On the night of June 25, YouTuber Jenna Marbles uploaded her latest video to her channel, telling her 2 million subscribers that she was leaving the platform. YouTubers are online personalities who have cultivated long-term trust with their audiences to provide entertainment, connection, and community through the social media video platform. To achieve that level of influence to earn that title, it takes years to live in public, document every moment, edit the material, and publish it to the world. It is a space of vulnerability and courage, but full of public traps. Until Thursday, Jenna Marbles, 33, spent the past decade as a YouTuber.
The 11-minute video, titled “A Message,” is an emotional judgment and retaliation for videos from Jenna’s past. She apologized for several videos produced in 2011 and 2012, a year after her channel started, videos that included Jenna with a black face, making racial epithets targeting Asians and embarrassing. The hurtful content hasn’t been visible on her channel for many years, but the calculation comes amid a cultural moment of personal accounting for public figures. The movements, from #MeToo to the elimination of problematic statues, are framed within a historical corrective, seeking to equalize part of the retroactive continuity of the narratives that have been normalized.
YouTubers are an interesting subset of the internet influencer. The YouTuber initially emerged on YouTube through the video blogging (vlogging) act, a kind of video diary where the YouTuber speaks directly to the camera. Much of the success of the early YouTubers stemmed from a specific aesthetic that differentiated YouTube videos from traditional television. Some of the early YouTubers like Tyler Oakley, Michelle Phan, and Grace Helbig organically created the YouTuber method, growing their audience through self-efficacy display, personal stories, and conversations with their community. Fifteen years later, there are thousands of people who consider themselves YouTubers, many of whom use the platform to take advantage of their careers or make millions with sponsorship deals and endorsements.
Jenna Marbles started her channel in 2010 and quickly became popular with her viral video “How to trick people into thinking you’re handsome.” The video, with the soundtrack to Rick Astley’s internet troll, is two and a half minutes of Jenna teasing herself. She is aware of her conversion to the YouTube world since her master’s education. Self-awareness has been one of Jenna’s strengths throughout her career, but she openly admits that she has made numerous mistakes.
A platform of problems
In recent years, YouTube has been the target of a variety of issues that have made it the mainstream. From problems stemming from radicalization, the opacity of the suggestion algorithm, to the YouTubers themselves, the platform is still maturing. YouTubers sometimes push the limits to stay visible and relevant within the 500 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute.
Unlike traditional media, the web contains an archive and a complete history of uploaded content, and users can access any material in the entire library at any time. Growing up and learning in public is a visual journey, provided it is observed in linear order.
YouTubers are very aware of how the public reacts to their content and often do personal retrospects. In 2016 Jenna participated in the retrospective with a video titled “Reacting to my old videos (video 300)”. In it, she tells her audience that she has grown and learned so much over the years that she has been producing content.
The act of presenteeism is to interpret material from the past in a current context. In Jenna’s video, she tells her audience that she doesn’t want to bring negative things to the world and that she has actively and intentionally hidden hurtful content. Recognizing the present moment, she expressed sadness at the offense she caused to people, even if she learned from these mistakes. Near the end of her video, she voices her latest statement: “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I don’t want to offend anyone. I just want to have a good time and I’m not having a good time. “
Jenna takes responsibility for her past and recognizes her role as an influencer and role model. Her fans and fans are clearly upset but they respect her decision.
Being a public figure is difficult and being one on a platform shared by so many personalities, communities and interests makes growth a shared process. Jenna made the painful decision to take responsibility and leave her channel. While she did not have to leave, she made an important and emotional statement for her community. At the end of her video, she says, “I don’t want to post anything in the world that could hurt anyone,” and said she is done with the channel for now. For 20 million people, replacing Jenna will be almost impossible.