scorecardHow getting 'canceled' can actually prolong a YouTuber's career
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How getting 'canceled' can actually prolong a YouTuber's career

Madison Hall,Kat Tenbarge   

How getting 'canceled' can actually prolong a YouTuber's career
LifeThelife7 min read
  • Cancel culture is a relatively recent term for an online phenomenon characterized by people being called out and publicly shamed for perceived problematic behavior.
  • The phenomenon frequently affects influencers and internet celebrities.
  • Despite the negative attention of being "cancelled," famous YouTuber such as James Charles and the Paul brothers have seemingly benefited from certain cancelation events.
  • Smaller YouTubers like beauty gurus Tati Westbrook and Laura Lee hit a wall in terms of growth after they were "cancelled," in part because of how they responded to the pressure.
  • This is part of Insider's "uncancelable" series, which uses data to analyze cancel culture.

For online celebrities, getting "canceled" is almost an inevitability.

Cancel culture is a relatively recent term for an online phenomenon characterized by people being called out and publicly shamed for perceived problematic behavior. For influencers, whose lives are ruled by social media, being cancelled can result in a massive loss in followers, an attack on their public image, and the loss of sponsorships and other forms of income.

But for some of the most well-known online figures, many of whom reside on YouTube, cancelation can also provide a significant, enduring career boost, according to a data analysis conducted by Insider.

Yet far from canceling someone's future opportunities, the data actually shows that affected creators if anything enjoy greater permanence, reach, and notoriety.

Controversy can help boost numerous parties involved in a conflict

In May 2019, top YouTubers in the makeup community clashed in battle that was dubbed "Dramageddon 2.0." Beauty gurus Tati Westbrook and Jeffree Star alleged that then-teenager James Charles had hurt Westbrook's vitamin supplement business and sexually preyed on straight boys.

Charles experienced the greatest subscriber loss -1.7 million - of any YouTuber in the platform's history as he was rapidly canceled following the claims. In a span of days, however, the tables turned after Charles refuted the allegations and Star and Westbrook apologized. Charles went on to surpass both of their follower-counts within the next year and a half.

Charles now has 24.5 million subscribers in total, compared to Star's 17 million and Westbrook's 9 million.

But in major YouTuber conflicts, even if there appears to be a clear winner, that doesn't mean there aren't benefits for the other parties involved, according to Adam McIntyre, a YouTuber with over 130,000 subscribers who makes videos about drama on the platform.

"They're all reviewing the exact same makeup palette," McIntyre said. "So the one way they can stand out more is to involve themselves in drama."

After Westbrook released her initial video calling out Charles, her own YouTube following skyrocketed. She gained over four million subscribers, propelling her channel to 10 million subscribers for the first time in her career. As a third party in the controversy, Star's subscriber count didn't rise to nearly the same extent as Westbrook's, but his following continued to steadily grow in the aftermath of the controversy.

A negative reputation can be a good thing on YouTube

Similarly, Jake and Logan Paul have openly courted controversy. Both Paul brothers, who have over 42 million combined followers, have routinely skirted YouTube guidelines, facing consequences ranging from pulled sponsorships to a temporary suspension of Logan's YouTube ad revenue.

Logan notoriously recorded himself finding what appeared to be a dead body in 2017 and had his channel briefly suspended, while Jake has faced recent scrutiny for partying during the coronavirus pandemic and getting raided by the FBI after he filmed himself loitering at an Arizona mall as it was being looted.

Despite these incidents, or perhaps because of them, the Paul brothers have managed to not only recover from their repeated controversies, but thrive on the back end of major scandals. Both brothers are now professional boxers, with Logan set to spar in an exhibition against boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. in February 2021.

Tana Mongeau, a YouTube personality known for her faked marriage to Jake Paul and her dramatic "Storytime" videos, has also faced cancelation and cultivated a negative repution, but has experienced sustained follower growth. In June 2018, she was heavily criticized for hosting Tanacon, a convention that ended in disaster after her team oversold tickets to the event. Teenagers baked in the sun with little water, and some experienced severe sunburn. Despite the fiasco, her follower count rose consistently for months afterward. faked a marriage to Jake Paul in 2019. In April 2019 she started dating Jake Paul. Despite both of their toxic reputations, Mongeau experienced a follower growthspurt.

No creator will ever be fully 'canceled' if they continue to make videos

Though beauty guru Charles may hold the record for the largest subscriber drop in YouTube history, YouTuber Laura Lee may be the best example of a creator whose growth was genuinely stymied by a cancelation.

As a part of what is considered the original "Dramageddon" in the YouTube beauty community, Lee's old racist tweets against Black and Asian communities resurfaced in 2018.

After being put on blast for her old tweets, Lee temporarily deleted her entire Twitter account, only to re-emerge with a lengthy apology written in the iPhone's "Notes" app. Despite her short apology, Lee quickly lost sponsorships and branded partnerships with major companies, including Morphe, Ulta, and BoxyCharm.

She garnered even more negative attention after uploading what has been deemed one of the worst apology videos on YouTube, in which she wipes away non-existent tears for most of the five-minute video.

Lee lost over 500,000 subscribers, but unlike Charles, there wasn't an immediate redemption Arc. Lee has slowly been rebuilding her following by posting twice a week to her channel. In 2020, she gained over 100,000 subscribers. If she can maintain her current rate of 10,000 to 20,000 subscribers gained per month, it will take her at least three years to return to the 5 million subscribers she had before her fall.

A post shared by Laura Lee (@larlarlee)

While Lee experienced an intense blow to her follower count that has lasted for months, her case also illustrates the limits of cancel culture on a YouTuber with an already-large following. Even at her lowest point, Lee still had just under 4.5 million subscribers. Without deleting someone's entire account, such as when YouTube permanently removed social commentator LeafyIsHere, it's unlikely that any creator with a platform of millions will be canceled into obscurity if they continue to release regular content and connect with forgiving fans.

McIntyre told Insider that for this reason, cancel culture should be relabled "accountability culture."

Holding YouTubers accountable for their behavior, McIntyre said, may hurt someone's wallet and the size of their audience, but it very rarely ever fully destroys their career.

The biggest creators are the hardest to cancel

Shane Dawson created his channel in 2008, and quickly became one of YouTube's earliest stars. With 22 million subscribers, Dawson has accumulated a fanbase larger than the populations of 47 of the 50 states in the US.

During his tenure on YouTube, Dawson has been a part of numerous controversies stemming from some of his early content, such as dressing in black face, saying the "N-word," and pretending to masturbate to a promotional photo of an 11-year-old Willow Smith, but so far, he's always managed to come back.

Despite his countless crude and racist videos, Dawson has shown that cancelations can serve as a rallying point for hardcore fans.

Following his "Regarding the rumors about me today" apology video in January 2018, where he apologized for joking about child porn in an old podcast episode, Dawson's subscriber count grew exponentially.

Since his latest 2020 cancelation, also over his old content, Dawson has lost over two million subscribers, but unlike Laura Lee, he has yet to release any additional videos that would bring in new viewers.

Unlike Dawson, Jake and Logan Paul never ceased to upload following their numerous controversies. The brothers have uploaded controversial and provocative videos to YouTube for the better part of a decade, but data from Social Blade shows that there have been less than five total months between the brothers where one of them has lost subscribers.

As new media platforms emerge and new creators appear, it's likely that cancelations will continue, but with the continued success of the Paul Brothers and other perpetually canceled creators, one could expect a perverse reaction to cancel culture at large, where creators court more controversy and the next generation of influencers understands that if they're big enough, they too can be uncancelable.

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