A Look at the Dark Side of the Lives of Some Prominent YouTubers, Who Are Increasingly Saying They’re Stressed, Depressed, Lonely, and Exhausted
Many YouTubers are finding themselves stressed, lonely and exhausted. For years, YouTubers have believed that they are loved most by their audience when they project a chirpy, grateful image. But what happens when the mask slips? This year there has been a wave of videos by prominent YouTubers talking about their burnout, chronic fatigue and depression. “This is all I ever wanted,” said Elle Mills, a 20-year-old Filipino-Canadian YouTuber in a (monetised) video entitled Burnt Out At 19, posted in May. “And why the fuck am I so unfucking unhappy? It doesn’t make any sense. You know what I mean? Because, like, this is literally my fucking dream. And I’m fucking so un-fucking-happy.”
… The anxieties are tied up with the relentless nature of their work. Tyler Blevins, AKA Ninja, makes an estimated $500,000 every month via live broadcasts of him playing the video game Fortnite on Twitch, a service for livestreaming video games that is owned by Amazon. Most of Blevins’ revenue comes from Twitch subscribers or viewers who provide one-off donations (often in the hope that he will thank them by name “on air”). Blevins recently took to Twitter to complain that he didn’t feel he could stop streaming. “Wanna know the struggles of streaming over other jobs?” he wrote, perhaps ill-advisedly for someone with such a stratospheric income. “I left for less than 48 hours and lost 40,000 subscribers on Twitch. I’ll be back today… grinding again.” There was little sympathy on Twitter for the millionaire. But the pressure he described is felt at every level of success, from the titans of the content landscape all the way down to the people with channels with just a few thousand subscribers, all of whom feel they must be constantly creating, always available and responding to their fans.
At the end of the month he was pale, gaunt and tired in a way that, he recalls, seemed “impervious to rest”. His work, he noticed, had become increasingly rushed and harsh in tone. Yet the angry, provocative quality of his videos seemed only to be making them more popular. “Divisive content is the king of online media today, and YouTube heavily boosts anything that riles people up,” he says. “It’s one of the most toxic things: the point at which you’re breaking down is the point at which the algorithm loves you the most.”
“Constant releases build audience loyalty,” says Austin Hourigan, who runs ShoddyCast, a YouTube channel with 1.2 million subscribers. “The more loyalty you build, the more likely your viewers are to come back, which gives you the closest thing to a financial safety net in what is otherwise a capricious space.” When a YouTuber passes the 1 million subscribers mark, they are presented with a gold plaque to mark the event. Many of these plaques can be seen on shelves and walls in the background of presenters’ rooms. In this way, the size of viewership and quantity of uploads become the main markers of value.