YouTube Drama Is Causing More YouTube Drama About YouTube Drama

The campaign to "Make YouTube Great Again" has turned into a self-propelling beef factory.

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Apr 29 2016, 10:00am

Image: PewDiePie/YouTube

Drama leads to drama, which creates more drama in turn. On YouTube, this converts into clicks and money, fuelling the continuation of the drama machine.

Lately, YouTube has been gripped by a rolling mass hysteria, a curious "drama" plague. A rash of videos made by well-known YouTubers has appeared addressing the topic, all of which refer to "drama," but none of which really define what said drama is.

Among the first big names to weigh in was Markiplier, aka Mark Edward Fischbach, a YouTuber known for his "Let's Play" videos who claimed that "YouTube has Changed" in a video posted on April 11. In it, he laments the rise of clickbait and the undeserving, uninventive attention-seekers who now colonise YouTube. He cites a video of himself staring at a banana for five minutes as an example of more creative filmmaking.

Then on April 16, crowned king of YouTube PewDiePie shared his thoughts on how a drama-seeking "mob mentality" is ruining YouTube, giving hope to supporters of a growing campaign on Reddit and Twitter to "Make YouTube Great Again." His video invoked the tenets of "Team Internet," the now-forgotten idea that new media stars should look out for each other in a bid to be taken seriously.

A day later, KSI, also well-known for his YouTube gaming videos, posted a rejoinder titled "Talking about 'YouTube changing' to get views," in which he argues that YouTube has always been "changing" and was never especially great in the first place. He concludes that today YouTube is likely the best it's ever been: Better channel regulation means that "you can't get away with bullshit any more," while monetisation allows KSI to earn money doing what he loves most. The camera cuts to a shot of him standing away from the camera wearing boxer shorts, trouserless and apparently drama-free.

What exactly is going on here? Are these vloggers at war with each other? Is any of this "drama" real? Or is this a YouTube-wide conspiracy, engineered to generate views and give tired vloggers a new subject to rant about? The answer could be any of the above.

At the heart of the conflict, however, is a specific YouTube channel—one that's relatively new (its videos go back a year) but already infamous for its relentless trolling of just about every other YouTuber worth mentioning.

DramaAlert is presented by Keemstar, aka Daniel Keem, a self-styled YouTube news anchor who comes with the worst kind of reputation. Known previously also as a Twitch streamer (now banned), Keemstar's name is rarely far from controversy: A current Change.org petition to ban DramaAlert from YouTube has attracted over 18,000 supporters, while Google Trends graphs show a skyrocketing interest in the term "DramaAlert" in 2016 (the phrase "YouTube drama" shows a similar upswing). DramaAlert's videos come with a disclaimer in the description bar, explaining that Keemstar is contracted and does not own the channel himself, rumoured to be due to multiple YouTube bans:

DJ Keemstar (Daniel Keem) does not own, access, or possess any part of this channel. He is a contracted content producer which is in line with what is required through the YouTube Terms of Service.

Requests for comment to the DramaAlert account went unanswered.

DramaAlert's rise to fame—the channel has more than a million followers—hinges on Keemstar's willingness to address controversial, puerile, and occasionally sordid subject matter, along with his chronic name-dropping of public figures more famous than himself. The channel produces several videos weekly, always about YouTube scandal, and always framed with the same tabloid-esque red-and-white cover images and introduced by Keemstar's drawn out, headache-inducing catchphrase "Leeeetttttts get rooooooiiiiiight into the news..."

DramaAlert comes along at an interesting time. Though some of YouTube's best-known personalities continue to trade in scandal (witness Trisha Paytas as she serves up a never ending buffet of personal outrage, including addiction, stalking, sex confessions and Trump trutherism, alternating with barely-concealed product placement), mainstream YouTube remains a distressingly vanilla place. Online fame is won through a Faustian pact: In order to reach YouTube mega-stardom, you must produce content that is safe for work, safe for children, and safe for sponsors.

Characters like PewDiePie, for all their shouty catchphrases and lurid video titles, have done their part in making one of the weirdest parts of the web seem antiseptic. Their heavily male, games-driven channels are even more formulaic than those of their beauty guru sisters: The "creator" has only to find a popular game (or in some cases, a weird and quirky one), play it through, and shout over the soundtrack to garner attention.

In this repetitive, derivative landscape, a little drama would not go amiss. And now that we have it, there's something delightful about watching figures known for their brash personae and flippant trolling suddenly turn to public whining. For years they have profited from a "mob mentality" of their own, and their accusations come across as the least subtle brand of bitching, the throwing of clumsy shade, while latecomers to the debate like KSI at least have the sense to call them out.

These boys who cry "drama" complain that YouTube used to be better than it is now. They pine, oddly, for a time in the young platform's history when "Team Internet" apparently worked for a common cause, when takedown notices and censorship were a far-off dot on the horizon (as, too, were product sponsorships, management agencies and unique networking agreements which allow creators to operate their own channels). A time, in other words, when they didn't make nearly as much money as they do now. They reek of desperation, much like that friend who tells you they like your favourite band, but will only listen to the "early stuff."

That's not to say DramaAlert is beyond criticism. The channel has a habit of reducing more serious "dramas" to entertainment, then throwing them away when they grow stale. Rape accusations, for instance, should never be taken lightly. Neither should cyberbullying and slander. Whether any of these should be fodder for a channel like DramaAlert in the first place is questionable.

And perhaps, in a way, it is worth considering that other complaint made by PewDiePie and his supporters—that the values of "old YouTube" have been sold out and forgotten. 3.25 billion hours per month is a great deal of time to spend watching self-perpetuating, attention-highjacking drivel, not least when it's in response to a beef that might never have happened in the first place. (One good thing that can be said for DramaAlert, at least, is that the channel condenses its news into palatable five-minute chunks. If you're going to waste your time, you might as well do so efficiently.)

But PewDiePie's decision to address DramaAlert—even if not by name—also says something significant: Intentionally or not, he is baptising DramaAlert into online fame, and giving Keemstar validation. After all, DramaAlert offers YouTubers a quid-pro-quo arrangement, because ultimately each of his videos serves as extra visibility for its subject.

It's the crudest appropriation of the ancient tabloid media model, but for many of YouTube's young viewers, this "drama" looks like something new.

Forum Cop investigates the ugliest of internet beef, getting to the heart of online squabbles and extricating facts from gossip in digital enclaves.