things to their audience. To top that off every year they spark the 'Project for Awesome' which invites their viewers to make videos promoting a smaller, less recognised charity of their choice. After fundraising through various other methods, the audience then vote on the most deserving charities who then receive a share of the funds raised. If that's not promoting a good world view in these young people then I don't know what is. Another of my favourites is Carrie Hope Fletcher who runs the channel ItsWayPastMyBedtime. Fletcher is the self-proclaimed 'big sister' of the internet, just giving her viewers advice and a positive outlook on life. Her videos have centred around everything from loving the skin you're in to never giving up on your dreams. In other words she's nothing short of an inspiration.
However the recognition of these YouTubers - even those as well established as the vlogbrothers - pales in comparison to the big names. Zoella is a beauty guru who has more than 8 million subscribers - a large proportion of which are made up of young girls. She makes videos on makeup and hairstyles, and while these are popular you can't help wondering if this is the best of role models for children. Girls who already have it constantly thrown in their face by the media that they need to look or be a certain way don't need that coming from their idols too. Now, I'm not saying that 24 year old Zoe Sugg is a bad influence; she's made extremely honest videos on her experiences with anxiety and I have no doubt that she worked hard to get to where she is today. But I can't help but wonder at how she's built herself this brand upon the support of vulnerable young people. There was recent controversy surrounding her book when it was revealed that she had used a ghost writer - Siobhan Curham - in the release of her debut novel Girl Online. And I would never condemn her for that alone; countless other celebrities have been using ghost writers themselves for years. What gets me about this particular case is that if she didn't write the book for herself and for having a genuine story that she wished to share then what did she write it for? For there to be another Zoella product on the market? For her to further climb the ladder of recognition? Of course I don't blame Zoe alone here; this has become the problem with YouTube itself. Nothing but problems can arise when you start to market a person rather than a product. The most popular vloggers are no longer just people, they are a brand within themselves.
YouTube has went from hobby, to career, to lifestyle. In the eyes of their fans YouTubers are as idolised - if not more so - as television stars and actors. They are the future of fame and fortune, with the most viewed and recognisable amongst them making in the millions. Yet these are just regular people, not Hollywood stars and as such have not been coached for this type of recognition and public standing in the same way. Obviously there are a lot of 'proper' celebrities that spring to mind when we hear 'bad role model', but because of the ease of access between these stars and their fans things can get ugly quickly. There has been an alarming and harrowing number of YouTuber sexual abuse allegations that have come to light only throughout 2014 - Tom Milsom, Sam Pepper and Alex Day to name a few. I'm not going to go into detail of the offences, but some of them were also accused of conducting relationships with and sexually coercing underage girls. While I applaud certain measures taken by members of the YouTube community for the way it was handled - those musicians signed with DFTBA Records (owned by the aforementioned Green brothers) were swiftly dropped, and YouTuber Laci Green encouraged those affected by abuse from Pepper in particular to come forward - the channels of these offenders remain online and they mostly remain unscathed from the backlash against them. In short, these people are criminals and deserve to be treated as such; but the law never has seemed to properly catch up with popular and famous sex offenders. The sad reality is that the cases just keep adding up, with new names attached to fresh allegations throughout 2015, and it doesn't seem as if this chapter is over quite yet.
YouTube is many things: from charitable channels looking to promote a healthy world and self-view, to popular vloggers who claim to love their audience all the while making a mint on the side, to the downright dangerous world of idolisation. YouTube is the newest in a long line of money making machines. Like everything else it is neither all good nor all bad. The reality is as internet popularity explodes YouTube is only going to continue growing as a media platform. You can't halt progress. YouTube and its vloggers are the future of entertainment as we know it; but if it's to stay as popular and widespread as it is today then it needs to have its content creators conform to the same kinds of regulations television and other forms of media do. With fame comes a certain responsibility - and these new YouTube celebrities need to take that upon themselves.