As tens of thousands of people quit social media for Scroll Free September, former YouTuber Matt Lees tells us about his time as a viral video creator and why he turned his back on the platform.
I was a journalist who was hired to make YouTube videos, including one about the reveal of PlayStation 4 that got five million views in a couple of days. The job was a lot of fun and I was very successful at it.
But there were a few things that eventually made me turn my back on that life.
To make any money on YouTube, you need to be getting a very large number of views – you’re not going to make much money before 100,000 views and the big money starts to come when you get millions.
There are also specific types of videos on a platform run by algorithms that are going to get those views and I wasn’t comfortable with the nature of that.
For example, the platform feeds on negativity a lot of the time – if you make a video saying ‘this is bad’, people love that. If you’re angry, people love that and I realised that wasn’t very healthy.
Also, you have a platform where the people who are successful and the people who others look at as being YouTubers all do the same things: they make videos very frequently, put out a lot of stuff and are very constant.
It creates a sense of normality on a platform so if you’re not doing that, the audience is asking why not.
Even if you’re successful and doing a lot of stuff, you work incredibly long hours and even when you’re not working, you’re spending a lot of time going through comments, talking to people who like your videos.
You can end up, especially as an adult, living a life in which you’re working most of the time and the rest of the time you’re mainly socialising and dealing with the people who are demanding more work from you. The job is a lot of fun but, if you’re not careful, it can creep up on you and be unpleasant.
As humans we need a break from work and we need to talk to people about things. We need to have our ideas challenged by peers and friends. You end up having people who have worked seven days a week, 10 hours a day throughout their teenage and young adult years. You’re not going to be terribly well formed, especially if your only socialisation is with a community who adores you.
We hear a lot about parasocial relationships – it benefits you to pretend the thousands of people watching your videos are your friends but they’re not and they can’t be.
The relationship can become fraught and difficult and it can create incredibly dangerous egos. If you’ve done something wrong but you have millions of people telling you that you’re great, that’s not good for you as a person. It might make you feel stressed and unhappy but on the other hand, it might turn you into quite a strange person.
Also, part of being a success on YouTube is dealing with hundreds of people every day. I don’t think the humans brain is built to do this – it’s just not how we’re wired up. Evolution is a slow process and I feel like this stuff has run away a bit and it’s not good for us.