I’ve been on the internet for a long time. I’ve seen first-hand how news and entertainment has shifted and changed over the years, for better or worse. I’d like to talk specifically about YouTube’s major role in the lives of children, adolescents, and teens from its humble beginnings to the present day.
In elementary school, my classmates and I viewed computers as a novel concept. They were innovative devices that deserved their own rooms, whether that be in offices, toy rooms (my friend was *very* middle class, okay), or my own families’ downstairs living room.
At school, my friends and I would be huddled around a browser window while clicking on whichever YouTube videos had the coolest titles, brightest thumbnails, or most views, naturally. Some of my favourites from around the early 2010s included the hilarious satire music of Rhett and Link, the silly but fascinating experiments of the Slow Mo Guys, and even the terrifying video series Don’t Hug me I’m Scared.
I had pretty childish reasons behind making a YouTube account in the first place, since I initially signed up just so I could dislike Justin Bieber’s song “Baby”, which shows you the kind of common attitude among preteens at this time.
There were famously a lot of challenges emerging on YouTube around this time, which I can’t say I completely avoided. Many of my friends recognized that the cinnamon and ice bucket challenges were dangerous, for instance, but a friend and I still did the chubby bunny challenge while hanging out at her house.
I was a very gullible child who fell for internet pranks constantly; I was even tricked by my older brother into playing the scary maze game before I had heard about the prank. I have friends now who would watch gore videos for fun as a child, but most of us stuck to the YouTube home feed, which was fairly innocuous, all things considered.
One time, I decided to look up “videos to watch before bed” hoping to find a calming video I could put on before sleeping. Nowadays, that search entry would turn up various ASMR and “satisfying” compilations, but on that late night I instead stumbled upon a video of a car slowly driving down a hill (if you know, you know) which ended with a jumpscare, as many did.
A few years ago, I was watching the theme songs for old children’s cartoons, discussing the nostalgia with some internet friends, when a screamer appeared (a jumpscare alongside a loud scream). I was shocked of course, but mostly just baffled that people were still posting pranks like this, especially for a video that would overwhelmingly be viewed by children.
I think YouTube intended to prevent sick pranks like these from reaching today’s children with their new video classification system, but there have certainly been mixed results. James Bridle perfectly encapsulates the concern I feel for the children of today in his article titled Something is wrong on the internet, as a vast majority of the internet has been taken over by advertisements, mature content, and scams.
When I was a kid, I had (somewhat) free flash games like Animal Jam and Moshi Monsters, content creators I could rely on for innocent entertainment like TheRunawayGuys and Rachel and Jun, forums for discussing Pokémon and art (even if I was a little young and immature for the environments). I don’t see that kind of age-appropriate media and games for children anymore. Instead they are pushed towards creating social media accounts and visiting the same 10-20 most popular websites, which are rife with targeted content and negativity.
Since the death of flash and the worrying descent of children’s media, the internet has lost a lot of the spaces that kept us occupied in our youth. I can only hope that these companies will put in the effort to make their websites fun and safe again, but there is only so much we can expect to be done when profit is the sole motivator, like it often is in a society like ours.
In the meantime, I try my hardest to be clear about my intentions online and manage how others engage with my content; I hope others will do the same.
Bridle, J. (2018, June 21). Something is wrong on the internet. Medium. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://medium.com/@jamesbridle/something-is-wrong-on-the-internet-c39c471271d2