- Movie Rating -

The YouTube Effect (2023)

| July 8, 2023

Alright, so in March I got Susan Hillinger’s documentary Money Shot about the rise and social disintegration of Pornhub and now Alex Winter gives the same treatment to YouTube with The YouTube Effect.  What is a little frightening is that both films do almost the same job.  They want to illustrate how supply and demand has given some tech geniuses the idea to create a platform that is open to the public so that they themselves can become successful at whatever avenues that choose to pursue.  With Pornhub, it was online sex workers.  With YouTube, it’s pretty much everybody else.

Incapsulating the story of YouTube more or less requires a history of social media itself.  The site is so vast and so popular that visiting a video posted there is almost as inevitable as booting up the internet itself.  And therein likes the challenge.  What exactly can you say about YouTube that is netted into a 90-minute narrative.  It turns out that you find eight or nine of the most interesting pieces of YouTube and try to connect them into a picture that give you an idea of the site as a whole.  I don’t think that Winter entirely succeeds as well as Hillinger because Pornhub was about one thing: sex.  YouTube is about almost every subject, of every size and shape and of every topic both wholesome and horrifying. 

The story of YouTube is really no different than any other vastly popular site.  In 2005, a couple of guys – Steve Chen, Jawed Karim and Chad Hurley – dorking around with their computer decided to create a space where content users could upload videos on almost any subject (porn was, and still is, generally outlawed).  The point was to help out users who had been creating videos with their video cameras but had no place where they could upload and share their content.

What came out of it was a utopia of global connectivity.  People posted videos of their dance routines, their music, their pets, their kids, their vacations, their thoughts on movies, on politics, on religion, on video games, on just about any subject that you can name, or just creating a basic space for silly videos that picks up where “America’s Funniest Home Videos” left off.  It was the very definition of the global community.  You could share a little piece of your life with the world in a very positive way.  I should know, I’m one of them.

Of course, it had a come with a price.  With so many varying views and so many different opinions, it was inevitable that the more sinister machinations would come to the surface.  A year after its conception, YouTube was bought by Google and with it an expansion of the algorithms that would determine what and how people were watching their videos.  In came the system by which a recommendation could take you down a rabbit hole.  Watch a video about the holocaust and you are suddenly inundated with a bevy of videos about it being a hoax.  Same with the moon landing, and 9/11 and JFK.  The algorithms aren’t run by human beings, but they are put together as a means of connecting like-minded individuals.  The problem is that they often lead to places you never wanted to go.

Much like Money Shot, Winter’s film starts with the positive and then devolves quickly into a “What have we done to ourselves narrative that is both fascinating and scary.  The latter section of the film tackles the tough issues of online hate-speech, stalking and the plague of online terrorists, those including Gamergate, the alt-right and those who organized the January 6th insurrection.  He wants to illustrate the connectivity of the site while also making it clear that such an open forum challenges our notion that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  This, I think, is what Winter really wants to leave us with, the idea of having a platform of global communication that it also wary of what is out there.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2023) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary