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.