Internet star Gabbie Hanna says YouTube has fostered a toxic environment where drama channels are encouraged to take down top creators
- Internet personality Gabbie Hanna recently stoked controversy by fighting with friends, drama channels, and YouTube itself before deactivating her Twitter and Instagram accounts.
- Hanna, who has over 6 million YouTube subscribers, also became a TikTok meme when users turned one of her rants into a sound bite.
- In an interview with Insider, Hanna discussed her recent controversies, her mental health, and her relationship with YouTube.
- Hanna said the platform had fostered a toxic environment where drama, commentary, and "tea" channels are incentivized to repeatedly tear down top creators.
Before her abrupt disappearance from the internet, Gabbie Hanna seemed as if she were living the influencer dream.After beginning her online career in 2014 on the TikTok predecessor Vine, Hanna transitioned her audience to YouTube, where she now has over 6 million subscribers. Along with David Dobrik's "Vlog Squad" and other successful Viners-turned-YouTubers, Hanna, best known for her lifestyle and comedic "Storytime" videos, shot to YouTube stardom. In 2017, Hanna started to independently release music, which was well received by fans; some of her music videos accrued more than 10 million views.
The perpetual thorn in Hanna's side is a conflict with a former Vine friendHanna's reputation has proved surprisingly resilient, weathering accusations that she advertised cheap, unreliable makeup brushes to young fans and criticism when she included a photo of a slain teenager in an e-girl aesthetic video.
Vasquez accused Hanna of siding with Vasquez's former boyfriend, who in 2014 pleaded guilty to felony assault charges. Hanna has denied Vasquez's accusations. Vasquez declined to comment through a representative.For months, aside from issuing a brief written apology, Hanna moved on with her music career and YouTube channel. But her online momentum stalled, and her videos received fewer views. So-called drama channels — YouTubers who report on the feuds and scandals involving the platform's stars — took a largely negative stance against Hanna.Then, in a Q&A on her channel in May, days before the release of Hanna's EP, Vasquez resurfaced her allegations about Hanna. When Hanna's music video for "Special" underperformed, Hanna lashed out at Vasquez, drama channels, Twitter critics, and YouTube itself.
Drama and commentary channels kicked their negative coverage of Hanna into overdrive, and TikTok teens turned Hanna's sound bites into a meme.
—grinch_bby (@grinch_bby) July 9, 2020
After high-profile Twitter clashes, Hanna took a leave of absence from the internet
On July 1, Hanna deactivated her Twitter and Instagram accounts. She had spent days trending on Twitter as she fought online detractors."I'm saying this again publicly out of fear," Hanna tweeted on June 29. "If something happens to me/my loved ones, it's not an accident."
Someone on Twitter responded via reaction images, writing: "Gabbie hanna, stop acting like you're going to get f---ing assassinated. We're literally just calling you out for being a liar and then making you a meme. It's what gen z does."
Hanna hasn't returned to her main YouTube channel, but on Tuesday she reappeared on her "Box of Thoughts" podcast, where she avoided talking about recent drama.In a phone call with Insider before she deactivated her accounts, Hanna described the emotional and mental torment that had enveloped her life, both privately and publicly.
"Do you think that I want to put a mother through what I'm going through, where I almost need to go to a mental hospital because I'm suicidal over false allegations of being a rape apologist?" Hanna told Insider. "Do you think I want somebody — can't sleep, can't eat, anxiety attacks every f---ing second, full-blown panic-attack meltdowns, insane stomach pains — while she's raising a child? I never wanted this."Hanna made similar comments on "Box of Thoughts" three days after her phone interview with Insider. In what has now become a massive, out-of-context TikTok meme, Hanna emphatically says: "I'm not going to show you the facts and the evidence, because I'm 29 f---ing years old. And I'm not going to sit down and make a video with screenshots exposing my bullies. These are bullies. These are high-school f---ing bullies."
Hanna says that drama and commentary channels exploit her and that YouTube's algorithm rewards them
In 2018, Hanna told Forbes' Tom Ward that her "haters" motivated her. But now the hate has become "darker" and "sick," she told Insider."It was always very prevalent with me, but it was a different kind of hate. It was a trolly hate," Hanna said, alluding to comments about her appearance. "It's when you start getting into false accusations and tearing apart my personal life and making up blatant lies about me, that's where the hate turns into something a lot darker."Like other tabloid-friendly celebrities, Hanna has been covered extensively by the YouTube drama and commentary community, a profitable cottage industry of YouTubers who talk about other YouTubers. Hundreds of such channels exist, many of them run by people making a living off their craft.
"YouTubers are like everyday people, so when they do outrageous things it's just so much more interesting because you're like, how could this person think to do something like that?" Angelika Oles, a 20-year-old full-time drama-channel creator with over half a million subscribers, told Insider. "I think more people my age know who James Charles is than some celebrity, and they're more interested in James Charles than some actress or actor."
Hanna has directed significant anger at drama channels and YouTube, accusing the platform of allowing the channels to get away with "slander and defamation," though she didn't say she planned to take legal action.She's not the first embattled YouTuber to suggest that drama channels have crossed a legal line. Shane Dawson's attorneys told Insider in July that they would "take appropriate action" against a drama YouTuber who filed a police report about Dawson's old videos before using the filing to claim that there was an active investigation into Dawson.
"They've made an environment where the fastest way to grow and the fastest way to make money algorithmically is to take somebody who's already done it and exploit them," Hanna told Insider. "They have created a culture of exploitation, mental abuse, and gaslighting."
Hanna, who has long discussed her mental health and therapy online, told Insider that her in-person support network, including her boyfriend, had carried the weight of her anxieties surrounding the backlash. She also said she had initiated conversations with people at YouTube about the role of drama and commentary channels on the platform.YouTube, led by CEO Susan Wojcicki, doesn't have clear policies about drama and commentary channels, but the company told Insider that it does not "shadow-ban," or unofficially suppress, creators, which has been one of Hanna's complaints. YouTube said in December that it was strengthening its harassment policy to "get even tougher on those who engage in harassing behavior." If channels "repeatedly brush up against" the harassment policy, YouTube will eliminate their ability to make money on the platform, and it may "remove content from channels if they repeatedly harass someone," it said.
In the week before Hanna deactivated her social-media accounts, more than 10 prominent commentary channels were demonetized, meaning they could no longer make money from advertisements on their videos. YouTube told Insider that all the demonetizations were accidental and that monetization had since been restored."It's not worth it for me to cover Gabbie Hanna if it means my channel is at risk," Oles told Insider. "She has a direct contact with Susan and I don't, and somehow we're supposed to be on the same playing field."
Some commentary channels say Hanna should stop talking about the drama if she wants it to go away
Hanna told Insider that the drama had intense ramifications for her mental health, causing regular panic and anxiety attacks. Oles also told Insider that she'd spoken to Hanna privately and that their conversation reinforced Oles' decision to stop covering Hanna on her channel.Oles told Insider that she doesn't want to be responsible for taking a mental toll on anyone, and criticized other channels who sensationalized the drama involving Hanna.In a video titled "The Rapid Downfall of Gabbie Hanna" from a commentary channel called TheGamerFromMars, the narrator says Hanna's SocialBlade statistics indicated her channel had become less popular over the years, adding that she'd "fueled the flame of commentary channels" by responding to her online bullies.
"If YouTubers stop giving them material, then the commentary channels will move on to something else," TheGamerFromMars, who said he doesn't disclose his real name out of privacy concerns, told Insider. "They're just going to go where there's new content to discuss and give their thoughts on. When Gabbie goes and makes videos calling them out, making livestreams, rambling on Twitter, it just feeds the cycle and keeps on going. It's up to her to stop it at whatever point she wants by just, in short, stop feeding the trolls."
TheGamerFromMars told Insider that he didn't even follow the circumstances of the drama between Hanna and Vasquez but that the details didn't matter. He said he thinks that Hanna is fading from online relevancy but that, unlike other YouTube stars from her era, she's choosing to go out with a bang.Hanna said she feels as if she has to confront her former friends, drama channels, and other online detractors because she wants to set the story straight.
"The more I stayed quiet, the more people forced me to speak," Hanna said. "Because if I stay quiet any longer, already there's people trying to make stories. And I'm going to get ahead of them. And truly, for my mental health, I have to stop being quiet. For my mental health, I have to have my voice back."
Since she took a break from the internet, however, the chatter about Hanna has died down. Without material about her to capitalize on, the YouTube rumor mill has moved on.
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