The Politics of Platforms

Some shit that’s happening on YouTube, I don’t know.

Photo: Vulkan der Nacht

It makes sense that YouTube would become home to such a performatively self-aware economy. It is, after all, one of the most mature of the major social platforms. It is extremely culturally productive, and can claim genuine stars as its own. Above all, it pays. And in the people who depend on the platform to pay their bills, it inspires a peculiar mixture of paranoia, desire, gratefulness and disdain that shows up clearly in their work. YouTube’s peculiar relationship with the economy within it is fraught, promising and poorly understood. It’s also unique among social-media platforms — but maybe not for much longer. For now, most of the biggest internet platforms are understood as venues for communication, expression and consumption. YouTube has given us a glimpse at what happens when users start associating social platforms with something more: livelihoods.

Imagine if the dinosaurs had someone who was able to explain everything about meteors to them: They would still all die, but they would be incredibly well-informed about the thing that was going to cause their extinction even as it hurtled towards them. Anyway, John Herrman is our meteor-explaining dinosaur, and here he discusses PewDiePie, which is hopefully something you don’t know a whole lot about. I mean, really, how awful for you if you do.

YouTube’s Monster: PewDiePie and His Populist Revolt