Youtubes I didn’t like

Since it was revealed that gay youtuber James Somerton was engaging in extensive plagiarism in his videos, many of us are reflecting on how it relates to us personally. My first reaction was that I never liked Somerton to begin with. His videos were very disjointed, and they took forever to get to the point, or never got to the point at all. I also spotted one or two factual errors that made me think he didn’t know anything.

But I feel for his former fans, and I don’t blame them for liking and trusting Somerton. How could they have known?

And I never said out loud that I disliked Somerton, and why would I? I just thought he was a bad essayist, I didn’t think he had actually done anything wrong. Maybe if more people spoke up, stuff like this would come to light sooner?

I’m grasping at straws, I’m not convinced for a minute that this is the right answer. But let’s try it for a moment. Let’s talk about a few youtubes I didn’t like and why.

Let’s start with a really petty example, because I want to establish that I am petty. That’s alright because I’m allowed to make arbitrary choices about what to watch… but you probably shouldn’t take my preferences too seriously. So my first example is Tom Scott. His thumbnails feel clickbaity, and I don’t like his face. I watched like one video by him and I was happy to confirm that didn’t particularly like the video. I’m sure he’s alright though, or maybe not, how would I know?

My second example is Sabine Hossenfelder. I also disliked her for her thumbnails. Her branding consistently positioned herself as a no-bullshitter who will tell you what THEY don’t want you to know. I think that’s an awful way to brand a physics popularization channel, because inviting general audiences to form opinions on ongoing scientific controversies is a recipe to mislead people, even if she happens to be correct. Also, that’s not an appropriate way to frame absolutely every topic, but since it’s her brand she has to do it all the time anyway. More recently, Sabine has been criticized for her misguided takes on trans people, capitalism, and autism, and I’m happy to see my instincts validated.

JM8, a game critic who focuses on design, once made a video about Bloodborne. He makes the claim that bosses attack in time with the music. I’ve never played, but I have to call bullshit on that. There are so many Dark Souls youtubers, I think it would have come up. I think this myth comes from The Game Theorists, the very opposite of a reliable source. It’s baffling that people believe this. Although I still think JM8’s alright, otherwise.

Dr. Angela Collier also made a factual error in one video. She claimed that in the US, regulations require that a human review each application for credit. I am professionally familiar with the subject, and that’s completely incorrect, contradicted by the source she shows on screen. I think it was an honest mistake, but I’ve found it very hard to appreciate her videos after spotting it.

Years ago, I didn’t like Contrapoints, because I watched her video on capitalism. I don’t remember the exact issue, but I didn’t feel like she understood the subject matter. Also portraying the people at the top as lizardpeople is a well-known antisemitic trope, that I guess she didn’t know about. I think Contrapoints got way way better, but I still don’t like her oldest videos.

I did not appreciate Moony’s recent video on video game industry layoffs. Many tech companies have a business model where they try to grow exponentially, and only later work out profitability. But he illustrates this with the Gartner hype cycle, which isn’t applicable to this context and probably isn’t even accurate in its original context. His “explanation” lacks any real mechanism, and I can’t even tell whether he thinks it’s micro- or macroeconomic in nature. It’s frustrating that other viewers think this is a good explanation. I didn’t unsub or anything though.

Sarah Z had two videos I didn’t care for. In her video on anti-shipping, her whole angle was that this was a pointless argument over nothing. In fact, anti-shippers contend that the argument is over pedophilia, and I don’t really agree with that, but it makes sense that anti-shippers would be mad about it, and that pro-shippers would be mad about it as well. This was obviously relevant to address, and the omission undermined her entire thesis.

The other Sarah Z video was the one about Andrew Hussie. I came away from that video convinced that Hussie was pretty bad at managing a company, and oblivious to that fact. But Sarah Z spent so much time focusing not on the real problem, but on Hussie’s weird communication style. Seriously, so what if Hussie talks funny? That… was why I liked him in the first place. The more I thought about these videos, Sarah really soured on me, and I eventually unsubbed.

I watched Lady Emily for a longer period. But I did not appreciate her video about Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach. It’s structured in a way that is really unfriendly to anyone who happens to not care for the album. It’s needlessly accusatory of people who would judge the album purely by listening to it without watching the accompanying animations. I unsubbed over this–but maybe it wasn’t just that, I was just losing interest in general.

I’ve never liked Rowan Ellis. One time I wrote about a disagreement I had with her video on assimilationism and liberationism. Rowan Ellis treated liberationism as a laudatory category while claiming neutrality. But it wasn’t just that. Every video I saw from her was a disappointment, really lacking in basic insight.

I don’t care for Philosophy Tube for a lot of reasons so little that they’re hard to even remember. Some of her videos are brilliant, but others I’ve just found boring, or I had little disagreements here and there. Also, almost all the philosophy is continental, where I’m more interested in analytical philosophy.

So what causes me to dislike a youtube video or channel? Clickbait, factual errors and omissions, failing to anticipate viewers with divergent preferences, and just vibes. A mix of reasons at all levels of pettiness. Generally, if I see something I don’t like, I won’t spend the time to dig into it to confirm my instincts, I just move on to something else.

When someone gets accused of wrongdoing, we tend to hear a lot of people come out of the woodwork to say “I never liked them to begin with”. I remember this happening with Harry Potter–after Rowling became the de facto spokesperson for TERFs, suddenly everyone hated her books, and had always hated them. I think what’s really going on is that people generally keep these negative opinions to themselves, until the moment arrives when they can fit it into a larger public narrative.

But ultimately, it’s a mistake to think we can foresee bad actors just based on vibes.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    Dr. Angela Collier also made a factual error in one video

    More than one. In her space elevator video, she fucked up on the physics right off the bat. In another I watched for a couple minutes, she got the Bohr model angular momentum quantization wrong.

    FWIW, I don’t see these as her being a bad physicist. Just a sloppy one who doesn’t seem to prepare her presentations.

    She also deleted my comment correcting the space elevator force equation. Boohoo 😉

  2. says

    @Rob Grigjanis,
    Yeah, I think it’s a symptom of not preparing or not putting enough effort into fact checking. I sympathize, as a person who most certainly puts even less effort into it, since I don’t waste any time on video editing. But as a viewer I’m bothered enough that I’m reluctant to watch.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Siggy @3: Having read most if not all of your physics posts, I suspect you would at least sanity-check any equations you wrote down (or were planning to write down) before presenting them to the world.

  4. brightmoon says

    I’ll occasionally watch a creationist video just to see if they actually have some “new information”. Same ol’ , same ol’ or SSDD . I rarely stay more than 4 or 5 minutes before they piss me off and I stop watching

  5. cartomancer says

    Thinking on it, I suppose what I tend to go to youtube for is not necessarily information or analysis or news – it’s company. That sense that I’m not alone in the world (or, at least, given that I almost always am alone, the soothing fantasy that I am not). When I get home every evening to an empty flat, spend my weekends on my own, and have precisely two friends left, whom I see for an hour or two maybe once or twice a year, something like youtube fills a void. Particularly where it comes to my gay identity, which I have no other sense of connection to or community around since my only gay friend stopped talking to me a couple of years back.

    There is something immediate and, to some degree, intimate about a youtube video that feels more like company and community than watching a regular TV programme or reading a book. Which means that videos by someone you don’t get on with feel uncomfortable and off-putting to a greater degree. Truth be told I have found very few people on there I have warmed to. Ironically the two I have are Hbomberguy, James Somerton, and it has been something of a difficult thing these last few days as the first of them has produced something uncomfortable (which I still haven’t been able to bring myself to watch) attacking the second (whose videos and live streams are now all gone). Which has kind of scotched my one coping mechanism for the loneliness of life these days.

    Of course, this may turn out to be a positive in the long run. After all, a crutch that deludes me into thinking I might have some place in a community that comprehensively doesn’t want me (and has expressed that fact repeatedly, in no uncertain terms, over the course of the last two decades) only serves to keep painful hopes alive and prevent me from seeing the truth and coming to terms with it. What I need, perhaps, is not a soothing simulacrum of company but to accept the realities of life without it.

  6. says

    I’ve been lurking a bit on the hbomberguy subreddit, and there are a lot of sad stories from people who felt betrayed. The general response from the subredditors (echoing H. Bomberguy himself), is to find other youtubers, like in this playlist. Although in my experience, it’s hard to find a good fit, for all sorts of little reasons.

  7. cartomancer says

    I wouldn’t exactly use the word “betrayed” to describe how I feel. To be entirely honest I am not all that worked up about the whole plagiarism thing, because I treated the videos more as a feel-good entertainment product than an academic one. The content was secondary to the sense, however manufactured and false, that I was included and that I somehow belonged. Particularly where the monthly live streams were concerned. It’s sad, really, but typing in questions and comments and having someone – James Summerton – read out my name and respond in real time and laugh and joke and talk about things that concern me is the closest I’ve had to a gay community pretty much ever. Which is not a false and stolen thing. Indeed, it was its very authenticity that made it so meaningful. Yes it was a para-social relationship, but in the absence of actual social relationships those are very important. James Summerton wasn’t my friend, but he certainly felt like the closest approximation of one I could hope to get, and that’s not nothing. Far from it.

    So no, betrayed doesn’t really capture it for me. I’m mostly just depressed that I can’t have a thing I liked (and that was helping me through these difficult modern times) anymore. After three or four years it was familiar, comfortable and reassuring, and that is a very difficult thing to recreate.

  8. says

    Yes, I see. That’s fairly different to how I relate to youtube, as I’m definitely there for the analysis (and humor, let’s be honest). But I do think that’s a legitimate thing to want. I mean, I’m sort of an asocial person, I don’t really feel the need for close friends. My “friends” such as they are, are mostly people on the internet. So I tend to think those relationships are important.

    FWIW, I think there are other places you can get that sort of parasocial relationship. It seems like what you’d want are streamers rather than video essayists.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *