|▲ Panel speakers discussed on the topic of “Ethnicity & Diversity Online” and emphasized the role of the platform to create a more diverse community. Photo by Wee So-yeon.
With social media being so common, it is not surprising to see a crowd of young people all looking down at their phones double-tapping on pictures. This is a phenomenon not just in Korea, but in most countries. In 2017, 68 percent of the overall Korean population were social media users and among them 92.8 percent were people in their 20s, according to KISA (Korea Internet & Security Agency). In the United Kingdom, there were 39 million social media users at the beginning of 2017, according to Statista. Some social media content creators are even getting rich from such users – personal finance website Money Nation estimates that successful online gamer Felix Kjellberg made 12 million dollars in one year through his YouTube channel, PewDiePie
From sex advice to branding and race – meet the creators tackling tough topics online
Many young creators are now establishing their own space to share their interests on online platforms, making social media an indispensable part of their everyday lives. Having built large fanbases online, these creators are also meeting at offline events, such as VidCon and Playlist Live, to strengthen their bond. To find out more about their work in both Korea and the UK, Ewha Voice visited the UK to attend the online video festival “Summer in the City (SitC).”
The annual SitC is the largest online video festival in the UK, marking its 10th anniversary this year. More than 160 creators, viewers and advertisers from the YouTube community came together for the event from Aug. 10 to 12 at the ExCeL London convention center.
The first day was Creator & Industry Day, which focused on the business aspects of YouTube such as networking or turning vlogging into a career. Discussion panels were held on how to build a brand, empower a fanbase, or monetize a YouTube channel. Many attendees were “small YouTubers” – those who had just a hundred subscribers – as well as people who didn’t yet have a sponsor or were seeking tips on growing their subscribers and views. At the panel “Your YouTube Story & Ways to Grow Your Channel,” the speakers gave advice on managing time on and off the platform, as well as being patient in growing a channel while consistently uploading good contents.
The next two days included meet & greets between creators and their viewers, as well as musician YouTubers performing on live stage. More than 75 panels covered topics ranging from the voices of LGBTQ+ YouTubers, Ethnicity and Diversity Online, Disability Online, Women Online, and Creator Ethics and Responsibilities.
Fostering a more diverse community
A key message from the panel “Ethnicity & Diversity Online” was that YouTubers should not be viewed according to their race or ethnicity, but rather for the amazing contents they are sharing.
“While people of color are creating a massive amount of diverse content, they can still be seen as merely a brown or black face to sponsoring brands,” said YouTuber Alex Lathbridge, a scientist who mixes comedy and hip-hop on his channel. “When you have conversations with media companies or brands, chances are that you are the only colored person they talked to, or you are someone they found at the last minute. You have to pretend that you are okay with that, but it really hurts sometimes. When we say ‘diverse,’ it’s not just about ethnicity. I hate being called ‘diverse,’ because the only thing that is really different about me is the fact that I’m black. Apart from that, I’m like every other man.”
However, Ahmed Sher Zaman, who reviews Bollywood performances and posts Ramadan vlogs, pointed out that the YouTube platform is great in educating young people by giving them easy contact with people from diverse backgrounds and different communities.
Lathbridge shared his experience of feeling pressured because of the notion that he is representing his race on YouTube.
“The feeling that I have to represent my race weighs massively and it sometimes is sort of paralyzing,” he said.
Panelists had mixed views on whether there should even be a diversity-focused discussion panel for YouTubers. Beauty and lifestyle YouTuber Lana Summer said that the panel helped to tackle racial issues head on, while fashion and fitness YouTuber Raven Navera said that such topics should be integrated and considered in all other discussions.
“I’m in two minds. I think we do need this panel, but at the same time, it shouldn’t exist in the first place,” Navera said. “We shouldn’t need this panel, we [people from different ethnic backgrounds] should just be included in other different topics of panels. I’m a hair and beauty YouTuber but I’m not speaking about that stuff at SitC, I’m here talking about ‘diversity.’ If you look outside of this room right now, including on the stages, there are not a lot of black, brown or Asian faces. That’s a problem. It should not be like that. But how are you going to solve it if you don’t talk about it. So, it’s sort of a balance between the two.”
The speakers also stressed the need to talk about issues of race more and to educate people. Lastly, Navera called for YouTube to put a more diverse mix of people on its trending page, or on the recommended section to help people who are struggling to find those creators more easily.
Challenges in monetizing sex education videos
Why would a YouTuber want to start talking about sex online to audiences of thousands of people?
One YouTuber who vlogs on relationships and lesbian sex, Stevie Boebi said she started talking about the issue after receiving interesting questions from her fans about lesbian sex. As it is difficult to find factual information about lesbian sex online, she thought it would be helpful for others.
Calum McSwiggan, a 28-yearold who makes videos on comedy and LGBT rights, started covering topics related to gay sex because he had witnessed stereotypical discussions offline and insufficient education in schools on the topic. He took to YouTube as it is the perfect space to share information on such matters.
Recently, there have been some issues regarding videos being censored and demonetized only because they contain sexual terms. The problem lies within the YouTube algorithm, which bans videos that may not be suitable for underaged viewers. On this issue, 26-year-old Hannah Witton mentioned that her friend, who creates vlogs to teach viewers about technology, is paid far more than she is for her sex education channel, even though they have similar viewing figures. Boebi also had her sex education videos censored though the videos were not something inappropriate for teenagers.
McSwiggan advised that wouldbe creators on sex education should be passionate about the topics, given that it might be difficult to broach such topics publicly online.
“You may be worried about your friends and their reactions, but they might actually come after and ask you questions about sex,” Boebi said. “You don’t have to worry about what others might think of you.”