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Stop, Look, And Listen

The problem of public opinion in the social media stratosphere



Photo courtesy of Christian Wiediger | Unsplash

Photo courtesy of Christian Wiediger | Unsplash

Our weekly Sunday lunch with my mother’s side is like a modern-day Babel. Tagalog, English, and Hokkien are spoken almost simultaneously in a single sentence. In a sea of words, I cannot understand even if I hear my name, “Kerry,” and have to figure out what is being said by the tone of their voice alone.

Sometimes, it seems like whole new languages are used with words that sound like everybody should know them—such as translating the Youtube generation vocabulary for, let’s say, a more mature audience.

What a week it has been in the beauty vlogger miniverse, something people below the age of 25 seem to know everything about, and most people above the age of 25 seem to think is a place just north of Westeros, that is to say, completely unaware of its existence that it might as well be made up.

James Charles

James Charles | Instagram

The scandal surrounding James Charles erupted over the weekend, with others in the beauty vlogger community coming out on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to speak their truths and their minds. A lot was mentioned, a lot of accusations were hurled, and a lot was shared online. Fans of the YouTube personalities involved—and there are many, each day someone being mentioned or speaking their truth over the feud—saw a glimpse of the pitfalls of Internet fame, and of the Internet in general.

Here is where my translating skills come to play: James Charles, YouTube beauty personality extraordinaire, is 19 years old. Invited to this year’s Met Gala, he is the first male ambassador of Cover Girl, and has millions of followers on social media, with billions of views on YouTube videos. To repeat, he is 19 years old!

Tati Westbrook

Tati Westbrook | Instagram 

In the past week, he has lost over three million YouTube subscribers over the now infamous SugarBear scandal. The scandal involved a SugarBear promotion he posted during Coachella, a competing product of Tati Westbrook’s Halo Beauty. Feeling betrayed, after what she has claimed to have done for him, Westbrook went to social media to speak her truth.

Then accusations were made regarding Charles’ character, then Jeffree Star got involved, then Zara Larsson got involved, and the whole issue becomes more than the original SugarBear post. Then a 40-minute (yes, 40-minute) video was uploaded on YouTube, then many screenshots of iPhone notes were tweeted for those involved to try and move past the whole thing.

But is it they who decide to whether or not move on?

The 21st-century court of public opinion has moved beyond traditional media outlets and onto social media, ironically, the same platform that brought the rise of the exact people in the discussion. Almost like fighting a war on two fronts, the court of public opinion through social media has the twin problems (for the accused) of everything having receipts (nothing can be forgotten) as well as the pervasiveness of misinformation. And everybody with a decent Internet connection can voice their opinion in an already overcrowded sea.

When the rise of the YouTube personality was in its infancy stages, to many it seemed like an easy way to fame.

The Kardashian route to celebrity and celebutante was suddenly more accessible and available through a PG-rated video.

For the youngest generation, Gen Z, Youtube personalities are the first recognizable celebrities in their life .

The fans are young, the personalities are young, with no handbook and little precedent to guide either on how to make proper decisions. This piece does not have the answers either.

Rather than coming out as #TeamJames or #TeamTati in this feud that I honestly barely understand (it took many turns at a point, way beyond the original issue that seemed to start it all), we should take a step back.

After hanging all their dirty laundry in public, with receipts to “back it up,” and their followers getting involved by going through old posts, the personalities involved went to Twitter to say they were moving on from the feud. It seemed that behind all the 40-minute (yes, 40-minute) long videos and numerous tweets, they were having proper conversations between themselves. There’s hope yet for the YouTube generation of celebrities.

Now, it is time for their fans to follow suit. While James Charles, Tati Westbrook, and Jeffree Star’s claims to fame came from documenting and oversharing their lives through social media, a lot of important, private matters occur when the cameras are not rolling. They came out regretting many of the rash posts they made after the fact, including the original post that began the whole feud.

Just because social media is constantly there (give or take a few moments when servers are down) does not mean we have to always use it. Just because we have a thought does not mean we have to immediately express it to the wider world. Internet celebrities have to learn it the difficult way, and their followers, young and impressionable, see it as the new normal.

As data privacy becomes a greater and greater concern, it is worth remembering that one of the biggest data leaks could even just be ourselves oversharing on social media without giving what we say and what we post a second thought.

Before we are allowed to wander the world on our own, we are taught to “Stop, Look, and Listen,” before we cross the street.

But the way we wander the world has changed, we can walk across the street, but through the Internet, we can be a thousand miles away. In the same vein, we need to remember to “Stop, Look, and Listen” before we post a tweet.

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