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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

Let’s face it, social media has taken over our lives. Influencers have become the new a-list celebrities, vlogs have become the new online versions of movies, and YouTube has become a full-on career path. I would say I first discovered YouTube around fifth or sixth grade. For any ‘OG’ YouTube fans, I was watching Bethany Mota, O2L, Miranda Sings, Jenna Marbles, Ayydubs, Tyler Oakley, you know, just all the quality content creators at the time.  Between constantly wanting to watch YouTube and constantly dreaming of being a YouTuber, I’d say YouTube played a huge role in my life, which is weird to say.  But as I have gotten older and as social media, especially YouTube, has changed so drastically, I have been able to take a step back and really look at YouTube from a more critical lens.  YouTube is no longer a wholesome site where people are just looking to express their creativity as a hobby, it is now something completely different.  About a month and a half to two months ago, I decided to delete all social media, and in doing that I have really been able to take an outsider look in the ways in which social media, specifically YouTube, exude toxicity.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels
One of the things that I struggle with in life in general, but especially on social media, is impostor syndrome.  Impostor syndrome, to put it simply, is not feeling good enough or doubting yourself.  Now you may be thinking, how can watching a video make you doubt yourself?  Isn’t impostor syndrome only something you experience in person?  I used to think that the only time I would feel this way would be if I was getting up in front of a group of people or walking into a big lecture hall.  But the truth is, YouTube has become a place filled with a constant cycle of ‘the next big thing.’  There is this pervasive idea of always needing to be doing something new and something big, and if you’re not, then you aren’t ‘successful.’  Now a bit of a disclaimer, I am in NO way attempting to invalidate the journeys or success of any YouTubers by any means.  I am not saying we shouldn’t congratulate them, or that they aren’t allowed to be happy for their success.  What I am saying is that when you are constantly bombarded with people experiencing massive and constant success, it can be hard to acknowledge your own “normal” or more mundane successes.  As a college student, for example, seeing someone who is your same age making millions of dollars and buying a house in Beverly Hills can be hard when you are pulling weekly all-nighters and crying over midterms.  Celebrating an A on a midterm can seem so trivial and way less exciting when you see someone five years younger than you get sent on a brand trip to Paris or create a clothing line of their own.  I recognize that money and material items don’t always equate success, but when you are seeing a highlight reel of constant success and happiness, it can be really disheartening.  More and more YouTubers are beginning to be more vulnerable, talk about their hardships and break the overbearing highlight reel within their content.  This helps to humanize them and show that happiness is so much more than just money and fame.  But, it doesn’t take away from the fact that YouTube can really be a platform that prioritizes money, fame and essentially bragging in many ways.

I think we can all admit we have at least bought one item based on the recommendation of an influencer.  As a retail student, I can vouch for the fact that influencers, specifically YouTubers, reviews and recommendations have a HUGE impact on shoppers, especially those that are in the Millennial and Gen Z generations.  If someone is a huge fan or has a lot of respect for an influencer, of course they’re going to trust what they say and want the same things that they have.  But, at the same time, YouTube has become a platform that revolves around money-hungriness.  Whether it be sponsorships, haul or collection videos, even daily vlogs, YouTube has become a place that propels materialism and consumerism.  With creators constantly showing new things and buying new things, it makes everyone else want and want and want rather than being content with what they have.  Not to mention, in many sponsorships, there is a high possibility that the creator doesn’t actually even like or use the item and are blindly recommending it so that they can make money.  In addition to increasing consumerism and materialism, it can also be extremely frustrating for people to see creators living these lavish lives and buying designer items but are struggling to pay for bare necessities.  And again, I am not saying we need to hate on creators for making a lot of money, nor am I saying that their intention in creating content is to brag or make people feel bad.  But, regardless of intentions, it does have an impact and can be a really hard thing for many people.   

close up of white alarm clock
Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush from Pexels
With over 500 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute, I think it’s safe to say that people are spending a lot of time on this platform.  I can 100% admit that I have spent, and periodically continue to spend, VERY large amounts of time watching vlogs and other random videos on YouTube.  But, at what point does it become too much?  Screen times are rising, the percentage of the day spent with technology is skyrocketing, and with the pandemic, this is all being intensified.  With YouTube’s algorithms and recommendations, the platform very quickly becomes a ‘black hole of content.’  You can go from a beauty video to a daily vlog to a slime video to a mukbang to an ASMR video to a bloopers compilation to an advice video all in one sitting.  Alongside the variety of content, there is also a neverending list of content creators that you can subscribe to.  To be completely honest, it’s extremely overwhelming and for some people, it can feel like there’s never enough time to consume all the media that they want.  Then you bring in the other platforms of these influencers, and the time spent staring at a screen increases even more.  Every minute, every hour, every day, there is a constant stream of media uploads that make it challenging to unplug.  This isn’t necessarily just an issue regarding YouTube, but it seems to be one that is easily continued via a platform that inherently wants its consumers to binge-watch.

goals, coffee, notebook
Photo by Estée Janssens from Unsplash
The last thing that I want to discuss is the idea of hustle culture.  This can also somewhat relate back to the idea of impostor syndrome.  But, on social media, and life in general, there is this idea that you have to always be doing something and always be moving up in order to be successful or happy.  If you remain stagnant for even a short amount of time, society tells you that you aren’t doing enough and you aren’t good enough or motivated enough.  YouTube is essentially the face to the name if we are going at this from a metaphorical standpoint.  YouTube videos are visual and audible expressions of hustle culture in many ways.  YouTubers are constantly posting content and updates about all the different projects they are doing, places they are traveling, celebrities they are meeting, sponsorships they are participating in.  After a while, it can be really hard to consume media that makes you feel that even going to college isn’t doing enough.  YouTubers are making clothing lines, makeup lines, walking international runways, buying multi-million dollar homes, and constantly making these huge leaps and bounds, meanwhile I’m over here lucky if I have time for a nap during the day.  It is just very easy to feel insecure and inferior when you are opening your laptop to overbearing success.

Unsplash / Diggity Marketing
I know throughout this article I have given multiple disclaimers, but I really do want to reiterate the fact that I am in NO way attacking YouTubers or influencers.  I am not attempting to invalidate their success or promote the idea that they aren’t allowed to be happy for their success.  My goal and intention with this article was to acknowledge that YouTube, similar to a lot of social media sites, isn’t a perfect platform and there are downsides.  It is important that in a world as technologically driven as ours that we take a step back and look at the implications of what we are doing.  You don’t need to delete YouTube or leave a hate comment on a creator’s video, but I think it is beneficial, and necessary in many ways, to be self-aware and societally aware when it comes to social media.  Just check in on yourself and make sure that the negative impacts aren’t outweighing the positive impacts or happiness that you are experiencing and realize that where you are is perfectly fine.  You are perfect just the way you are. (Jeez that got real cheesy real quick).  

Rachel Holt

Wisconsin '21

Rachel is currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin Madison studying Retailing & Consumer Behavior, Communication Arts, Digital Studies and Entrepreneurship. She loves fall, 'snoozles' with her pug, and Harry Potter.
Kate O’Leary

Wisconsin '23

Kate is currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin Madison majoring in Biology, Psychology and Sociology. She is the proud co-president of Her Campus Wisconsin. Kate enjoys indoor cycling, spending time with friends, cheering on the Badgers and making the absolute best crepes ever!