Social Blade, a website that tracks social media statistics and analytics, revealed that there are currently around 31.3 million YouTube creators out on the web. Some of these channels are tiny and some are massive. YouTube’s chief executive officer (CEO) Susan Wojcicki mentioned that in 2018, the number of YouTube channels having more than one million subscribers nearly doubled. It is without a doubt that YouTubers have become the voices and trendsetters of the world. As the sphere of influence of media continues to expand, it is not breaking news that there are apparent downsides and consequences that follow this new media trend. It is up to the users to stay aware of concerning issues before they overexpose themselves to media.
On September 4, Google and its subsidiary, YouTube, were fined a record amount of 170 million United States dollars (USD) by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New York Attorney General to settle allegations of illegally collecting personal information of children without their parents’ consent, thereby violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This penalty is, by far, the largest amount the FTC has ever obtained in a COPPA case but for big companies like Google, the fine does not amount to much compared to the revenue they make. However, this case was a huge wakeup call for the public to notice how easily and subtly social media can abuse their platforms for profit. It is unfortunate that this was done at the expense of children’s privacy.
Leading Social Media Platforms and Chained Interests
Some of the biggest social media platforms include Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Facebook was initially a service limited to Harvard University students and was inspired by a student directory featuring photos and personal information. Meanwhile, YouTube started as a simple video-sharing website where people could share clips of their lives online. Furthermore, Instagram is a portmanteau word of instant camera and telegram, and the application was originally a mobile photography project that turned into a photo-sharing application. These platforms all started to fill in a hole in social media, which eventually satisfied users by providing services that were not available before.
Now, Facebook makes most of its revenue from advertisements that appear on users’ news feeds. There are more than 65 million businesses using Facebook Pages and more than six million advertisers promoting their businesses on Facebook. Similarly, Instagram created a new position within the company called “the Global Head of Business and Brand Development” that focuses on overseeing advertisement and sales efforts while developing new monetization products such as images and video advertisements. YouTube is also no exception when it comes to using advertisements to reel in revenue; for instance, YouTube started the YouTube Partner Program that partners with video creators to expand the platform which they can feature their advertisements on.
It goes without saying that a company has to establish a profit-making structure in order to sustain itself. However, if this were to be done at the expense of other priorities, such as meeting the consumers’ needs, firms are bound to be the target of suspicions about the trustworthiness of the content the public are exposed to. Different trends arise when a media platform expands to cover advertising and, along with this, issues and new concerns follow.
Marketing with Internet Celebrities
Influencer marketing is one way in which social media platforms are being used for revenue. Instead of simply posting a commercial on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram, influencer marketing uses top content creators, specialized in their respective niches, to help improve a company’s brand awareness and increase customer traffic. In a sense, it is a hybrid of old and new marketing tactics. It uses the idea of celebrity endorsements and adopts strategies to accommodate a modern day, content-driven world. Influencers, unlike celebrities, are easier to find in today’s world through media platforms because what makes them influential is their large online and social media followings.
Whether they share uncensored thoughts about brand’s services and products or travel the world to set a lifestyle example for their viewers, influencers are changing the world with their ideas and opinions. Influencer marketing works because these figures seem more relatable and trustworthy from the subscriber’s point of view. In other words, these influencers appear as friends or role models to their followers, so reviews come across as reliable. Therefore, influencers represent a valuable asset to social media platforms, and to any brand that knows how to leverage them.
However, because this new form of marketing is now on the rise, consumers have become more vulnerable to being misled. Unlike network television (TV) or traditional print advertising where the products or services are blatantly promoted, influencer marketing approaches consumers in a less direct way. Despite the fact that most influencers make it known if content is sponsored, the products that influencers publicize may or may not be introduced through their personal opinion. This could lead to cases where the audience makes a purchase and is left disappointed with the product.
Unfortunately, consumers tend to have relatively higher confidence in the marketing information on YouTube or Facebook than that from portal sites. This is because, while portal sites generally expose clips and articles of TV dramas or entertainment programs that were just broadcasted at the top of the entertainment section in the portal, YouTube first analyzes metadata based on users’ tendency of watched videos and then exposes suitable advertisements for each. An increasing number of people trust YouTube's recommendations more than articles promoting products or celebrities that they are not that interested in. In fact, the side effects of the growing number of damage cases, where people believe in fake news spreading through YouTube or are duped by plausible deceptive marketing, are also related to these types of characteristics.
Everyone Also Includes Children
Along with the trend of personal media, there appears another unique trend in the platform: the appearance of kid influencers. There is a well-known Korean YouTube channel called, Boram Tube, which is a family company that creates the video. The channel shares the daily life of Boram, a six-year-old girl, and also reviews new toys. The number of subscribers reached 3.5 million and the family company made headlines after buying a 95 million won building in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul.
▲ Six year old Boram driving a car on the road. PROVIDED BY DISPATCH
Behind these splendid figures, there are some controversies regarding contents in the videos. On the channel, there is a video that shows a child riding a toy car on a real road. Another video shows Boram acting as if she were going through a pregnancy and giving birth. Some raise doubts about the motivation of the videos and the channel—whether the contents are actually instructive and educational for children. It is the children who appear on the screen, but it seems like adults are hiding their self-interest behind the scenes. Another example would be a popular kids YouTube channel "Tooah toogi TV." The channel received much criticism from the public for allowing six-year-old children to eat 10 kilograms of giant octopus without cutting it. Creating contents by making kids do things that are even dangerous for adults is hard to be perceived as children’s desire to create, nor adults’ pure appetite for creation.
The Rise of Me-media
One new trend that has been created in the process of social media growth is me-media (personal media). Me-media refers to a communication platform in which one person entirely produces and shares various contents. Meanwhile, behind the rise of personal media, there are teenage viewers that. Since teenagers are familiar with video culture, they adopt video platforms such as YouTube, not portal sites as their search base. A new type of media that can satisfy the needs of this audience is me-media in that the creator is involved with the whole process of making videos. Creators can communicate directly with viewers, which is why people tend to perceive me-media creators as friendlier and even become big fans of them personally.
There are even a number of creators that appear on existing media, rather than just staying on these relatively unfamiliar platforms. It is no longer surprising to see a popular creator appear on a TV program and become a host. Furthermore, there are a lot of programs that follow the form of me-media contents. This trend further creates a new job – single-person creator. Creators with more than one million subscribers have a considerable average monthly income, which is why creators can do this as a career, not just an individual hobby.
In this context, a new industry has: Multi Channel Network (MCN) industry. Entrepreneurs who recognize the potential of personal media content form agencies which basically go along with the system of an entertainment management agency. It is a media business that generates profits by supporting not only the production of contents of creators who work on video platforms like YouTube and Afreeca TV, but also the distribution of videos and advertisements. MCN operators are expanding their business areas by creating a variety of added value by producing Merchandiser (MD) products and opening online shopping malls. Leading operators include Sandbox Network, Treasure Hunter, and Video Village.
Shadows behind Me-media
There is also a dark side to personal media. Since MCN plays a big role in the whole process of creating videos, there could be unfair distribution of profits. Some innocent creators lose most of their profits, not knowing the exact system of distribution. Furthermore, as agencies have their own interests and concerns, creators can be forced to make contents in a certain way which does not fit the creators’ own thoughts. Moreover, since personal media tends to communicate with viewers directly, some point out that there is a lack of pre-censoring methods. Some creators broadcast extreme pranks or convey ideologies to increase the number of subscribers.
As YouTube has a platform on which literally anyone can upload videos, there are greater possibilities of being exposed to inappropriate videos. To relieve this problem, YouTube has removed over 100,000 videos and 17,000 channels presenting extreme ideas. According to The Next Web (TNW), YouTube decided on “Specifically prohibiting videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status.” However, the efforts to purge discriminative videos are superficial solutions, since removed videos can be reuploaded by the creators at any time with other accounts. As YouTube has gained its popularity through great accessibility, it is required to take full responsibility for the quality of its contents and try to find other fundamental methods for censoring inappropriate videos.
On the Bright Side
Media platforms are now ubiquitous with a substantial number of people tuned into and checking into everything that is going on in the world. With such a huge circle of users, the possibility of getting a message across to the largest possible audience is immensely high. This makes social media the perfect channel for customer service, business intelligence, news, messaging, information and so much more. The way these media platforms are used can lead to different results, being either positive or negative.
Crowdsourcing on social media allows people to attain a goal, empowering consumers to achieve positive change. Arguably, crowdsourcing is just as, or even more effective than, presenting in a conference room full of people. The power of the re-tweet or “Like” buttons cannot be underestimated. This means that the story or view of an individual can reach a large audience. Therefore, videos that contain inspirational messages, when posted on social media, have the power to bring positive change in people.
On September 7, 2012, teenager Amanda Todd posted a video on YouTube titled My Story: Struggling, bullying, suicide and self-harm, which showed her experience of being bullied by using a series of flashcards. The video went viral after her suicide, resulting in international media attention. In response to her death, a national discussion on criminalizing cyberbullying arose. Despite the series of unfortunate events, Todd’s video shed light on an issue that had been kept in the dark until that time and when it spread like wildfire, people could no longer ignore it. There have been many other situations where a single video or posting on social media led to a chain reaction that resulted in positive social change.
As easy as it is for inspirational content to spread, it is equally as easy for fake news and questionable ideologies to circulate. Traditional forms of media allowed the public to obtain news from trusted sources by journalists and media outlets that are required to follow strict codes of practice. Even then, there were issues with fake news. However, the internet and the new rising media trend have enabled a whole new method of publishing, sharing and consuming information with very little regulation or editorial standards.
Many people now get news from social media and it can often be difficult to differentiate between credible news and unreliable stories. Information overload and a general lack of understanding of media have also contributed to the increase in fake news. Thus, social media platforms can play a big part in increasing the sphere of reach of these types of hoax stories.
Other than fake news, different ideologies are just as likely to escalate in the hands of media. People with morally questionable views can stir the public as effortlessly as people with inspirational messages. When these groups of people express more extreme views or attack other people, it brings about problems as they may be as influential as any ordinary person using social media.
Oftentimes, these views include radical opinions and, in a world where politicians are simultaneously active on social media, stories that are created to deliberately mislead audiences or promote a biased point of view on a political cause are not uncommon. Social media allows politicians to circumvent the traditional method of reaching voters through paid advertising and speaking directly to voters. This allows like-minded voters and activists to easily share news and information such as campaign events with each other. "I like it because I can also get my point of view out there, and my point of view is very important to a lot of people that are looking at me," said President Donald Trump of his presence on Twitter.
Propaganda is nothing new—it has appeared in history numerous times, practically since the invention of the printing press. However, social media seems particularly susceptible to spreading disinformation. This can be dangerous because it fosters a collective opinion in a quick way. If this opinion happens to be an extremist, sexist or racist opinion, that can also spread and create hate groups simply through words on media.
Protecting Private Life
One of the well-known issues regarding media platforms is private information protection. According to Google’s terms and conditions, Google collects one’s device information, such as a user's hardware model, unique device identifier and phone log information including phone number, caller number, and call time. This means that Google has access to personal information regarding whom users talk to and how much they talk. In response, the company claims that there is no legal problem as it receives consent through users' terms and conditions, but it is almost impossible for Android operating system (OS) users to reject the terms and conditions because Google accounts are virtually essential for Android OS phones.
Similar problems appear with YouTube as well. The YouTube user’s agreement includes an article: “YouTube is not responsible for your loss due to unauthorized use of your account, but you may be held liable for the loss of YouTube or others that arise from such unauthorized use.” The problems from unfair user agreements should be discussed by the Fair Trade Commission (FTC), and the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) should search for sophisticated checks.
Other than problems that come from the exploitation by the platform or the system itself, there appears a crucial issue of overusing the information posted by individuals. Posts in social media reveal even more information than one might think. Social media posts are just like an open window in which others can check a person's psychology, views, religion and personal and social links. For example, according to “Kaplan”, a college preparatory education institute, more and more examiners are currently checking applicants' social media overall state. This means that extremely personal postings that an individual uploads for certain purposes, such as interest and communication with friends, can be misused as a tool for evaluating a person.
Moreover, Facebook is also testing technology to analyze people's postings through artificial intelligence (AI) and measure the user’s level of risk for suicide. Users designated as targets of observation are reported to the community operations team and the team is involved in monitoring their actions. This is an extreme case in which companies have publicly stated that they analyze users’ sentiment based on social media postings.
Social Media Profile Becomes Real Me
The British drama "Black Mirror," which deals with some plausible dark sides that could come from advanced technology, features the following episode in which people get information about others through social media and evaluate others based on it. People score each other and one’s average rating directly becomes the socioeconomic status of that person. It seems like a system that is likely to appear in the very far future. However, even if there is no technology to show one’s average score right next to the person’s head, just like in the drama episode, it is true that people today tend to rely on postings in social media when judging one or forming a first impression.
▲ Scene of “Black Mirror” showing the dangers of social media. PROVIDED BY TISTORY
In China, there is even a social credit system which the Chinese government has created and is aimed at ranking the credibility of its citizens. The Chinese government collects data from all citizens based on legal records, criminal records, and social network activities. Then each citizen is given a "social credit score" that determines a person's rights, privileges, and acceptance in various situations. Indeed, according to The Financial Times, the Chinese government has already banned 6.7 million people from boarding airplanes or express trains for failing to repay their debts on time.
The ability to use data from social media platforms to classify people is rapidly magnified by the rise of AI. When personal information about you including your name, family relationship, and address is delivered to the AI system, the system scans the social web to find all of your profiles. Then it copies all posts, photos, or comments posted so far. The system analyzes you and your relationship with people only based on your posting and it advises system users whether to reject your visa request, loan application, job support, business partnership offers, and so on.
Along with the growth of media platforms, it became possible to access vast amounts of video content and it further led to the creation of new jobs and industries. However, in the process, a plethora of darkness followed in a chain. A number of side effects have emerged with respect to knotty and complex interests of people, and more stimulating and consuming contents have grown. Contents that hardly respect kids’ creativity and thoughts have been made, and a number of individuals are damaged by the exploitation of personal information by the platform itself or even by other people. When there comes new flows of change, there always follow some type of payments and it is every party’s responsibility to reduce related issues concerning moral and social problems.