In 15 years since its launch, YouTube has become a main source of entertainment and global information for users around the world. It has a transformative impact on the world’s Internet usage as provided a different form of entertainment from television and movies. It has connected people from different parts of the world and created a way for them to interact and watch other people live their lives. In this essay, I will focus on the history of YouTube, its business models and ecology, as well as the ways in which it has a transformative impact on the world. This will highlight the way it has changed activism, particularly on the way ‘Beauty Gurus’ or make up influencers have used their make-up tutorials as a powerful way to advocate against societal beauty standards and the patriarchy. These YouTubers have found a way to make YouTube their job and find success in social media work.
YouTube is a social media and video streaming platform that allows content creators and digital influencers a way to post videos varying in length and connect with ‘subscribers’. Subscribers are people who are subscribed to their YouTube channels and receive notifications every time the influencer posts a new video. There are many forms of ‘YouTubers’(the name used for people who make money off of posting videos on YouTube), it includes ‘Lifestyle’ YouTubers, ‘Gaming’ youtubers, ‘Prankster’ youtubers and much more. It could be argued that YouTube created the idea of digital influencers and content creators, as it was one of the first social media platforms that allowed the release of videos, unlike Instagram or MySpace.
It is different from Hollywood celebrities as the videos are not as high quality and its production value could be virtually non-existent, yet create an entertaining video that connects with watchers. The low production quality and recording oneself without a structured script made the experience of watching a YouTube video more relatable to the average watcher (Holland, 2016), and thus the platform was able to succeed. This allows YouTubers to pursue entertainment professionally, especially when they have gained a dedicated fanbase (Brooke & Wissinger, 2017). YouTubers such as Lilly Singh and Liza Koshy are able to use this method of low quality videos and merge into professional entertainment, Singh is currently a talk show host and Koshy is pursuing acting professionally. YouTube is able to profit off of the gig economy and push their creators into the mainstream media.
Logo of Lily Singh’s talk show
YouTube has created new patterns of television watching, it imitates the rules of traditionally past media, by posting content that belonged on traditional television and having advertising before, during, and after videos, while also changing it (Kim, 2012). This highlights how impactful and transformative YouTube has become in the media industry.
The history of YouTube
Screenshot of YouTube’s beta version
YouTube was founded by Chad Hurley, Steven Chen and Jawed Karim in late 2004, they created a platform for users to create their own content and potentially capitalize from it. It was launched in June 2005 and in October 2006, Google acquired it for $1.65 billion (Burgess ,Green & Hartley, 2009). Google has transformed YouTube into a profitable business where ads can be placed before, during or after videos and content creators can profit off of the content they post on the site (Holland, 2016). YouTube partnered with Vevo to help musicians copyright and protect their music. It allowed YouTube to profit off of mainstream musicians and celebrities that posted their music videos on YouTube, it has also become the main platform where fans of these musicians will find their videos.
Personal screenshot of Taylor Swift’s landing page
Youtube’s profile and ecology
YouTube was able to transform the way influencers make money off their content. It has created a way for these influencers to change the gig economy by creating their own personal brand and marketing themselves for viewers to watch and companies to sponsor. YouTube is the 2nd most visited site in the world, second only to google, with over 24.3 billion monthly visits (Routley, 2019), resulting in a large advertising revenue.
Within YouTube, there are different types of content like gaming, beauty and lifestyle, this has created a method for YouTubers to brand themselves. David Dobrik is a YouTuber known for comedy video logs (vlogging), Tati Westbrook is also a YouTuber who is known for her beauty reviews, while gamers such as LdShadowLady, Elizabeth Batty, is most known for her Minecraft videos. Different YouTubers can collaborate together even though they may not be in the same ‘side’ of YouTube, as seen in YouTube rewind, where YouTube does a yearly gathering of popular YouTubers and allows them to collaborate.
YouTube collaborates with many different brands and is widely-used as an advertising service for large and small businesses. Businesses pay to have their advertisements on certain YouTubers’ videos and, YouTube and the YouTuber will both profit off of these advertisements (Alphabet Inc, 2019). They use two types of advertising, performance advertisements and brand advertisements to generate revenue (Alphabet Inc, 2019). YouTube has also provided a gate for ‘fans’ of certain artists to create work such as parody videos or reacting videos, such as Bart Baker and REACT, and allowed these fans to make profit from it and even enter the entertainment industry professionally (Burgess, Green & Hartley, 2009).
YouTube has been a financial mystery to analysts and, Alphabet Inc (the host company of YouTube’s parent company, Google) has finally released its numbers in February of 2020. Ever since YouTube was bought by Google, it has implemented a new e-commerce model that places ads in videos and YouTube pages, which allows revenue to be generated for the company and copyright holders (Kim, 2012). YouTube generated $15.1(USD) billion from its advertising alone, the non-advertising profits were included in ‘Google other revenue’(Alphabet Inc, 2019), thus the total amount is still undisclosed. This shows how YouTube is such a large social media service and that it has a large influence over people’s media consumption.
Personal screenshot of my YouTube landing page and the ads it features
Copyright and hate speech has been a major issue and topic of debate since the launch of YouTube. To soften copyright rules, YouTube partnered with Lions Gate, National Broadcasting Channel, Disney and more to allow their content to enter YouTube and co-exist together (Kim, 2012). Their filtration system has allowed them to not only detect copyright material, but also hate speech and problematic videos (Etlinger, 2019). This will help further the fight of owning their material and also spreading more positivity on social platforms.
Below is a diagram of YouTube’s ecology:
Youtube’s transformative impact – Changing the way people advocate
YouTube has done a great deal in terms of creating entertainment and spreading information. However, it has also been used by social activists in ways that cannot be done on Instagram and other similar social platforms. YouTube’s participatory culture has created a new dynamic in the sharing ecology and thus creates a new way to advocate and spread social awareness (Burgess, Green & Hartley, 2009). YouTube has been used by activists to advocate and raise awareness on topics such as feminism, body positivity and demolishing beauty standards.
It has been used by politicians and their team to create campaigns, or join other groups to advocate on other issues. People who before YouTube may have never known about different political campaigns, are now able to learn about different models of cultural politics (Burgess, Green & Hartley, 2009). A major way in which people are about to advocate and communicate with others is the ‘comments’ function where people are asked to comment on a video they have or are watching (Tan, 2018). This is useful as the person who posted the video can reply to any questions the ‘commenter’ may have and create a relationship to further push their ideas on.
On YouTube, there is no time limit for the videos posted, thus creating a connection with the audience that Instagram ‘followers’ cannot replicate. One example is the YOU LOOK DISGUSTING video on YouTube by ‘My Pale Skin’, it was used by her to advocate against cyberbullying and society’s unattainable beauty standards (Tarvin, 2018). Moreover, beauty tutorials and cosmetics are used by many women as tactics to stand up for feminism. It is used to go against claims that feminism is soft and unnecessary, that since women can now vote, it has done its job (White, 2018). However, these videos make it clear that feminism is not finished, and that women can use cosmetics to feel empowered and strong. They are able to take back the power of beauty.
Personal screenshot of YouTube video by bestdressed, ‘the ugly truth about beauty standards + my insecurities’
YouTube has created a platform where because it has a low production value, it is more transparent. Fashion YouTubers like bestdressed, Ashley, are able to sit and face the camera to talk about their own insecurities and combat beauty standards by creating raw videos like “the ugly truth about beauty standards + my insecurities”. They are able to use it in such a way as beauty products were used as evidence to showcase women as frivolous and ignorant of politics, even though there is a heavy societal beauty standard where women are expected to use make up (White, 2018). Before social media platforms such as YouTube, cosmetics were never used in such a way. Women are able to take back their power by portraying make up as a hobby or art instead of a standard in society. Being honest online will also give young vulnerable adolescents an understanding and community that they are not alone with their insecurities.
Women are not the only ones advocating to break down gender stereotypes. The males of YouTube have been particularly vocal about toxic masculinity. Scholars have found that the internet has been instrumental in the way men have made masculinity more inclusive and redefined what it means to be popular in the heterosexual male youth (Morris & Anderson, 2015). Some examples of this include Ned, Keith and Zach from the group Try Guys on YouTube, they are heterosexual males who showcase videos that do not only appeal to straight males. Their videos feature silly challenges such as ‘Try Guy make a dress without instructions’ and having them try it on as well as trying ‘sexy video game Halloween costumes’ that feature Womens’ Halloween costumes.
Thumbnail of ‘The Try Guys Get Nail Extensions’
YouTube has been able to do this because it is where different cultures can connect and intersect with each other, thus allowing people of different values to interact with others (Burgess, Green & Hartley, 2009). Thus allowing people to advocate and raise awareness for social issues in an empowering and entertaining way.
YouTube has changed the way people advocate and has had a significant impact on the internet’s growth. By being one of the most popular social media and video streaming platforms, it has a major influence on users, especially young vulnerable people. By using it to advocate and spread awareness, it is likely to have a large impact on these people and change their perspective on social issues.
Alphabet Inc. (2019) Form 10-K, Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2019. Retrieved from https://abc.xyz/investor/static/pdf/20200204_alphabet_10K.pdf?cache=cdd6dbf
Burgess, J., Green, J., & Hartley, J. (2009). Youtube : Online video and participatory culture. ProQuest Ebook Central https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au
Brooke, D. E., & Wissinger, E. (2017). Mythologies of Creative Work in the Social Media Age: Fun, Free, and “Just Being Me” . International Journal of Communication 11, 4652–4671.
Etlinger, S. (2019). What’s So Difficult about Social Media Platform Governance? Centre for International Governance Innovation. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep26127.6
Holland, M., (2016). How YouTube Developed into a Successful Platform for User-Generated Content. Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 7(1), 52-59.
Kim, J. (2012). The institutionalization of YouTube: From user-generated content to professionally generated content. Media, Culture & Society, 34(1), 53–67. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443711427199
Morris, M., & Anderson, E. (2015). ‘Charlie Is So Cool Like’: Authenticity, Popularity and Inclusive Masculinity on YouTube. Sociology, 49(6), 1200-1217. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/44016780
Routley, N. (2019). Ranking the Top 100 Websites in the World. Retrieved from https://www.visualcapitalist.com/ranking-the-top-100-websites-in-the-world/
Tan, C. (2018). Influence of the technological features. In Regulating Content on Social Media: Copyright, Terms of Service and Technological Features (pp. 137-164). London: UCL Press. Retrieved November 11, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2250v4k.9
Tarvin, E. (2018). YOU LOOK DISGUSTING: A Case Study of the YouTube Beauty Community. Studies in Popular Culture, 41(1), 37-65. doi:10.2307/26582196
White, M. (2018). Beauty as an “act of political warfare”: Feminist Makeup Tutorials and Masquerades on YouTube. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 46(1/2), 139-156. doi:10.2307/26421167