On 14th October 2023, full-time content creator SSSniperwolf posted a story on her Instagram. In her now-deleted post, she asked her 5.6 million followers “Should I go visit @Jacksfilms?” and “Let’s talk like adults.” jacksfilms, a content creator himself, had a history of being critical of SSSniperwolf’s reaction-style videos, so much so that he’d even created a separate YouTube channel, JJJacksfilms, to highlight issues with her content. As the argument goes, reaction videos add little to the original videos, is a lazy way to create content and is tantamount to content theft, particularly when the original creators aren’t credited.
Not taking too kindly to the criticism SSSniperwolf turned up outside jacksfilms’ house and shared his location with her millions of followers. While jacksfilms was in the middle of a live stream, other participants informed him that he had been doxxed. Worried about his safety, he shut down the stream and posted about the situation on his social media channels. Chaos ensued.
Since that moment numerous YouTubers have chimed in on the situation, SSSniperwolf’s Instagram page is being flooded with negative comments and @TeamYouTube is being inundated with tweets asking why SSSniperwolf hasn’t been de-platformed yet.
YouTube’s harassment and cyberbullying policies specifically points out, “We also don’t allow other harmful behaviours, like threats or doxxing.” Yet as of the publishing of this article, SSSniperwolf continues to post videos and YouTube has remained silent on the issue.
So, what does this mean and why is it a problem for YouTube? For one, the situation is creating a lot of resentment within the YouTube community, among creators and viewers alike. SSSniperwolf is one of YouTube’s largest creators. With 34.1 million subscribers, she’ll be bringing in many viewers and by extension, a lot of revenue for YouTube. She’ll also be doing pretty well herself, bringing in as much as $500,000 per month in ad revenue. Are some creators more important than others? Do the rules apply for everyone? If you’re a big creator, can you get away with stuff that small creators can’t?
This is an ongoing problem that social media platforms have. They want the most popular creators to create content on their platforms. Things get difficult when this is achieved in conflict with policies that supposedly exist for the benefit of the community.
In March 2014 on the Q&A platform Quora, President Barack Obama posted an answer to the question, “What’s it like to play basketball with President Obama?” Although he answered the question at first, his post moved off-topic into the realm of health insurance. As a result, many users reported the answer as spam, something that would often lead to a ban for other users. But unsurprisingly, Obama’s post is still there. Having Barack Obama posting on Quora conferred legitimacy to the platform. Which platform wouldn’t want the President of the United States and one of the most recognizable people on the planet posting on it?
But there’s another way to look at it. Quora could have deleted Obama’s post. The long term benefit would have been greater trust and loyalty among the platform’s user base, confident that everyone was treated equally and policies would be applied fairly. It would also make for some epic PR!
But ultimately Quora chose to leave Barack Obama’s post up, and if we look back at the world of social media back in the mid 2010s, we can examine their reasoning. When Quora was founded in 2009, it had enormous potential. There was finally a platform where you could get educated, well thought-through responses by experts in their fields, in contrast to the morass of content that was on Yahoo! Answers. Adam D’Angelo, former CTO of Facebook and CEO of Quora, was widely recognised as one of the smartest people in tech. But as the 2010s progressed, Facebook would continue its quest for world domination, Instagram would change society and Snapchat would pave the way for the next generation of social media apps. Despite still having a large user base, Quora was getting left behind. It’s ‘Be Nice, Be Respectful’ policy was coming under fire for inconsistency and Quora was trying hard to publicise its own version of influencers, the Top Writers. Having Barack Obama posting on the platform was an opportunity to good to pass up.
This dynamic of being favourably disposed to certain content creators would play out again and again on various platforms. When Justin Bieber had been locked out of his Instagram account during its early days, he rang up the IG team to reset his password; something the everyday user wouldn’t be able to do. When Taylor Swift was having a public fallout with Kim Kardashian, Swift spoke with the IG team to see what could be done to stop receiving so many snake emojis in her comments. When news was spreading about a potential US ban of TikTok in 2020, rival app Triller was offering influencers equity and job roles within the company.
But celebrities and influencers aside, the varying punishments towards those who violate TOS rules speaks to the difficulty of applying consistent enforcement on platforms that host hundreds of millions of people. But the SSSniperwolf situation is arguably different. Her doxxing of another creator was very visible and there’s hard evidence of it. Sure, she didn’t doxx jacksfilms on YouTube, but the attention given to the situation makes it almost impossible for YouTube to ignore. And where does YouTube draw the line? Hypothetically speaking, the suggestion is that one can commit a serious crime such as murder and post it on Instagram without having to worry about any consequences on YouTube.
At stake is another chunk of YouTube’s credibility that appears to be eroding among a larger segment of the creator community. Those who are building a career on YouTube and those who rely on YouTube for their earnings will be concerned to see that punishment and opportunities don’t apply to each creator equally. But what other choice do they have? YouTube, the behemoth that it is, is arguably a platform with few alternatives, particularly for longer-form video content.
It’s worth pointing out that YouTube hasn’t always turned a blind eye, and has taken punitive action against large creators such as Logan Paul and PewDiePie. But the silence and inaction on the SSSniperwolf situation can be interpreted as YouTube still deciding on a course of action. With any action it takes, it’ll be setting a precedent and thus needs to tread carefully. For the moment, however, YouTube is staying silent, quite simply, because it can. It’s had a history of community discontent, from the Adpocalypse to the removing of the dislike button, and has since survived unscathed from the backlash. However if internet history is anything to go by, pushing users too far, as the link aggregator Digg found out in 2010, could end up being disastrous.
On 20 October 2023, YouTube gave its response to the situation after almost a week of silence, giving SSSniperwolf a temporary monetization suspension. This hasn’t alleviated community discontent, and likely angered people further, as the punishment is perceived as too light. People have also caught onto YouTube’s statement that “the behavior on both sides isn’t what we want on YT”, which appears to many as victim blaming. The general consensus is that rather than taking appropriate punitive action, YouTube has taken the unpopular decision to protect one of its largest creators.