ICYMI: Feeling connected online: the impacts of community on YouTube

MOVE columnist Ellie Papadakis on why YouTube stars create communities.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about people in the past 19 years of my life, it’s that they like to belong. Whether that’s with a group of friends or a club, in order to be happy, people need to be connected. The epitome of this connectedness, I think, is Internet fandoms.

Let’s take for example, “The Fault in Our Stars,” a book — and soon-to-be-released movie — by author and YouTube star John Green. The community that was already centered around Green’s videos blew up when the book came out, and rightly so, but it’s important to remember that Green just wrote the book. It was the fans that did the rest of the work.

They were the ones that obsessively said, “Hey, this is a really good book. You should read it.” They were the ones that created the fan art and the GIFs and the lists of potential cast members, too. It was because of the people who already loved Green’s work that his fan base expanded and the community of people centered on his work grew even more.

It’s important to remember the Internet is a place of many, many opinions and that there are many, many people who won’t like what you like. And that’s OK. This may seem like common sense now, but online anonymity helps to perpetuate a strong sense of “what I like or think is good or right, and you’re weird because you don’t agree.”

Fandoms centered around YouTube stars — whether that’s Green or the Shaytards or Jack and Finn Harries — are more likely to have arguments like these. Because it’s someone talking to a viewer through the camera, a fan’s connection with an Internet star seems more personal than it really is. If you watch a vlogger long enough, it starts to feel like you know them personally.

If I were going to interview Benedict Cumberbatch for the first time, I would probably address him as Mr. Cumberbatch because, you know, it’s polite and I don’t really know him. On the other hand, when I met Green in 2012, I almost went up to him all like, “Hey John, nice to meet you! What’s the weather like in Indianapolis?” I felt comfortable, as if I already knew him from his videos.

It’s weird, when you think about it. I don’t really know who Green is; he’s just an author who decided to make videos and post them online. He never intended to become a big personality. On the contrary, Cumberbatch knew he was going into acting and his goal was that, eventually, people would come to admire his work.

Vloggers are regular people who have found an outlet to where they can, as YouTube’s slogan states, “broadcast themselves.” They aren’t trained famous people. And that one-on-oneness that the viewer feels when they watch a video? It’s not really there — the person is just talking to a camera, after all.

But it’s also important to remember that they are online every day. They check the same Tumblr tags that we do, they read their Twitter replies and Facebook comments and they especially pay attention to the comments they get on YouTube.

It’s good to keep some privacy when you’re online every day. We as fans shouldn’t speculate about their personal lives and the things that they don’t share with us in their videos or leave them angry messages when they haven’t uploaded a weekly video, as much as we would like a new video to procrastinate from doing homework.

And as much as we idolize them, or get offended when our friends don’t like them or that someone in the comments said something mean about them, the Internet is a big place. It’s easy to move to another corner and find people that care about the same things that you do.

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