I came of age with the internet. Born in 1997, I fall somewhere in the murky waters between millennials and Gen Z. I’m old enough to remember hunching over the humming brick of a desktop in my family’s “computer room” but young enough to have never used Myspace or AIM.
Laptops and touchscreen devices became commonplace while I was in elementary school. By the late 2000s, YouTube was the epicenter of youth pop culture. Clad in Aéropostale logo tees and Uggs, my friends and I would giggle over viral videos like Keyboard Cat, “Chocolate Rain,” and “The Duck Song.” Before there were “influencers,” there were “cewebrities” who created the idea of using social media as a career path, making creative content that attracted a growing number of viewers and eventually lucrative ad and sponsorship deals. The first YouTube channel I remember following consistently was Smosh, a collaborative effort between two nerdy guys whose lip sync videos and silly homemade sketches ultimately grew into a digital comedy empire. I fastidiously kept up with their latest uploads and rewatched older videos in between, often to the point of memorizing them verbatim. Throughout middle and high school, I loved vloggers like Joey Graceffa, Tyler Oakley, and Ingrid Nilsen, all of whom garnered millions of followers simply by sharing their lives on camera. This first cohort of internet fame paved the way for today’s biggest stars, like Jojo Siwa and Charli D’Amelio.
I loved being immersed in the Disneyland version of young adulthood that vloggers offered.
These YouTube videos appealed to me because of the simulacra of a connection they created. They were like television shows, but much more personal because the “plot” was a real person’s life. As such, personality was part and parcel with the platform. It was more about whom you were watching rather than what was specifically happening in their videos. I loved being immersed in the Disneyland version of young adulthood that vloggers offered — sunny days spent getting lunch and shopping with friends or figuring out how to afford rent in San Francisco. Watching these little snippets over time felt like we were developing a relationship, albeit a one-sided one. YouTubers represented the chic older siblings I never had and the confident, happy twentysomething I hoped to become. The impromptu, handheld way these videos were shot seemed to promote the underlying subtext that they just so happened to film these particular scenes.
There was also a notable group of immensely popular comedy channels on YouTube at the time. In a similar vein to Smosh, creators like nigahiga crafted character-based sketches that became ubiquitous on the platform. These were the common denominator that everyone my age knew. Even if our specific taste in vloggers, gaming channels, or makeup videos differed, we all knew Fred and Annoying Orange and stayed up late watching their videos at sleepovers and quoting them ad nauseam at school.
While YouTube’s lack of gatekeeping was arguably an incredible catalyst for creativity, it also opened the door for unsavory content to slip through. In contrast to the vetting and FCC standards of mainstream media, YouTube requires nothing more than a person, a camera, and an internet connection. A young person with less-than-stellar judgment and a few thick layers of hubris could easily take advantage of the platform. Because of this, some YouTube comedy of the era leaned into the most inappropriate reaches of satire. Two early titans of YouTube comedy, Shane Dawson and Jenna Marbles have made headlines recently as they reckon with the ramifications of their past content.
Even if our specific taste in vloggers, gaming channels, or makeup videos differed, we all knew Fred and Annoying Orange and stayed up late watching their videos at sleepovers and quoting them ad nauseam at school.
Though I wasn’t a die-hard fan of Shane or Jenna growing up, I certainly watched their videos. They were both deeply influential to the point that their names were practically synonymous with the term “YouTuber.” Jenna Marbles, sometimes dubbed the Queen of YouTube, racked up over 1 billion cumulative channel views with quirky, offbeat, slice-of-life humor that often featured her dogs. If she were the queen, Shane would most certainly be the king. His content has evolved over the past decade, from character sketches to short films to whimsical food videos, across two channels that have garnered over 4 billion cumulative views. Starting in 2018, Shane pivoted toward producing several hours-long docuseries about controversial subjects — including makeup mogul Jeffree Star and besmirched prankster Jake Paul — that attracted significant mainstream media attention. As a senior in college at the time, I noticed that even my friends who hadn’t watched YouTube in years remembered Shane from their childhoods and tuned in to see what the buzz was about. Consistent throughout Shane’s evolution has been his sense of humor — self-deprecating, provocative, always reaching for shock value. Though it was common knowledge among viewers and the media that Shane’s older jokes were risqué, it seemed that his previous apologies had been accepted and he had not been “canceled.” While some noted that his new documentarian persona might have been a calculated attempt at reputation rehabilitation, his endeavors were, for the most part, accepted with open arms (and open wallets).
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, Jenna took the preemptive step of addressing insensitive clips from her past by posting a now-deleted apology video. Through tears, she directly addressed footage of herself wearing blackface and mocking Asian Americans, among other missteps. She acknowledged how she might have hurt her viewers and, in an unprecedented act of reflection, announced she is leaving the platform “for now or for forever.” While Jenna’s video was met with mostly positive reception, Shane’s attempt at a similar mea culpa backfired. He made an umbrella apology video attempting to “own up to everything I have done on the internet.” Shane described his thought process at the time, saying, “I’m in a weird category where I can say whatever I want. And I did. And now it’s the biggest regret of my entire life.” This self-awareness came too little, too late.
Shortly thereafter, the old clips in question resurfaced and reignited outrage. Public perception of Shane went downhill rapidly after Jaden and Jada Pinkett Smith publicly chastised him over an utterly disgusting joke made about Willow, who was then only 11 years old. In the landslide of negative press over the past few weeks, all three of Shane’s YouTube channels have been demonetized, his makeup line dropped by Morphe, several of his documentaries taken down through copyright claims by Sony, and his books pulled from the shelves at Target.
There was no accountability, even when jokes were taken too far. Perhaps the entire YouTube community needs an about-face.
Among the many problems addressed in his video, Shane apologized for doing blackface and repeatedly drawing on racist stereotypes in his work. As surprising as this confession may be, growing up as a little Black girl in the rural South, I didn’t know the word “blackface,” much less the history behind it, until I was much older. When my white classmates and I first watched these videos on the cracked screen of an iPhone 3g, I was completely oblivious to the fact that Shane was making a mockery of people who look like me and reinforcing stereotypes that stem from structural racism. Shane has also come under fire for graphic, vile jokes about the Holocaust, rape, and child abuse, among other things. Though this is all deeply disturbing to me now, it went over my head as a kid. I can only hope it went over my classmates’ heads as well.
Luke Alexander, a 20-year-old South African Australian student who posts critiques and commentary videos about internet culture, echoed this sentiment in a recent video on the drama, saying, “What is really, really scary is a lot of people, like me at the time, enjoyed that content. When Shane Dawson was making that content, I was only 9, 10, 11, [or] 12 years old. I didn’t realize that it was wrong. … A lot of young, impressionable people will watch his videos and think that that is okay.”
What Shane was seemingly going for with the off-color jokes is what Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff has referred to as “ironic bigotry.” But, à la media theorist Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. YouTube is an entirely different ballpark. Enjoyment of the platform is predicated on the concept of authenticity — the idea that the persona you’re seeing is at least proximal to the true essence of the person behind it. It is clear to adults that YouTube represents a sideways version of reality rather than reality itself, but sometimes tweens lack the nuance to parse that. I remember what it felt like to be wrapped up in the princess-pink froufrou of my twin-size bed, eyes glued to the screen of my iPod Touch in search of amusement. As pop star and fellow Gen Z/millennial cusp Lorde once wrote, “maybe the internet raised us.” If so, what did it teach us?
To make matters worse, in the midst of these serious calls for accountability, Shane is also embroiled in a petty feud with fellow YouTuber Tati Westbrook, who released a tell-all video about the spiderwebbed chaos within the platform’s makeup community. Tati described Shane and Jeffree as manipulative, implicating them as the masterminds behind an infamous ongoing spat between herself and beauty guru James Charles. The gratuitous middle school drama of it all is difficult to keep up with. Shane’s subsequent rant on Instagram Live was criticized by Twitter users and YouTube commentators as being immature and shortsighted given his more pressing accusations and the dire state of the world overall.
While a few YouTubers have come to Shane’s defense for both the drama and the old content, most have been silent or vaguely reprimanding. Though many early YouTube celebrities are distancing themselves from Shane now, let us not forget that in the early 2010s, when he was producing the content he is currently in trouble for, they were eagerly collaborating with him. At the time, even squeaky-clean creators would boost their cool factor through proximity to his provocative, illustrious aura. As early as 2014, Black YouTubers sounded the alarm about Shane’s content, but their concerns went largely unaddressed. Pushing the envelope in the name of humor was encouraged. There was no accountability, even when jokes were taken too far. Perhaps the entire YouTube community needs an about-face.
When an accusation comes out against a mainstream Hollywood celebrity, people often ask if it is possible to separate the art from the artist. But with YouTubers, the artist is the art: They are the product they’re selling. While my memories of the “golden age of YouTube” are still blurred by the glow of youthful fondness, looking back and realizing these issues were festering beneath the surface all along makes me feel quite disenchanted. Most of my longtime favorites have stuck around through it all and stayed out of trouble, but times are definitely changing.
With YouTubers, the artist is the art: They are the product they’re selling.
Smosh broke up years ago, but they continue to make content separately. Joey Graceffa still vlogs several times a week. Tyler Oakley has leaned further into activism in addition to maintaining his lifestyle content. And Ingrid Nilsen — who revolutionized the platform by inventing the “vlogmas” format and later made headlines with her incredible journey of queer identity — recently announced she is leaving YouTube to pursue other opportunities. Publicly, she is one of the few major influencers who seems to have never made a misstep. With the indelible changes in the community writ large, I fully expect other longtime “unproblematic faves” to follow Ingrid’s lead and move away from the platform they built.
This moment seems to mark the end of an era: an inevitable reorganization that has been a long time coming. In recent years, a new wave of inappropriate, sensationalized content — such as the infamous Logan Paul “suicide forest” scandal — has come about with the rise of influencer houses and increasing algorithmic pressure. The YouTube I knew as a child, the quixotic digital world that my favorite vloggers built, is gone. It’s confusing to navigate my nostalgia in light of recent events. When a TV show gets canceled, there is a sense of narrative containment: You watch the series finale and then wait for the reruns. But with YouTube, everything exists in a continuum that is inarguably both past and present at once. As Shane’s scandal has shown, old content lives in perpetuity — for better or worse. We can revisit it whenever we want — but, when recontextualized in the present, it tends to elicit a much different reaction than it did at first blush. Recognizing the problems of a community I once held in the utmost regard feels like the slow, painful process of growing up. Maybe the internet did raise us and now it’s time to leave the nest. ●
Jaime Gordon is a freelance writer. She is a graduate of Duke University, where her research focused on digital media and popular culture. Her writing has previously appeared in USA Today and MTV News.
Best quarter in the history of the smartphone
Apple reported blowout earnings on Wednesday. Even during a global pandemic, every single product line was up, leading to the company’s first quarter with over $100 billion in sales.
But Apple is still best known for the iPhone, which accounted for nearly 59% of the company’s revenue during the holiday quarter. The iPhone is booming, too: Sales were up 17% year-over-year to a whopping $65.6 billion in a single quarter. That’s a big improvement from last year’s holiday quarter, when sales were up only 7.6% from the year ago.
Apple doesn’t provide unit sales for its products anymore, but according to an estimate from research firm IDC, Apple shipped 90.1 million phones during the quarter. That’s the largest number in any single quarter since IDC started tracking smartphones, analyst Francisco Jeronimo said.
Apple’s dominant quarter is adding fuel to the so-called “super cycle” investor thesis, where must-have updates combine with the natural customer upgrade cycle to drive a spike in sales growth. Analysts saw this year’s iPhone 12 models as a good candidate for a super-cycle because they sported a new design and added 5G, which enables the devices to connect to faster wireless networks.
In a note on Wednesday, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives predicted that the current cycle “should eclipse the previous iPhone record set in FY15, an achievement for the ages in our opinion.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook also said in an interview with CNBC that the company’s iPhone results could have been better if not for store closures caused by the ongoing pandemic.
“Taking the stores out of the equation, particularly for iPhones and wearables, there’s a drag on sales,” Cook told CNBC’s Josh Lipton.
In a conference call with analysts, Cook said that the new iPhones were not only getting current iPhone users to open up their wallets and upgrade, but also convincing people who had previously used competitor phones to get their first iPhone.
“Looking at the iPhone 12 family, we saw both switchers and upgraders increase on a year over year basis. And in fact, we saw the largest number of upgraders, that we’ve ever seen in a quarter,” Cook said.
5G remains a potential tailwind for iPhone sales through the rest of the year, Apple signaled on Wednesday. Cook said that while 5G in China was well established, leading to strong iPhone sales, 5G cellular networks in other regions aren’t as built-out yet, especially in Europe.
“I think most of that growth is probably in front of us there as well,” Cook said.
Elon Musk explains how self-driving robotaxis justify Tesla valuation
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., arrives at the Axel Springer Award ceremony in Berlin, Germany, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020.
Johannessen-Koppitz | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Don’t count Elon Musk among the investors who think Tesla is overvalued, even with the stock up almost 700% in the past year and the company valued at 213 times projected 2021 earnings, according to FactSet.
In the car maker’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday, Tesla’s CEO said there is a “roadmap to potentially justify” its market cap, which has topped $800 billion, making it the fifth-most valuable U.S. company. Musk is now the world’s wealthiest person, with a net worth over $200 billion.
Musk’s valuation math goes like this: Assume the company soon reaches $50 billion to $60 billion in annual car sales (the company generated $9.31 billion in automotive revenue in Q4 and said that vehicle deliveries would increase an average of 50% a year going forward). As Tesla’s self-driving technology continues to improve, those vehicles will become self-driving robotaxis, allowing usage to go from 12 hours a week to 60 hours a week. Tesla could charge additional fees for those robotaxis, allowing the company to generate much more revenue per car. Basically, it would be like bringing software economics to the manufacturing-intensive car business.
Musk also announced that Tesla’s Full Self Driving package will be available on a subscription basis starting in Q1, rather than as a one-time $10,000 add-on, which will allow Tesla to begin adding recurring revenue as it works on improving its self-driving technology.
Even if usage only doubles, a $1 trillion valuation can make sense, according to Musk.
“If you made $50 billion worth of cars, it would be like having $50 billion of incremental profit, basically because it’s just software,” Musk said in the introductory part of the call. Based on that formula, Musk says a multiple of 20 times earnings would lead to $1 trillion in market cap — “and the company’s still in high-growth mode.”
Less than nine months ago, Musk had a very different perspective on the company’s valuation. In a tweet on May 1, he said “Tesla stock price is too high,” a comment that sent the shares down 10%. Since then, the company’s market cap has jumped by more than 450%.
It’s possible that investors are already presuming Tesla’s cars will eventually turn into revenue-generating robotaxis. But the company isn’t close to having those capabilities yet, and Musk has a history of over-promising when it comes to technological innovation.
For instance, when Tesla began to discuss self-driving technology in 2016, Musk said the company would complete a hands-free trip across the U.S. by late 2017. The company has yet to complete that mission.
Currently, Tesla’s Full Self Driving features include Smart Summon, which lets a driver call their Tesla to roll out from a parking spot to where they are standing, and Navigate on Autopilot, which can pilot the car from a highway on-ramp to an off-ramp, making necessary lane changes along the way.
But despite its name, the Full Self Driving package still requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and remain attentive at all times. A Munich court ruled last year that Tesla misled consumers on the abilities of its automated driving systems, and banned the company from including “full potential for autonomous driving” and “Autopilot inclusive” in its advertising materials.
While Tesla has missed many of its own projections for self-driving technology, Musk continues to insist that it’s coming. “I really do not see any obstacles here,” he told an analyst on the call who asked about the company’s progress.
Tesla shares fell 5.5% in extended trading on Wednesday after the company reported earnings that missed analysts’ estimates, even as revenue was better than expected.
WATCH: Tesla misses on earnings
Reddit group WallStreetBets behind massive GameStop, AMC run-ups goes private, invitation required
Rafael Henrique | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images
“Wallstreetbets” Reddit chat room, where retail investors marshal against short sellers, went private on Wednesday evening, limiting access to outsiders.
“You must be invited to visit this community,” the page now states. The forum’s members topped three million as of Wednesday. The community gathered an army of rookie day traders who go after heavily shorted stocks, pushing share prices higher and squeezing out short-selling hedge funds.
GameStop, a popular target in “wallstreetbets,” saw its shares soaring more than 400% this week alone. The brick-and-mortar video game retailer has skyrocketed a whopping 1,700% as retail traders continued to encourage each other to pile on.
AMC Entertainment, another hot topic in the chat room, surged more than 300% Wednesday alone, experiencing its highest volume ever.
A Reddit spokesperson said “wallstreetbets” moderators set the community to private.
“Reddit’s site-wide policies prohibit posting illegal content or soliciting or facilitating illegal transaction,” the spokesperson said. “We will review and cooperate with valid law enforcement investigations or actions as needed.”
Social platform Discord banned the “wallstreetbets” chat room on Wednesday.
“The WallStreetBets server has been on our Trust & Safety team’s radar for some time due to occasional content that violates our Community Guidelines, including hate speech, glorifying violence, and spreading misinformation,” a Discord spokesperson said in a statement.
“Over the past few months, we have issued multiple warnings to the server admin.Today, we decided to remove the server and its owner from Discord for continuing to allow hateful and discriminatory content after repeated warnings,” the spokesperson added.
This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.
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