YouTube stars are starting to burn at work: "the attractiveness of the most interesting of the works faded"

Original author: Simon Parkin
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Why do so many YouTube women face stress, loneliness and exhaustion?

Yutuber Matt Lees: "The human brain is not adapted for daily interaction with hundreds of people."

When Matt Lees began devoting all his time to shooting videos for YouTube, he felt like the winner of the lottery. As a young, ambitious author, director and presenter, he managed to create low-budget and influential films that could reach viewers around the world. Just a few years ago, such an achievement would not have been possible without the permission of the owners of the TV channels. In February 2013, he released his first viral hit., a shortened version of Sony's announcement of the release of its PlayStation 4 game console, with hilarious but caustic comments. In a few days this video was watched millions of times. “By today's standards, it doesn’t seem viral,” says Lys, but that month it made the list of the most popular YouTube videos. Feeding the fox's self-esteem has become incomparably smaller than the effect this event has had on his career. When YouTube's algorithms notice such success, they begin to redirect viewers to other videos by the same author, which attracts subscribers to the channel, and, through advertising that is shown in front of videos, and income. In one night, Fox saw sprouts of a completely reliable career.

Joy was soon replaced by anxiety. Even in 2013, Fox understood that his success does not depend on unexpected hits, but on daily reliable work. “It’s not enough to create great things,” he says. - The audience requires persistence. Repetition rates. Without this, it is very easy to disappear from the radar and lose the location of the algorithm that gave you your wings. ” By the end of the year, Fox had grown his channel from 1000 subscribers to 9000, and attracted the attention of the person who influenced him, Charlie Brucker , who invited Fox to work together on issues of transmission for channel 4. Month Fox worked 20 hours a day, torn between scenarios for TV, and the realization that a daily video skip could bring down his search rank and his YouTube channel.

By the end of the month he was pale, exhausted, and his fatigue was such that, as he himself recalls, “she did not give in to rest.” He noticed that his work had become more hasty and sharp. However, the provocative and unkind tone of his videos seemed to add to his popularity. “Content that shares people's opinions today rules in online media, and YouTube is actively promoting everything that revolts the public,” he says. “This is one of its most toxic features: the algorithm likes you most at the moment when you are ready to break loose.”

Fox has a domino effect related to health. “The human brain is not adapted for daily interaction with hundreds of people,” he says. - When thousands of people give feedback on your work, you start to feel how something breaks in your mind. We are simply not adapted for empathy and sympathy of such a scale. ” Fox started having problems with his thyroid gland, and he began to suffer from more frequent and sustained bouts of depression. “What began as the most interesting of the works that you can imagine, quickly fell into something faded and lonely,” he says.


For years, the YouTube people believed that they liked their audience most of all, creating a grateful and cheerful image. But what happens when the mask disappears? This year there was a whole wave of commercials shot by famous YouTube, in which they talk about their burnout, chronic fatigue and depression. “This is all I dreamed of,” said a youtube El Mills, a 20-year-old Canadian Filipino, in (monetized video) titled “ Burnout 19 ”, published in May. “Why the hell am I so damn unhappy? This is some kind of nonsense. Do you understand? After all, it's damn, literally my dream. And I'm so fucking unhappy. "

Mills attracted a lot of attention (and 3.6 million views) thanks to a skillful and ingeniously mounted five-minute video posted to her last November, in which she confessed her bisexuality to her friends, family members and subscribers (many of whom asked her questions about her sexuality in comments). She got on the cover of Diva magazine and received the Shorty award as a “breakthrough uuber”. But six months later, she published a video about burnout, telling how her girlish dreams of becoming a YouTube, attracted a larger and larger audience, but the result was “not at all what I expected. I am constantly under stress. My anxiety and depression worsen. I am waiting for the moment when I break down. ”

That same month Ruben El Rubius Gundersen, The 28-year-old Spaniard, and currently the third-largest youtube in the world with more than 30 million subscribers, told how he felt that he was approaching a breakdown, and as a result decided to take a break. These are the newest applications in a whole range of popular YouTube, including Eric Phillips (better known as M3RKMUS1C , with 4 million subscribers), and Benjamin Westergaard ( Crainer , 2.8 million subscribers) who announced creative leave or described their struggle with exhaustion.

Anxiety is due to the inexorable nature of their work. Tyler Blevins , AKA Ninja, earns about $ 500,000 a month due to the fact that he is on Twitch live in Fortnite. Twitch is a real-time video game service owned by Amazon. Most of Blevins' profits come from Twitch subscribers, or viewers donating money to him one-time (often they do so in the hope that he will thank them “on the air”). Blevins recently complained on Twitter that it seemed to him that he could not stop streaming. “You want to find out what the difficulty of streaming is in comparison with other works, ” he wrote , perhaps somewhat inappropriate for a person with such incomes. “I was only 48 hours away, and I already lost 40,000 followers on Twitch. Today I will come back and will start to work hard again. ”

Few people sympathized with the millionaire on Twitter. But the pressure described by him is felt at any level of success, from content titans to people with channels of just a few thousand subscribers. And they all feel the need to constantly create new material, the need to be accessible and respond to their fans. “Permanent releases reinforce audience loyalty,” says Austin Hurigan, host of ShoddyCast with 1.2 million subscribers. "The stronger the loyalty, the greater the likelihood of the return of the audience, and this is the closest state to financial security in this capricious environment."

When yutuber overcomes the mark of 1 million subscribers, he gets a gold plate. Many of these plates can be seen on the shelves and walls of rooms leading in their commercials. The volume of the audience and the number of downloads are the main marks of success.

From the point of view of Catherine Law, such “invisible” work as interaction with fans is “the main source of stress at work. In many cases, it can cause post-traumatic stress disorder. ”

Professional YouTube speak with indignation and disgust at the possibilities of the “algorithm” (it seems to be an almost rational being - not only from YouTube, but also to YouTube programmers themselves). It was created by the high priests of Silicon Valley, constantly adjusting its characteristics, and the fate of each YouTube is based on it. He decides which videos to choose from Niagara content, which flows into YouTube hourly (according to Google, 400 hours of video is downloaded there every 60 seconds) in order to produce “recommended for viewing” videos to billions of users.

Every time you go to YouTube, you come across clips chosen by an algorithm for you. The idea is that a particularly well-chosen clip for you will prompt you to click the “Subscribe” button - which will attract you to watch a new episode tomorrow. It seems to the viewer that YouTube understands what it likes, and advertisers are convinced that the video, in front of which its five-second advertising is shown, will reach the
right target audience.

When your income depends on the number of people watching your videos every week, this code is able to decide what and when you eat. Over the 13 years of YouTube’s existence, many believe that it has fallen into the very center of a growing psychological crisis with video creators.

In April of this year, a particularly extreme accident occurred.when 38-year-old Nazim Najafi Aghdam went to a YouTube campus in California and opened fire on the staff of a 9mm pistol, wounding three of them before committing suicide. From the video that Agdam shook before her attack, it follows that the attack was caused by the conviction that the algorithm was missing her video. In March, she posted the following in an instagram: “The system filters all my YouTube channels, so my videos practically do not gain views.”

The content-management algorithm makes video authors feel disposable, forces them to produce videos, knowing that there are younger and more recent competitors waiting in line to replace them. For YouTube, using their daily life as a raw material for video, there is an additional pressure that appears due to the erosion of traditional barriers between personal and professional life.

At a recent party after the conference for YouTube and streamers, Khurigan, standing with a group of YouTube, sarcastically remarked: “I think a coupon for a psychologist’s visit should be attached to each YouTube’s career.” Everyone laughed, as he recalls, but "sadly."

“By the way,” he adds, “I am sitting on pills and visiting a psychologist.”


Catherine Law is an online community researcher at the University of California, Irvine. From her point of view, burnout from content creators comes not just because of the frequency and constant work, but because of the special nature of their work, which requires constantly engaging the audience, for which it is necessary to be active on social networks, interact with fans, and perform other roles except writing scenarios, filming and editing videos. “This work is often invisible, but very hard, and makes a great contribution to work stress,” explains Lo. “In many cases, it can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when content creators are persecuted, threatened by their safety and privacy, or there is high toxicity in their community.”

She recently compiled a list of factors that increase the psychological risks of content creators. This includes exhaustion caused by the game of “acquaintance” with the audience, the stress of reading comments, financial concerns related to managing sponsorship and user donations, and pressure from the need to maintain reputation and professional connections in the YouTube community, whose recommendations are a necessary condition for attracting fans.

Katie Morton: “I have problems with limitations. It always seems to me that I should work, or that subscribers are counting on me. ” Over the past three years, she had one day off.

People employed on larger channels capable of hiring employees and distributing pressure are also not immune from such risks. Belinda Zoller joined the Extra Credits channel team in 2016. The channel publishes weekly lessons on the development of video games and history videos using fun animations. He has almost 1.6 million subscribers. Zoller works as a moderator, responds to comments. Moderation is one of the nastiest jobs in the emerging web economy, and although Zoller does not work in front of the camera, her role puts her in the line of fire of anonymous insults and swearing. For several months she was exhausted. “There is a lot of emotional work in my work,” she says. “I sympathize with the problems of people and their criticism, even if I disagree with some of them.”

Zoller considers YouTube to be her main workplace - this shift, she says, “had a very negative impact on my psychological health.” No matter how much she likes to help support the work of a popular channel, the platform itself is mired in negative. Moderating comments to ensure a clean and safe online space is like weeding: every time you tear one plant out, the other slides his nose into the hole. Zoller believes that YouTube does not seek to deal with negative, but actively stimulates it through its algorithm. “People usually don’t discuss content if they don’t have strong emotions about it, and most of the time such strong emotions cause controversy,” she explains. - Therefore, the algorithm works on clickbates and controversial content,

From the point of view of Lo, social networks based on video do not cope with the support of people who provide them with income. "YouTube is not able to protect content creators from extremely common work problems - harassment, insults, throwing out personal details for all to see and threats," she says. “Such platforms do not bear any responsibility for the well-being of the creators or the communities they create.”

A YouTube spokesperson responded to Lo's criticism: “Insulting is bad and disgusting. YouTube has rules against insults and harassment, which is reflected in our recommendations for communities. We quickly learn the tagged content, and delete inappropriate videos according to our rules.". In order to avoid burnout, the platform calls upon the creators of the commercials to “take breaks, enjoy weekends, night rest, and vacations, as in any other work.” “Naturally,” a spokesperson adds, “we always hope that content creators will openly discuss their problems with others in the YouTube community.”

YouTube, as part of its “creator academy” [Creator Academy], a large online school that describes everything from “enhancing the search potential of your channel” to “making deals with brands”, recently released a set of videos that should teach partners how to avoid overwork (Few of the creators of the channels on YouTube with whom I spoke, know about this resource). Video about burnout watched about 32,000 times. It was created and recorded by 34-year-old Katie Morton. Morton, a Los Angeles-based professional psychologist, has been uploading videos to YouTube for eight years. Thus, she is fully capable of both understanding the problem and proposing possible solutions to it.

In 2010, starting to lead the channel, Morton worked as a psychologist and led a private practice. YouTube was her opportunity to reach a wider audience with tips and information that she thought could help them. Three years later, her success on this platform allowed her to become YouTube full-time, but it was hard for her to cope with the problems and pressures she warns about in the video. “I am not better than others,” she says. - I was tired, I was stressed for any reason. It was a way to a place where I could tell my audience that I was going on vacation. ”

That two-week vacation last Christmas was Morton's first vacation since she started doing full-time commercials in 2015. “Maybe last summer I took a break of several days in honor of the anniversary,” she says. - No, wait, I then also worked.

Each time she uploads a video, she should appear in the comments, answering questions and making recommendations before starting work on the next one. “I have problems with limitations. It always seems to me that I should work, or that subscribers are counting on me. ”

Like all YouTubeis, Morton feels the financial pressure of a system paying from £ 1.50 to £ 3 per thousand views. “The reward for a job can change at any time,” she says. "Views can fall for many reasons, and when this happens, you earn less." Therefore, even approaching half a million subscribers, Morton believes that she cannot hire an assistant who would take on some of the burden.

YouTube recommends "attracting assistants" to the difficulties of the creators of commercials. Morton argues that most of them will not pull such expenses. “If someone supported me, it would change everything,” she says. “But I need to double the number of views before I feel confident enough to do this.” Imagine how it is to fire a person because your views have fallen? That would be awful. "

From her point of view, the solution is contained in the algorithm. “YouTube rewards people who post videos every day,” she says. - They came up with this algorithm, in their power to change it. It will be good if they have an additional criterion. We are all humans. We need to have time for ourselves. "

Matt Lees is furious with YouTube’s sluggish approach to support and advice. “Encourage content creators to take breaks — yes, it's funny to hear from a system that actively promotes quantity at the expense of quality,” he says. “The culture she created lacks a sense of responsibility.” Catherine Law believes that the ability to maintain a healthy balance between work and leisure, while succeeding on YouTube is a “hardly possible” dream. “They offer unreliable work, promising reliable success, with reliable and permanent income - but only a small percentage of content creators can enjoy it. Attempts to reduce the regularity of the appearance of content and balance work and personal life only increase risks. ”

Platform requests are satisfied by young content creators - and the largest demographic slice of the site consists of people aged 20 to 30 years old (once teenagers dreamed of becoming pop stars, and now they dream of becoming YouTube). Many cope with the creation of content with a fairly high frequency, even if only a few years in a row. “At this age it is possible,” says Fox. - There is energy, there is a desire to work many hours a day, there are very few things for which you are responsible, and which can take you away from work, and - perhaps most importantly - you maintain a stable social circle of friendship and friendship, which is easy to maintain. ” But, as any victim of children's popularity shows, early successes carry tremendous risks.

“Once the journey to creative success took more time - during this time you could build up skills, build a thick skin, create a team of consultants and trusted friends,” says Chris O'Sullivan, from the British Psychological Health Foundation . “Today you can become a star online after one viral video - at any age, anywhere. Without support and advice, the potential to burn out from such attention is great. ”

Over time, life becomes more complicated, and feelings of isolation, anxiety and fatigue become acute. “From 20 to 30 years, I worked tirelessly, felt invulnerable, and believed that there were no boundaries,” says. - And, frankly, it was. Until the moment when it was over. "

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