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YouTube’s community is up in arms about butts

Rose Kelly’s home gets dirty. As she prepares to clean up in one of her most popular YouTube videos, she explains that today will be about a quick power sweep. The camera cuts to a cluttered room, but the centerpiece of the shot is Kelly herself — or rather, her lower half. More specifically, her butt. Kelly has chosen to tidy her home in shorts that let a lot of cheek fly free.

Kelly’s video is just one in an ongoing trend known as speed cleaning, where creators (typically women) give their homes a full-moon polish. While many of us may clean at home in our smallest shorts, some YouTubers are taking umbrage with fellow creators showing off what they believe is too much skin.

Drama guru Keemstar recently summarized the trend on Twitter as a “whole genre on YouTube of women cleaning their home in booty shorts.” Some creators are critical of what they see as fellow YouTubers skirting the platform’s rules or taking advantage of its obtuse algorithm. Others question whether or not this content could be available to younger viewers.

InformOverload, a channel dedicated to covering news and trends on YouTube, tackled this topic late last year. In its December 3rd video, “How Is This Allowed On YouTube? – Speed Cleaning,” host Charlotte Dobre says that the videos are vanilla enough to make it past monetization filters because at first blush, they don’t appear to be scandalous. “You soon realize that you’re essentially watching softcore,” she says in the video. “I mean, this is the kind of stuff you go on fetish sites for, yet these videos are clearly allowed on YouTube… Why does YouTube allow this kind of content that has a clear sexual undertone and could easily be found by someone under 18?”

Speed cleaning videos, she claims, take minimal effort — “all you have to do is set up a camera, take your pants off, press record, and start cleaning” — in order to profit. Even if videos are demonetized, she says, most speed cleaners also run 18+ Patreons. “Speed cleaning is the kind of video content that makes me question … why am I putting so much effort into being this smart and respectable woman when I could just film myself cleaning in my underpants and people will actually watch my videos?” Dobre says in her video.

Every minute, 450 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube. It is an enormous network that company eyes cannot possibly monitor the entirety of. Instead, the community itself is left to self-police its own users.

That unity can be powerful. It was widespread concern from YouTubers like Philip DeFranco that finally got channels like FamilyOFive — which included viral videos of child abuse in the form of “prank” videos — removed from the platform. The Susu Family channel featured suggestive content in which a mother would play with her children while flashing her underwear; the videos were frequently marked with a warning beforehand that warned for “graphic” content that “may be disturbing.” YouTube later pulled Susu Family and many other similar channels after YouTuber PaymoneyWubby posted a video investigating the trend.

The most effective way to get YouTube to notice a problem? Make a video about it. But the culture of self-policing leaves much of those judgment calls up to the discretion of personal tastes. The questions posed by the speed cleaning trend are tricky: quandaries that touch on the gray areas of YouTube’s policies and invoke questions about whose bodies are being policed. If adult women chose to upload videos that prominently feature their half-bare bottoms, is it actually a problem?

Part of the ire from fellow YouTubers falls back on demonetization, which is when videos can’t collect any ad revenue. Creators are constantly struggling to understand YouTube’s algorithm and why some videos are demonetized over others. While not all of these speed cleaning videos feature ads, some do — and other creators are angry. “It really sucks because the first thing we think about when we pick a story is: Is this monetizable?” Dobre tells The Verge. Allowing these speed cleaning videos on the platform, especially if they run ads, sends a bad message to creators. “We work really hard on our content and we struggle on this platform because of parameters that have been put on us based on demonetization,” she says.

“It’s frustrating to me because we’re trying to be educational, and we’re trying to fall in line with YouTube’s rules, and yet we are suffering — yet there’s people who are making content that is arguably not supposed to be on this platform.”

That point is still up for debate. Rose Kelly says she makes these videos to get her “inspired to be cleaning, and to inspire other people.” Her channel includes a variety of other videos, mostly of her vacuuming, doing laundry, or dusting; she flits around her home swiping and sweeping in onesies, sweats, or, yes, a pair of tiny shorts. “I’m a bit shocked that some people are so angry about my cleaning video,” Kelly tells The Verge.

She started making videos for YouTube after her son was born. “I couldn’t find the parenting information presented in a style that I found helpful and engaging, so I thought why not make a few videos,” she says. Kelly covers the “unedited, real-life aspects” of the mommy lifestyle. Her audience is parents in their thirties and forties, she says, and “a lot of dads, who find my work inspiring and calming during their busy lives.”

The YouTube community may not be her typical audience, but that hasn’t stopped fellow creators from weighing in. As her video gained more traction, Kelly began to notice references to YouTubers she hadn’t heard of. Many were rude or even threatening. As more creators cover her videos, she says the obscene comments spike.

At the heart of the issue is a question about what qualifies as sexual content. Is it risque for a woman to bend over and expose part of her bottom while picking up a toy, or is it an authentic view of life as a mom? Should the presence of a camera force moms to dress or act a specific way? Kelly pushes back against what she views as an inherent sexualization of everyday life. “The idea that I’m making ‘softcore’ aka porn with my son around on my MOMMY channel is disturbing to say the least,” she says. “My mom and dad watch all my YouTube videos. My family sees them as do many of my friends, so I’d feel pretty creepy to make anything porn-like and put it on a mommy blog or channel.”

Furthermore, she says, the response has shown just how much regulation there is for what women wear or even how they move: “If we don’t, as women, conform to these demands then other channels will get their viewers to harass us … it is a deeply disturbing form of sexual harassment when other men feel they can try to hurt me because they don’t approve of my clothes or what I create as an artist. It’s dangerous and mean.”

Kelly is just one of several creators whose videos have been called out by the community. Ruby Day runs a channel featuring everything from cleaning and yoga videos, to cooking naked (or more specifically, in a strategically placed apron). Day’s take on the response to her content is very zen. “There really isn’t any reason for anybody to be too upset about somebody cleaning their house,” she says.

Day’s take on how she shoots her videos is to give people “a different perspective, as far as camera angels go,” on an aspect of everyday life. “It’s not intended to be overly sexualized. It is not instigated to be such. I understand that there are people who will see it that way. That’s their prerogative. You know, it’s just like some people see chocolate as being overly decadent. Some people don’t. It’s a matter of opinion.” If you don’t like it, she says, don’t watch it, and as long as it’s not hurting anyone or overly vulgar, what’s the problem? “I really don’t see any issue with people being scantily clad and creating the content,” she says. “Do I believe that there should be some, sort of speak, warning, or notice on the front of them if it is a little more than excessive? Absolutely.”

As for whether this content is easily accessible to kids under 18, Day dismisses the notion that this is a creator responsibility. “YouTube does have the kid-friendly platform,” she says. “If they do perceive it to be that type of content and YouTube is putting that type of content on their kid-friendly platform, that’s not the creator’s fault. That’s YouTube’s issue with their algorithms… We have no control over where our content ends up once it’s published through the YouTube system and who sees it.” There are much worse things on YouTube than scantily clad speed cleaning videos, she adds. “I see worse things on YouTube that I wish I had never stumbled across.”

But maybe the greatest issue with YouTube’s self-policing community is its self-interest. These controversies also fuel content, like a snake eating its own tail, hungry for views. YouTuber Leon Lush covered the speed cleaning trend with a tongue-in-cheek take that both illuminates the ridiculous nature of this so-called scandal and appreciates it for what he views as a savvy business streak. He believes speed cleaning videos are an entrepreneurial way to drive traffic to what he considers their real business: Patreon, where they can rack up subscribers for monthly contributions. “It’s not about teaching moms cleaning tips,” he says. “It’s about generating leads for an 18+ Patreon, at the end of the day.”

But is driving customers to Patreon so bad? The service is one of the few online platforms that allows creators, especially those selling 18+ content, to do so safely. Day’s and Kelly’s Patreon tiers offer content like bath time videos and “glamour photos,” along with exclusive vlogs and chats. Asked about their Patreons, both Day and Kelly say it allows them to connect with their communities directly. The service is strict about gating its adult content, which allows creators to share videos, photos, and more that wouldn’t fly on other networks.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Day says. “[Patreon] allows creators to connect with their communities, to continue creating. It’s just that simple. Nobody’s chastising anyone for going out and being employed in some other line of work.” YouTubers often advertise merch or other platforms where their fans can follow them. Patreon isn’t much different — it’s just a new way to turn a profit.

Lush is frank about how he profits from the trend as well. It’s why he made a video discussing speed cleaners in the first place. “I had a feeling I’d be able to get views,” he says. “If I’m being honest, it’s because I knew I’d be able to use a screen grab from the video that would be a good thumbnail. That’s YouTuber think right there. I’m always thinking about thumbnails and titles.”

Self-policing is a way to keep the community in check, but it’s also a good content opportunity. “It’s this weird situation where you’re motivated because you want to help the community. But you’re also motivated because you know this topic is probably going to perform well and be beneficial for you, and your YouTube channel, and your money,” he says.


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