If you become successful enough at being a public figure, eventually someone is going to suggest that you’d be better off dead. Hell, they might even directly say that they plan on being the one to end you. If you’re a big enough, rich enough celebrity, you hire a phalanx of ex-Mossad agents to surround you — ones who can rip said stalker’s cock from his, well, cock hinge (that’s part of Krav Maga training, right?). But if you’re a YouTuber with more profile than financial resources, it’s a whole different, and therefore creepier, sensation.
Gaming and tech blogger ThioJoe recently received a message from a commenter named TutorialsReviews28 that read, “I hack your ip and take your address! and when i find you i kill you because your joke video i lost 20 Minutes of my Life you son of a bitch!” He left a similar one in the comments section of ThioJoe’s video, but deleted it shortly thereafter.
Understandably, ThioJoe was concerned and reported the individual to YouTube complete with screen grabs of the comments. Their response was the somewhat generic (and not even a little reassuring): “We’re unable to identify a violation of our Community Guidelines within your recent report to our Safety and Abuse Tool.” Incredibly, the subject line of the email was “Action Taken.”
Joe reached out to us about it, shocked at the lack of interest. In return, I asked him why he thinks they didn’t take action. Joe replied: “Based on the fact that what they guy said was plainly visible on the guy’s profile, I think if YouTube did look at my report, they didn’t spend any time to actually investigate it. I think, if anything, it was because his comment wasn’t ‘selectable’ when making the report, and I had to manually screenshot and link to what he said. I can understand YouTube wanting to use their official tool so they don’t have to deal with fake screenshots (which can be easily faked), but this could be a problem for people who receive abuse in private messages, since I couldn’t see a way to report private messages using their tool.”
It’s a fair point in a sense because YouTube is probably inundated with people complaining that they have been threatened in some capacity, but it is still a conversation that needs to be had. With the emerging celebrity of YouTubers, how do we keep these people safe? Similarly, Meg Turney from Sourcefed had mentioned dealing with a person sending her uncomfortable letters (other than me, I mean) back when we interviewed her. It’s not a hard bit of speculation to guess that several other YouTubers have experienced similar missives and threats. So where does YouTube’s responsibility start and stop? While their corporate team doesn’t comment on individual stories, they were good enough to give us a statement with the mandate that it be presented as coming from the generic a “YouTube spokesperson”: “YouTube’s Guidelines prohibit things like threats and harassment and we take user safety seriously. We review flagged content carefully, and quickly remove videos and comments where there is a specific threat. We also offer tools for blocking users, preventing them from making comments on your videos or from contacting you through private messages.” So did ThioJoe just fall through the cracks or what?
For his part, Joe is not too concerned about his personal threat being escalated into actual violence. “Since it seems the guy is in Germany or some other German-speaking country, I didn’t find the threat very credible and therefore haven’t taken any steps to safeguard myself. I was honestly more disturbed by YouTube’s response and thought about all the other threats YouTube overlooks.”
While Joe might be safe (or, at the very least, feel safe) the grim reality is that the intensified interaction between YouTubers and fans is going to eventually result in a tragedy — a Rebecca Schaeffer-style story for the digital age. This fun and relatively carefree innocence of YouTube is exciting — stuff like the accessibility of celebrity creators walking around at VidCon, but at some point, it’s all going to change. And that change is likely going to be born out of a threat that didn’t get taken seriously enough in its “harmless” early stages.