Technology has brought us closer together. At any given moment of any given day, we can see what almost anyone is up to if they have social media. Whether we want to see what other people are up to doesn’t matter. It only matters that we can. It’s no secret that technology is the root of overinflated egos in this day and age. For years, older generations have accused social media of exacerbating self-absorbed, narcissistic, and entitled behavior in younger generations. While they’re not wrong, this kind of blanket statement doesn’t shine a light on all the nooks and crannies that technology has burrowed into when it comes to the fabric of our society.
Social media can do a lot of good. In the past decade or so, it’s amplified voices not historically heard in mainstream society, which has helped countless creators build platforms outside of traditional, and often exclusionary, media. However, the same can be said for people who do not deserve platforms. This group of people has used technology to document behavior no one should be proud of.
For example, while “Day in the Life” videos were once charming and provided occasional sneak peeks into the lives of rising YouTubers, they’ve since churned out a generation of vloggers and influencers intent on exposing things I’d rather not know people are doing. The worst part is that most of these people don’t even realize they’re exposing themselves. Constant day-to-day technology usage normalizes bad behavior, especially because it helps influencers stay relevant — or, if not relevant, then at least part of the conversation. But not all publicity should be good publicity.
In the same vein, not everything is relatable. While many influencers first grew their followings from their relatability, many people in the internet limelight today have forgotten what is actually relatable to their audiences. For example, popular YouTubers Nikki and Dan Phillippi recently posted a video about why they euthanized their dog and even went as far as to post a pre-humous photoshoot with their now-deceased pet. Dog lovers and animal activists immediately called the couple out for being painfully misinformed.
It’s one thing to turn to the community that is on the internet and ask for advice and support. It’s another to make a controversial decision and then proudly proclaim it across your social feeds. It’s almost as if technology has created a buffer between influencers and their following. If you listen closely, this buffer is actually their computer fan, which is making so much noise from all the video editing that it’s drowning out the complaints from their followers. Theirs is a level of disillusionment that we typically reserve for the ultra-rich or über famous. And while influencers may think they are both, that’s not necessarily something to be proud of.
Other well-known creators on YouTube have also exposed themselves for incredibly problematic behavior. PewdiePie, Jake Paul, Shane Dawson, David Dobrik, James Charles, Nikita Dragun, Jeffree Star, Tana Mongeau, and more have all filmed themselves being problematic and then posted that content on their channels to the horror of many. The old adage of never leave a paper trail applies to film as well: don’t document yourself doing racist, rapist, pedophilic, biphobic, and generally problematic sh*t because it’s not relatable nor is it funny.
TikTokers are another group that is comfortable documenting their worst behavior, including creators like Bryce Hall, Tony Lopez, Chase Hudson, and Nessa Barrett. Many of these same creators were also some of the worst transgressors in flouting pandemic safety guidelines by throwing and filming house parties. In a time where global safety was a top priority, these influencers chose to deprioritize this priority publicly, a terrible choice for people who are supposed to be fostering relatability points.
Building a brand around glorifying and even celebrating problematic and unsafe behavior is a strange choice. As a global society, we need to be more empathetic. But these influencers are normalizing the opposite. Their content sets the wrong precedent with their young and impressionable followings and fails to account for the privilege — both economic and social — that “protects” influencers from the consequences of their actions. Their followers might not have the same access to wealth, healthcare, and other marks of privilege. So, if they are influenced by these influencers, the results could be far worse than the typical slap on the wrist influencers receive for the same actions.
Technology is not to blame for anyone’s choices. However, it is to blame for why we’re seeing these choices. The trifecta of social media, the internet, and technology has allowed for the constant surveillance of others to be a factor in human life. But what do we gain from viewing all of this content? Technology is cool. But it’s also cool to ditch our phones every now and then in favor of living our own life instead of watching others live theirs.
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