YouTube celebrity: Fickle fame or superstar stepping-stone?

Week 9:

A) Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269).

YouTube is the fairy godmother of the 21st century, turning ordinary people into celebrities overnight. But what happens to Cinderella at midnight? Can YouTube really bring lasting fame and fortune?

We’ve all heard (or rather seen) the amazing success stories of people like Justin Bieber and Andy Samberg. The lucky few who’ve become legitimate celebrities after being discovered on YouTube. But in reality, stories like these are rare. Very rare. For the majority of YouTube sensations, their online popularity never amounts to anything in the real world.

YouTube has been “mythologized as literally a way to ‘broadcast yourself’ into fame and fortune” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 22). Burgess and Green, however, argue that ordinary people who become celebrities through their own efforts still “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (2009: 23). They argue that to become a true celebrity, you have to transcend YouTube and become popular in the mainstream media.

I couldn’t agree more.

YouTube is ‘new media’. One part of the social media revolution currently underway. Yet, due to its popularity, YouTube is now, “however begrudgingly accepted, of the mainstream media landscape” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 15). As such, the true success of any ‘YouTuber’ must be measured “not only by their online popularity but by their subsequent ability to pass through the gate-keeping mechanisms of old media” (Burgess and Green, 2009).

Success is still defined by “the recording contract…the television pilot, the advertising deal” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24). It is this “transfer of media power” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 23) out of YouTube and into the real world that signifies a celebrity. In contrast, the continuing popularity of most YouTube sensations relies solely on their “ongoing participation in YouTube” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24).

True celebrities are also able to profit from their fame. Turner argues that “celebrities are developed to make money” (2004: 34). A celebrity develops “their public persona as a commercial asset” (Turner, 2004: 35) to become a “celebrity-commodity” (Turner, 2004: 35). Signing contracts thus not only brings recognition for talent, but also monetary reward. Something that YouTube sensations struggle to do.

Finally, let’s actually define what a celebrity is. The dictionary offers “a famous person“, yet I think that is too simple. For me, a celebrity is a famous person that other people want to be. Think about it, there are plenty of YouTube sensations out there: NumaNuma, the Starwars kid, Tay Zonda. But would you want to be any of them? No. Not. At. All.

(Neither do the guys at Hungry Beast)

The very nature of YouTube as a democratic, user-generated content sharing space, means that it will inevitably promote and celebrate “values that don’t necessarily match up neatly with those of the ‘dominant’ media” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24). As such, celebrity status, in the traditional sense, can’t be achieved purely by ‘views’ or ‘likes’. In fact, since many YouTube stars are simply “famous for being notorious, obnoxious, or annoying” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24), it is ridiculous to call them celebrities at all.

Take Chris Crocker. With over 38 million views, he is a YouTube hit. But is he a celebrity? No. He’s a freak.

The simplest argument, however, is to look at the few who have succeeded. Arguably, the most successful of which has been ‘The Beibs’.

From this:

To the most watched YouTube video ever:

To Forbes. It seems the whole world has caught ‘Beiber Fever’. Not just YouTube.

I guess ‘The Beibs’ is right. You(Tube) should never say never.

Words: 542

References:

Burgess, J. & Green, J. (2009) ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’ pp. 15-37 in J. Burgess and J. Green (eds.) in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Turner, G. (2004) Understanding celebrity. London: SAGE, pp 34-35

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Public vs. private: will Facebook kill privacy?

Week 5:

Analyse critically the following statement by Mark Zuckerberg while comparing it to privacy issues raised by online social networking collaborative practices:

Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on sharing (start at 0:26—stop at 0:39) (http://www.tubechop.com/watch/146252)

“When people have control over what they share, they’re comfortable sharing more. When people share more, the world becomes more open and connected. And in a more open world, many of the biggest problems we face together will become easier to solve.” (Zuckerberg, 2010)

Is privacy dead?

[Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by opensourceway]

Facebook wants to rewrite the rules of privacy. Or rather, erase them altogether.

The above video, however—released in response to Facebook’s disastrous efforts to make users’ default privacy settings more open—shows that Zuckerberg and Facebook still don’t seem to understand what privacy means to their users.

Let’s consider his two main points:

1. “When people have control over what they share, they’re comfortable sharing more.”

Agreed. Privacy is not about hiding everything; it’s about controlling what you share with whom.

On social networks like Facebook, however, this is not so straightforward. People are often ignorant of exactly what they are sharing, and, even more concerning, other people can easily share things about someone else without their knowledge. The recent Brocial Network scandal revealed the extent to which Facebook privacy can be exploited. Since all of the photos had been uploaded to Facebook by the girls themselves, everything the Brocial Network’s members did was technically legal. In fact, the obvious question is: if those girls didn’t want people to look at those photos, then why did they post them in the first place? (A very Eric Schmidt line of thinking). But it’s not that simple. Those girls may have been happy for their friends to stalk their semi-naked photos, but I doubt they appreciated 8 000 other randoms doing so. It’s hard enough to control what you share on Facebook, let alone what anyone else may. Until this can be sorted, it’s ridiculous for Facebook to try and force people to share more.

2. “When people share more, the world becomes more open and connected. And in a more open world, many of the biggest problems we face together will become easier to solve.”

Logical, yet idealistic and impractical.

Sure, a more connected world would be great, and if everyone on the planet was working towards solving the same problem, well, let’s agree that six billions brains are better than one. Yet, again in the context of social networking, this attitude poses problems. If everyone knows: where and when you go somewhere, and what and with whom you do something, that’s not only creepy, it can be dangerous. Online predators and offline stalkers are enough of a problem, without giving them a copy of your diary. (HINT: If you don’t want to be robbed, don’t status update your location.)

Thanks to the Internet, privacy is more important than ever. As Solove says, “reputations are forged when people make judgments based upon the mosaic of information available” (Solove, 2007: 30), and when drunken photos lose Uni degrees, and accidental YouTube stars are actually victims of cyber bullying, it’s hard to argue that decreased privacy will make life easier. Having 500+ friends can make it difficult to remember with whom you are sharing what, and often a little online over-sharing can lead to a lot of offline hair-tearing.

Whoops.

[Image: Courtesy All Facebook]

In any case, people aren’t ready for such an open world yet. Studies by the Pew Research Center, an American think-tank, have shown that in fact young adults are the most conscientious demographic when it comes to online privacy and reputation management. Over 70% of 18-29 year olds admitted having changed their social network privacy settings, to limit what information was viewable by whom (Madden and Smith, 2010). After all, reputation is one of our “most cherished assets”. (Solove, 2007: 30)

People have long been predicting the end of privacy. And now Zuckerberg wants to bring that about by making the world’s social network, well, more social. But if you’re listening Mark, take note:

People still want their privacy. They want it protected. And that needs to be respected.

[Image: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Florian SEROUSSI]

Words: 551 (excl. Zuckerberg quotes)

References:

Madden, M. and Aaron Smith (2010). Reputation Management and Social Media: How people monitor their identity and search for others online. Pp 2. (http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Reputation-Management.aspx) 26 May [date accessed 16 April 2011]

Solove, Daniel. J. (2007) The future of reputation: gossip, rumor and privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 30

Zuckerberg, M. (2010) Mark Zuckerberg on making privacy controls simple. Facebook. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWDneu_w_HQ&feature=player_embedded [Video: date first accessed 14 April 2011]

Citizen journalism: can journalism by anyone be trusted by everyone?

Week 4:

Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.

Thanks to the Internet, anyone and everyone is now a journalist. Stories are breaking in real time as people share what they see. In fact, the Internet is “dissolving the boundaries between professional journalists and amateurs” (Solove, 2007: 23) so thoroughly, that the mainstream media increasingly relies on its readers for content.

Debating whether citizen journalism more effectively informs the public has arguments for both sides. Russel et al. argue that bloggers have “editorial independence, collaborative structure[s] and merit-based popularity” (Russell et al., 2008: 67). They can operate much faster than the mass media (often in real time) and usually have first hand information. Furthermore, while the mass media has long been preferred for factual credibility and objectivity, the more cynical observer knows that, in the modern age, news is just another commodity. Stories are slanted and certain issues are covered specifically to maximise profits. In such an environment, citizen journalism does appear an enticing alternative.

Yet for all its potential, it would be premature to say that citizen journalism is more effective at informing the public than the mass media. At least not yet.

Firstly, the majority of citizen produced content is actually poached from the mass media itself. Bloggers simply use the “mainstream media as a springboard for critique and discussion” (Russel et al. 2008: 70). Furthermore, there are far too many voices to create an effective, coherent news service. While this “wider range of opinions” (Sonwalkar, 2009: 77) is often touted as a positive of alternative media, in practice it is impractical. Russel et al. suggest that “all voices can be heard, but not all voices attract equal amounts of attention” (2008: 67), however, I agree more with Trueman’s assessment that “where everyone has a right to speak….nobody in particular is listened to” (Quoted in Lovink, 2008: 27).

The two biggest issues, however, are obviously: credibility and objectivity.

While you should by no means take everything you read in the newspaper as gospel, you can usually trust that the facts are correct. Why? Because someone will be held accountable if they are not. A key difference of citizen journalism is that no-one is accountable. If I write something false on my blog, and you read it and believe it… Well, who cares? I won’t go to jail. I won’t get fired. I’m going to bed. In fact, efforts to improve editorial content quality have often “discouraged potential contributors” (Robinson et al., 2010: 170). Thus, even if the vast majority of bloggers strive to be factual and honest, there will always be those who won’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. How will you know who’s right?

Secondly, professional journalists are trained to put aside their prejudices and report in an objective manner. While it’s certainly not bulletproof, it is better than nothing. Yet, as Dheere writes, bloggers “often see themselves as taking a more active role in the news than simply reporting it. They are often instigators of change in the first place” (Dheere, 2008). In light of this, how can the public reasonably expect objectivity over an issue the journalist was involved in? It’s one thing to write a story, it’s another to be the story.

The shift from mainstream media, as the primary source of news, towards social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) is undoubtedly underway. But it’s not there just yet. The Age website might have to be my homepage a little while longer.

(Still doubtful? This video cleverly summarises Citizen vs Mainstream Journalism. Using Lego!)

Words: 556

References:

Dheere, J. (2008) ‘Arab bloggers meet to discuss free speech, reject ‘journalist’ label’, PBS MediaShift. http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2008/09/arab-bloggers-meet-to-discuss-free-speech-reject-journalist-label256.html, 12 September, [accessed 11 April]

Lovink, G. (2008) Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London, UK: Routledge. pp 1-38

Robinson, S., DeShano, C., Nakho, K. and L. A. Friedland (2010) ‘Madison Commons 2.0: A platform for tomorrow’s civic and citizen journalism’ pp. 162-172 in Rosenberry, J. and  J. Burton St. (eds) Public journalism 2.0: the promise and reality of a citizen-engaged press. New York: Routledge.

Russell, A., Ito, M., Richmond, T., & Tuters, M. (2008). Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation. pp 43-76 in K. Varnelis (ed.) Networked Publics. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Solove, Daniel. J. (2007) The future of reputation: gossip, rumor and privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 23

Sonwalkar, P. (2009) ‘Citizen journalism in India: the politics of recognition’ pp 75-84 in S. Allan and E. Thorsen (eds.) Citizen journalism: global perspectives. New York: Peter Lang Publishing

Is YouTube ignoring You?

Week 3:

While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation of online ‘communities’?

YouTube is the online mecca for self-expression. It provides a platform for any and everybody to share their talents with the world. More importantly, however, is that this sharing promotes the development of user communities with a “communal preference” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45) for something, from extreme sports to funny animal videos.

Van Dijck, however, argues that this process is not nearly as democratic as it appears. In fact, he argues that the site’s interface plays a significant and much ignored role in “steering the agency of users and communities” (Van Dijck, 2009: 43) through the ranking and promotion of particular videos. Yet since “rankings and ratings are vulnerable to manipulation, both by users and by the site’s owners” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45)—see the man who watched his own video 60,000 times!—when users are “steered towards a particular video” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45), there are also significant implications for the online communities that YouTube supports.

YouTube’s diversity makes it an effective means for communities of all sizes to promote and develop themselves. Theoretically. Users are suggested related videos and through these links can discover new activities and tastes. Yet, the “promotion of popular favourites” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45) based on views, ratings and comments, unfairly diminishes opportunities for more obscure and marginal communities by narrowing the spectrum of choice readily available. Even within related videos, the higher ranked ones appear first. It creates a vicious cycle in which the more popular videos are: promoted, viewed more often, made more popular and are then in turn promoted even more. Other and newer videos have less chance of being discovered in the first place and often fall by the wayside. And since YouTube videos are often “famous for being notorious, obnoxious, or annoying” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24), the most popular videos are rarely those most worth watching.

What’s more important: You? Or Views?

[Image: Courtesy Blue Fountain Media]

**UPDATE: In April 2011 a YouTube techie revealed that a staggering 99% of YouTube hits come from a meagre 30% of videos! **

Perhaps most concerning, however, is not that the same videos are being watched, but rather that they are increasingly commercially made.

YouTube is fast becoming a prominent element “of the mainstream media landscape” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 15). Consequently, user-generated content is being overrun by commercial content with big budgets. In combination with ranking-based-promotion, marginal communities now have even less chance of being discovered because potential viewers are being bombarded with more professional, and arguably more popular content. At the moment, only one of the top 5 most viewed YouTube videos ever, is amateur made. The others, and the vast majority of that special 30%, are all commercial. They are music videos or television shows. A disturbing trend for a site based on User-Generated Content.

Viral marketing shows just how much the practice of ranking-based promotion can be exploited. According to a top marketing executive, “clandestine marketing campaigns” (TechCrunch, 2007) regularly fabricate controversial comments, pay blogs to embed videos and craft misleading titles all to maximise the popularity of a (commercially produced) video (TechCrunch, 2007).

Such promotion artificially influences user-agency, making it much harder for average users to stumble upon something that they may love but have never heard of. While anyone can still upload videos to YouTube, ranking-based promotion tactics and an influx of commercial content means that it is increasingly unlikely that more than a handful of procrastinating teenagers will ever watch them. Users are unknowingly being pushed towards mainstream content, undermining the development of innumerable user communities.

So, is YouTube ignoring you?

Yeah. It probably is.

Words: 553

References:

Burgess, J. & Green, J. (2009) ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’ pp. 15-37 in J. Burgess and J. Green (eds.) in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Van Dijck, J. (2009) ‘Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, Media, Culture and Society 31 (1): 41-58.

TechCrunch (2007), The Secret Strategies Behind Many “Viral” Videos, http://techcrunch.com/2007/11/22/the-secret-strategies-behind-many-viral-videos/        22 November [accessed 31 March 2011]