With the benefit of a couple days, here are two things we wanted to talk about
Creators Getting Kicked Out
One of the hardest parts of running VidCon is not being able to feature every creator who deserves it. Sometimes there are creators with large and dedicated communities that we can’t feature. Here are some reasons why that happens:
- They just aren’t on our radar because we were looking in the wrong place, or they got very popular very recently. Sometimes creators have no idea how enthusiastic their fans will be until they arrive.
- They told us that they couldn’t come after we asked them to, but then their plans changed and they arrived without telling us.
- We just ran out of space and were not able to feature them despite really wanting to.
- They have been previously told not to attend after intentionally endangering our attendees or being violent with our staff.
In situations where people who have large followings come to VidCon without any crowd control, it can become dangerous very quickly.
Here’s how our current procedure works
When a creator starts getting mobbed at VidCon, we do our best to give them an opportunity to meet their fans by doing some on-the-spot crowd control. If the mob is getting too big, we ask the creator to come with security to a back-of-house area where we discuss whether we can set something up, or whether it’s best for them to leave (or just hang out with folks back stage).
If they go back into a public area alone to intentionally start another mob, we ask them to leave the event and tell them that, if they come back, we will consider that trespassing and law enforcement will get involved.
It is often difficult to understand how an action as simple as walking through a courtyard could be putting hundreds of people at risk, and we get that. But if a creator is repeatedly putting attendees at risk even after we have explained the situation to them, we have no choice but to kick them out.
Things we’re doing to make this better:
- We want to talk with creators to see why they weren’t able to (or didn’t want to) get involved with VidCon directly.
- We want to have a better system for quickly getting surprise creators to a place where they can safely meet and hang out with their fans.
- Creators who have repeatedly and intentionally caused mobs, or been violent with our security staff will be notified that they have been banned from the event and will be trespassing if they show up.
Only a tiny number of the literally hundreds of creators we invite have consistently and intentionally created mobs. Most of these folks are well-intentioned and just want to meet their fans. We are also having a lot of conversations with security staff about how to de-escalate these situations, but we take it extremely seriously when VidCon’s attendees are put in harm’s way.
Who’s Harassing Whom?
VidCon has a tagline, it’s “For people who love online video.” But, of course, in addition to celebrating, this event has also always been about confronting difficult issues our community faces. It is openly known that women on the internet are subject to far greater amounts (and intensity) of harassment and abuse than men. This is a pattern and it’s pervasive. Running this event, we have to be aware when a creator has potentially dangerous harassers or stalkers, and our list for our female creators is a whole lot longer than the list for male creators.
That’s just one reason why we had a panel called “Women Online” featuring women who had received a variety of kinds of abuse, from repeated sexual advances to stalking to years of targeted harassment.
There is a fairly prominent genre of social/political commentary on the internet that focuses on specific individuals as a path to attack ideas and build outrage. These creators do not violate harassment policies, but the result is often that the vitriol of their followers ends up focused not on ideas, but on people (usually women.)
Many people in these communities end up believing the righteous thing to do is threaten, harass, and dox the thinkers they’re arguing with. Whether or not this is an intentional strategy to cultivate harassment or an awful side-effect, the result is some of the worst discourse and most intense harassment on the internet.
This year, we had a contingent of attendees (some who paid, some who snuck in with fake passes) who had been either perpetrators of this harassment, or had, for years, watched as the outrage they cultivated resulted in followers doxxing, harassing, intimidating, and even threatening the lives of the creators on these panels.
It is difficult to imagine that this group of people (who are aware that their channels have been base-camps for years of harassment of some of our panelists) did not realize that their arriving early to fill up the three front rows of a panel was going to be intimidating. In any case, it looked like intentional intimidation to most people in attendance, and the panelists were understandably on edge throughout the discussion.
During the panel, a panelist called out one of the audience members for being someone who has made her life very difficult, and wished she didn’t have to give him attention because he was a “garbage human.” Look, we don’t want our panelists to insult our audience members, even when we completely understand that the comment exists in a much broader (and pretty messed up) context. Even when people have said hateful things that everyone in our office disagrees with, we have a policy, and it exists not just to protect people at the show, but to protect our ability to have these conversations.
Our founder, Hank Green, talked with our panelist and said two things:
- He told her that her comment had violated our policy, but that he understood that there was a broader context (which to be clear, we were blissfully ignorant of until this weekend, and remain inexpert in.)
- He apologized to her for not having been more aware of and active in understanding the situation before the event, which resulted in her being subjected to a hostile environment that she had not signed up for.
We agreed that she would go forward and continue on as a panelist on a later panel.
This is a difficult situation to build policy to alleviate, but we ask that all of the people involved consider the power of our actions and statements both online and in the real world. But one specific note, if people attend VidCon to collect footage to later use in videos that criticize not just ideas, but focus the outrage of their followers on individuals, they will not be welcome back.
What both of these issues have driven home for the VidCon team is that people are often bad at understanding their own power. We all imagine ourselves to be simply people — just another human among the billions with one tiny voice. But “trolling” (whatever that is) really does drive people from our platforms and end their dreams of being creators. A simple stroll through a hotel lobby really can endanger people’s safety.
These days success can happen fast, and creators might not yet have understood or accepted the responsibility their influence brings.
Maybe that is especially true when creators have built a fan base with the kind of inflammatory rhetoric and audience development strategies that can potentially turn their followers into more than just trolls. We are all watching as those techniques wear at the fabric of not just internet culture, but our whole world.
We hope that one of the many lessons learned at VidCon 2017 will be that it is very difficult to correctly imagine the power you can have over other people, and maybe we will all work harder to understand that in the future.