Dr. Tracy Bennett
Dr. Tracy Bennett
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Kids and teens love YouTube’s colorful celebrities, like Jake Paul, Tana Mongeau, and RiceGum, who make videos catering to their specific interests. But many YouTube influencers use their celebrity status to lead fans into costly or harmful situations. Find out how these YouTube celebrities promised big earnings from online gambling, offered poorly planned conventions, attacked other influencers, and encouraged fans to harass other their online competitors. Using unethical tactics and no disclosure, many of these profit-making schemes succeed unchallenged. Protect your kids from being conned by their favorite YouTube influencers by teaching them to be savvy, educated consumers. Setting up sensible parental controls and using digital tools to filter inappropriate content is also critical, especially for kids a tweens. Check out our Screen Safety Toolkit to get your started!

What’s A YouTube influencer?

A YouTube influencer is a person with a YouTube profile that has a large number of followers and can influence trends, products, and purchasing habits. Content is typically a video of product recommendations or reviews. Other times, it’s a video (vlog) with influencers talking to their audience about anything that strikes their fancy. Most vlogs include colorful opinions, vulgar language, and provocative topics.

Fans perceive YouTubers as everyday people making harmless videos. However, influencers are not just offering casual conversation. Many are highly trained marketers who know how to influence their audience to earn profit through commercial-like ads, partnerships, and paid sponsorships.

To be fair, much YouTube content is entertaining and not risky to kids. But occasionally, wildly popular YouTube influencers will intentionally mislead or introduce content that can harm their followers.

“Oops, I didn’t mean it.”

One-time mistakes are getting increasingly rare among YouTube celebrities. For some, a string of mistakes results in more fame and more profit.  For instance, PewDiePie is currently the world’s most famous YouTube celebrity with 91 million subscribers. In 2108, he was criticized for promoting an Anti-Semitic YouTube channel [1], delivering Anti-Semitic jokes [2], and using the hard r N-word to thousands of viewers in alive stream video(playing games live) [3].

Recently, PewDiePie stoked fan fires by encouraging “a fight” with YouTube channel T-Series, and Indian production house that features Bollywood movie trailers and music videos. Competing for subscribers, PewDiePie fans are trolling and offering shocking shout-outs in service of the competition between American YouTube culture versus Indian YouTube Culture. The rallying cry has resulted in hacking printers and Google homes, a vandalized World War II memorial in Brooklyn (“subscribe to Pewdiepie”), and, most horrifying, a Christchurch mass murderer yelling “subscribe to PewDiePie” during the livestream of his shooting.

YouTube Influencers Encourage Gambling

CSGOLotto:In 2016, YouTubers TmarTn and ProSyndicate promoted and advertised a site called CSGOLotto. On this site, players buy in-game items that are placed into an online pot alongside other people’s purchased mechandise. The goal is to gamble to win the biggest pot of merchandise.

Video ads for the GSGOLotto show TmarTn and ProSyndicate having fun gambling large amounts of money trying to win big. Most times, they do win BIG in the videos – up to three times the amount they started with. In one ad, TmarTn was filmed winning over $20,000 worth of merchandise!

Based on our research, at no point in the ads or in written copy did either influencer mention to their collective audience of 13.5 million that they owned this site and were profiting directly from subscriber participation. We found the ads to be misleading, looking like the celebrities were simply players rather than profiteers.

Mystery Brand: In 2018, Jake Paul and RiceGum created and advertised a similar gambling site called Mystery Brand. In this game, players purchase $5 to $100 virtual boxes that would contain a mystery item worth either less or more than the amount paid. The promise was the chance to win a $250 million house with only a $15 buy-in.

The influencers were reportedly paid $100,000 for promotion to their collective 30 million subscribers. In Jake Paul’s and RiceGum’s videos, they narrate how they “teamed up” with Mystery Brand to show how “dope” it was to play. After demonstrating the easy sign up process, the two spend big. Once a player buys-in, their money stays in. Players can’t cash out. They can only earn sponsored prizes shown on the site, like a virtual shopping mall. For example, in one video RiceGum shows off his $15,000 profit after only spending $3,000. Neither RiceGum or Jake Paul refers to the site as “gambling,” but instead call it a “game” with “good value,” promising “there is no losing in this.” Based on our research, there was no place on the site that states the players’ chances of winning.

A Poorly Planned Convention

Tana Mongeau is a content creator with 3.7 million subscribers. In 2018, 5,000 people showed up to the hotel in Anaheim to attend her convention called TanaCon, advertised to be a cheaper and more accessible version of Vidcon (which is a large-scale event hosted by YouTube to meet your favorite YouTuber). Due to poor planning, over 4,000 people were left to wait for over four hours in the sweltering heat outside of the hotel. There was little food and water available. As a result, many attendees were sunburned, some passed out, and riots started due to poor accommodations and security. Although promised to be free, it wasn’t. While 4,000 waited outside, the 1,000 inside were greeted to a $60 “VIP” pass, with a lack of entertainment, overcrowding, and almost the same issues as those outside the hotel. We found the videos of this event to be really upsetting to watch.

Using Their Platform to Attack People

When some YouTube influencers don’t like other content creators or other people in general, they sometimes rant with name calling and unfair accusations. This cyberbullying can result in a cyber flash mob of dedicated fans that cyberattack through doxing(showing private information), pranking, and cyber-harassment.

False Accusations Against a Competitive Influencer

Jackie Aina is a popular beauty guru who creates and shares videos of makeup application with 2.9 million subscribers. In 2018, she made a video accusing another YouTuber, Petty Paige (128 thousand subscribers), of stealing $1,500 from her personal bank account. This accusation appeared to have no proof or legitimacy. Although she never stated Petty Paige’s name in the video, she did put up a picture of a video Paige had made, making it extremely easy for her subscribers to identify the accused perpetrator. Jackie Aina’s fans took to social media to harass Paige for weeks. Paige even stated that many business and job opportunities were canceled because of this online barrage of harassment.

Targeting Their Audience

The Gabbie show (6.4 million subscribers) is one of many YouTubers who have targeted everyday people with no regard to how the fan base would react to it. When a young girl in her audience made a negative comment on one of Gabbie’s tweets, Gabbie screenshotted it along with the girl’s account and posted it on her Twitter (2.7 million followers). This led fans to spam and harass the girl, flooding her inbox with hateful messages.

Are there legal consequences?

Too often, when malicious or unethical online behavior is identified, the scandal is fleeting. For example, in the case of TmarTns and ProSyndicate’s gambling scam, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a case for lying about ownership of a product. Yet somehow, both influencers avoided legal prosecution, only suffering mild loss in subscribers and yearly income due to a damaged reputation. They still have a net worth around $5 million.

For Jake Paul and RiceGum, absolutely nothing happened. RiceGum even created a video justifying his behavior as the same as what others do. Jake Paul made a joke of the situation. When asked, “You loved being called out for selling a gambling scam to underage kids?”  He responded, “Yes love it.”

Of the influencers covered in this article, Tana Monogue probably received the biggest consequences. After months of backlash and hate from fans and YouTubers alike, Tana made multiple apologies accepting fault for what she did. That’s it though. She suffered no legal consequences for harming children or for false advertising. And as for what Jackie Aina and Gabby Shows did, many just see it as insignificant errors in judgment.

I’m Jack Riley, GKIS intern. When researching and watching all of these videos for this GKIS piece, I learned a very sad truth. Perhaps there is no such thing as bad publicity on YouTube. Each of these scandals may have bruised reputations temporarily, but money was still made and too many subscribers remained loyal. Further, the published indignation over the scandals launched other YouTuber careers. As the new influencers collected subscribers, they further advertised the products and influencers central to the scandals. One could argue that kids learn that dishonesty pays from these YouTube celebrities…not a value parents want modeled by their children’s heroes.

If you learned from this article, stay tuned for part 2, which details the irresponsibility and scams that YouTube influencers continue to feed their audience as well as the marketing and social manipulations used to make sure viewers keep coming back.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

YouTube Influencers Encourage Gambling

– Fluff, TMARTN GAMBLING ON CSGO LOTTO & DECEIVING OWNERSHIP (Full Video Reupload), YouTube.com

– (2016, July) YouTube gamers caught in gambling row, bbc.com

FTC

-HonorTheCall, CSGO Lotto Update ft. Tmartn & Prosyndicate (HonorTheCall Show), YouTube

Jake Paul’s Tweet

– Jake Paul, I Spent $5,000 ON MYSTERY BOXES & You WONT Believe WHAT I GOT… (insane), YouTube

– MysteryBrand.net

– RiceGum, How I Got AirPods For $4, YouTube

– RiceGum, This Dude Calls Me Out For Mystery Unboxing…, YouTube

 A Poorly Planned Convention

-Dishwashinglickwid, Intentions: The Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Stupid (Tana, James Charles, Huda Beauty), YouTube.com

-Farokhmanesh, M. (2018, June) YouTuber’s anti-VidCon convention -TanaCon was such a disaster that fans are comparing it to Fyre Fest, theverge.com

-Kircher, M. M. (2018, June) A Mouth to Hell Opened This Weekend at Tanacon, a Fyre Festival for the YouTube Set, nymag.com

– Shane Dawson, The Real Truth About Tanacon, YouTube.com

Targeting Their Audience

– Dishwashlickwid, Influencers acting stupid (protect your brain cells), YouTube.com

– TeaSpill,JACKIE AINA MAKES SERIOUS ALLEGATIONS AGAINST PETTY PAIGE, YouTube

Photo Credits

“man sitting on chair in front of condenser microphone” Photo by Gianandrea Villa

“man holding black Android smartphone” Photo by Rachit Tank

“black and white skull printcrew neck shirt” Photo by Todd Trapani

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