I don't like doing the "Copy dumb comment, make smart retort" thing a lot of writers do these days, but ... yeah. Totally going to do some of that here with this Washington Post piece.
Not that the writer in question is dumb, but there are some really dubious statements made throughout the piece, by multiple parties, and I just can't let this stuff slide.
It's a gift ... and a curse. (If you get that reference, I want to be your best friend.)
Crazy Pants People Say Crazy Things In Move That Shocks Nobody
1. "For the past two days, E! Online has been at war with a million irate teens. And as the battle winds up, we must conclude: The teens are winning."
Nope. Nope nope nope.
For starters, "a million irate teens" is the kind of dumb, gross, and irresponsible journalism that contributed to the first tech bubble, will contribute to the current one, and continues to fuel America (and the Western World's) misperception of the Capital I Internet. (That's Internet as in Internet Culture and the people responsible for it, not internet, lowercase i, as in the actual technological infrastructure that connects our computers and devices to each other.)
A million? C'mon. Based on what? Seriously? YouTube views that can easily be bought and faked? Instagram accounts that can be bought by the thousands? Tweets retweeted automatically by bots? Vines coming from a social network so small, Twitter hasn't released actual usage figures concerning the platform IN YEARS? YEEEEAAAAAARRRSSSSSSS.
So, "millions"? Stop it. More like, maybe at most, a few thousand. Ok. That might be too low, but if we're being generous, maybe one hundred thousand. Nothing to sneeze at, but for real. It's not a million. Stop it.
(Later in that post, one of these Internet Celebrity losers tries to mention how they're a New York Times Best Selling Author like that means something.
It doesn't. You can, and hundreds (that's NO exaggeration) of authors openly and actively cheat and manipulate the New York Times Best Sellers list. Saying you're a New York Times Best Selling Author may sound nice, but it's sort of like getting a sticker for participating. Everyone gets one of those these days. Don't let anyone try to tell you being a NYT Best Seller means anything. It doesn't.)
2. "If you’re in media and know nothing about Internet talent, you’re not cute or clever,” Vine’s Jeremy Cabalona tweeted. “You’re genuinely irrelevant and terrible at your job.”
Fuck that guy. I don't like to swear much anymore, but "Forget that guy" just wasn't strong enough to dismiss that arrogant turd's comments.
If you're in the media and know nothing about "internet talent" you're fine. Most of these people don't matter. The ones that do have big companies like Google and large media companies / advertising agencies / brands behind them, getting them PR, inflating their vanity numbers (followers, views, likes, ect.), and making sure that "Internet talent" gets distribution and eyeballs.
The kind you can ONLY GET when you have those entities backing you.
So the idea that they're "legit" in the sense that they're organically these Internet stars with audiences they grew themselves and have this huge reach is totally and completely bogus.
(And again, Vine? Seriously? You guys know Twitter has a PR firm, and an advertising agency, that promotes "Vine Stars" right?)
tl;dr if you've read this far: These "Internet Famous" people aren't for real, and their audiences are vastly overstated. Or put another way, they're only Internet Celebrities because we say they are in the press, not because they actually are.
3. Anyone who tells you YouTube views matter and have influence is insane. Seriously insane. In the entire existence of YouTube, which by the way is now over a decade, this has not once been proven true. Not once. You know what has mattered? When the media picks up on the YouTube video and either because it's cheap content or because they're trying to meet page view quotas, decides to run with the video.
Unless the media, the companies I mentioned (agencies, brands) or a real (yes, I went there, a REAL celebrity) picks up on the video, 99% of the stuff on Youtube is barely viewed. Oh and by the way, remember that close to 80% of YouTube views come from outside the United States.
So, if you're an advertiser, or a business thinking YouTube views matter, and you're based in America and don't have an intangible product that you can sell, those views are totally meaningless. I mean, they were already meaningless, but they are doubly so here.
What we have here with these "angry" Internet celebrities are people Google (for example) created by featuring them on the front page of Youtube and giving them a ton of offline media exposure in the process. This in turn gave them online audiences and cumulative advantage.
In other words, go and look at how long Tyler Oakley (or any of these famous YouTube "stars)" has been on Youtube, 2007, and you'll see very clearly what I'm talking about.
Once the offline media, and other parties, vouched for him and started to talk about him, his numbers jumped, and then they continued to jump because he was a known commodity and people, and more press coverage, got the word out about him.
So the concept that he's an "Internet Celebrity" as in the Internet created him and all his success came from only the Internet is so totally bogus that I'd laugh if it didn't make me angry at how dumb we all are for believing otherwise despite a mountain of facts, evidence, and data.
When I talk to brands, agencies, media outlets, and (some) journalists, I seriously feel like a lot of them have their fingers in their ears and they're just stomping around going, "La la la la la la I can't hear you la la la la la".
How messed up is it that the "Internet Celebrities" we have were mostly created by Google (and others) when they used to feature videos, and since then, there have been almost ZERO new "Internet Celebrities" from those platforms beyond ones backed by the PR firm of multimillion dollar tech companies? Maybe there's a message there and nobody wants to talk about it because nobody wants to be the turd in the punch bowl.
Except me, of course.
Or better still, just look at the ratings for "YouTube Star" Grace Helbig's show on E!.
JUST LOOK AT THEM! If YouTube stars had real power and influence, why are her ratings so low?
Now tell me what she says and does matters in the context we're talking about. Go ahead. Look at the facts, and then tell me they're not true.
(P.S. I used to do work with a company that did work with Grace, so I know for a fact that she's very nice, and I'm not taking shots at her personally, but the concept that she's this organic Internet celebrity who can give advice to others on how to be the same definitely rubs me the wrong way because I've seen it up close and personal that it's not true.)
4.. Let's close on this, from the Washington Post: "On top of that, writing off social media celebrity — even in its silliest, most overtly generational iterations — ignores the fact that these people signal huge and fascinating things about our culture. Forget the fact that Zach King has basically perfected a new genre of short-form video art, or that Joey Graceffa’s book is among Amazon’s best-selling biographies. Independent of their individual accomplishments (which are many!), they, whether they are teens themselves or not, speak to teenagers’ collective beliefs, their politicsand anxieties, their game-changing interest in collaborative, democratic media and their desire to bypass middlemen and gatekeepers like E!."
Not really. No. Vine is basically a DOA service so nothing that happens on there really matters much beyond a dwindling set of users. Having an Amazing best-seller doesn't mean anything, because that's driven by an algorithm that can be manipulated by enough activity. Trust me. If I showed you how stupid Amazon's system was, you'd freak out.
(Why is it stupid? Because if their system was more complex, it'd mean a lower loading time and more buggy UI, or user interface. It MUST be stupid for Amazon to provide a smooth customer experience, but make no mistake, stupid is as stupid does.)
The fact they're teens also doesn't qualify them to speak for other teens. That's just some straight up BS.
A lot of these people have money and studios and a lot of people backing them. Their experience is NOT representative of your typical teen. If I said to you that Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus was representative of your typical teen, you'd think I was crazy.
So why is it any different here? Oh, right, we're pretending the studios, agencies, brands, and other parties behind these "legit" Internet Celebrities don't exist because if we acknowledged that they do, our whole conception of Internet Celebrity gets obliterated and this Washington Post article (and a lot of coverage of these people) would be pointless.
And, I'd say something about the whole "bypass the middlemen and gatekeepers" myth, but seriously, that myth is over twenty-years old, and if you still think it's true, I just can't help you man. Just go read the book. And then remember that I wrote that in 2011.
What year is it now? And we're still repeating these dumb, vague, baseless cliches? C'mon.
It's time we all grew up and saw what was really going on. This small group of "Internet Celebrities" exist because there's money to be made by suckering dumb brands and large corporations into giving them money so that those companies in term look "cool" and "hip".
I just did a thing with a large TV network where the sole point of them doing the thing was exactly for this reason. That may sound like a dumb reason for the Tyler Oakley's of the world to exist, but it's also the truth.
And you know something? If it was so damn easy to "cut out the middlemen and gatekeepers" to reach a wide audience on these platforms, there'd be way more "Internet Celebrities" than their actually are, and a lot of them would have come into existence way more recently than 2007.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore