Censorship on YouTube: the case of Nicole Arbour’s “Dear Fat People” Video (Position paper)

Stardom on YouTube depends on the number of followers, subscriptions and views increase. Popular YouTubers put content most people want. They cater to tastes in order for their online personality to attract attention. After that it is their job to maintain this catering to their audience or “viewers” if they want to remain popular. YouTube is a very open site that allows anyone to post a video. It also caters to special interest. Gaming, makeup tutorials and more can be searched. Videos can be used to promote either a person or a business. This free for all has limits that are both internal and external. YouTube has buttons that allow a YouTuber to block all comments, and it allows you to take down your own videos and edit your own page. YouTubers, if they reach a high enough level, can generate income. Once they reach that level a YouTuber must keep their audiences’ attention in order to keep their profit. Most stick to a genre/topic/theme that assure viewers will come back. Changing these components can cause people to unsubscribe or challenge the change in their favorite Internet personality. Trends sprouted from this YouTube stardom are called “hauls” or “follow me around” videos. Audiences also expect a certain amount of personal information from their YouTuber. They expect an answer to their questions and even a level of ethics in whatever traits their online persona usual presents.

Is YouTube completely unregulated? YouTubers who look for an audience and are allowed upload, view, and share almost any type of video. YouTube censorship only applies when a video is deemed inappropriate, offensive socially or politically, violates national laws, or violates ethics or morally based laws. When YouTube deems a video to be inappropriate the site will either limit access or remove the video altogether. However, this process is open to challenge. When Nicole Arbour posted “Dear Fat People” YouTube shut down her page and removed her video due to the amount of reports they received. Yet this lasted a short while. Arbour responded by saying the censorship violated her right to free speech as a comedian and that there are much more offensive videos in the media. She says her comments are made to offend and are satirical. With the rise of what some may see as the egotistical generation –we only need to think of iPhone, selfies– the Internet became an easy booster of individual egos. The Facebook “like” button alone became a popularity calculator. By giving people a platform to show off their personal attributes it was only a matter of time for something like body shaming to become an easy way for Internet bullies to enhance their own status because online personas demand a star-like quality, an image of the self that is idealized.

“Social networks serve as platforms to present finely manicured façades, not the authentic, messy reality of our identities.”(Bates) YouTube especially gives the illusion of face to face contact but behind that, there is editing, filming multiple takes, script writing, and it gives a whole new meaning to the public vs private dilemma. Posting face to face also poses the idea of commenting back, discussion with the person on your screen, even if it is not direct. Youtube has been used as a face to face connection, a way for some people to grow as a person on the Internet.

YouTube serves as a discourse community. It sheds a new light on the communication that goes on in this social medium. Nicole Arbour put a video on YouTube to incite conversation, expecting a response from the audience. Those who participated on online arguments with this video were actually participating in a back and forth communication very much as has happened ever since humans organized themselves in communities. And in a way YouTube is just that, a community. However the difference between traditional communication and YouTube communities is that a video can be challenged immediately and directly by a wide audience. And what’s more the video can stay present for a long time. “Here’s the good news: we’re all still sitting here talking about the video.” (Olya)

YouTube commentary comes in many forms but the most engaging is the YouTube “rant” which is a form facilitated by the fact a YouTuber gets no opposition when they are making the video. In front of the camera a person can talk at will about an issue that peaked their interest and create an illusion of face to face interaction or “connection” between constructed images.” (Bates) The viewer is presented with an argument to engage with even more intimately than face to face dialogue. Brian Jackson and Jon Wallin state that “participating in online arguments exposes interlocutors to alternative viewpoints, more expansive argument pools, and emergent publics.” (Jackson, Wallin 13) Maybe this is why videos go viral and gain importance and attract more and more participants responding to it. In the process, the respondents become the “rhetorical audience” (5) by listening to, analyzing and making a judgement on what is being said. Having this dialogue online increases people’s “answerability and engagement because it is considered a procedural argument in which two or more people participate in a discussion governed by rules, such as turn taking.” (8)

In the case of Nicole Arbour, her audience immediately responded to her “offensive video,” some in defence of her satirical comedy and some completely against her. Some did not know how to respond. “I wasn’t offended, but I wasn’t laughing either. I just felt uncomfortable.” (Southern) In this case YouTube gained importance outside its own borders when other media picked up and started reporting on this YouTube discussion. However, it was the response by YouTube users that prompted action by YouTube when they censored Nicole Arbour’s video. She in turn challenged them on other social media and in response her page went up again.

The whole incident around Nicole Arbour’s video inspired a debate in the larger YouTube community. People in the culture of body positivity that is being campaigned on the Internet were especially offended. Whitney Way Thore responded in a YouTube video by taking clips of Arbour’s video and challenging directly to each point of the argument. Another YouTuber, Stepanka urged viewers to pay no attention to Arbour because it gave her more exposure. ETCNews YouTube channel echoes her sentiments when they pointed out how the increased views of her videos only give her money and attention and that Nicole Arbour’s way of handling the obesity issue is not the answer. Regardless, “Arbour’s rant against fat people (sic)…racked up over 18 million views, and currently has over 28 million views on Facebook.” (Olya) In her response video “Most Offensive Video Ever” Arbour calls her critics “keyboard warriors” who are killing comedy online and that those who “jump into the comment section” are in fact doing nothing. She goes on to say people should not take social cues from people who are angry on the Internet. Meanwhile there are those who argue that those who participate on YouTube are aware that any content they post has to be worded in a certain manner but not all are so careful about what they say. Some even argue that the bubble YouTubers live in makes them feel like basic rules do not apply to them.

Wordcount: 1219

Work cited

Arbour, Nicole. “Most Offence Video ever.” YouTube. 5 Sept 2015. Web. 27 sept 2015.

Arbour, Nicole. “Dear Fat People.” YouTube. 3 Sept 2015. Web. 27 Sept 2015.

Bates, Jordan. ‘The Innovation Of Loneliness: Do Social Networks Erode Real Relationships? | Refine The Mind’. Refinethemind.com. N. p., 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2015.

Bogart, Nicole. ‘Canadian Youtube Comedian Nicole Arbour Under Fire For Fat-Shaming Video’. Global News. N. p., 2015. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

ETC news. “Nicole Arbour is an Idiot-News Dump.” YouTube.12 sept 2015. Web. 21 sept 2015.

Jackson, B. & Wallin, J. (2009). Rediscovering the “Back-and-Forthness” of Rhetoric in the Age of YouTube. College Composition and Communication, 61(2),.

Olya, Gabrielle. ‘Nicole Arbour Refuses To Apologize For ‘Dear Fat People’ Youtube Video On The View’. PEOPLE.com. N. p., 2015. Web. 27 Sept. 2015.

Ross, Ashley. ”Dear Fat People’ Comedian Nicole Arbour: ‘I’m Not Apologizing”. TIME.com. N. p., 2015. Web. 27 Sept. 2015.

Southern, Taryn. ‘The Real Problem With Nicole Arbour’s “Dear Fat People”‘. Attn.. N. p., 2015. Web. 27 Sept. 2015.

STEPANKA. DEAR FAT PEOPLE! Nicole Arbour is a GENIUS!.” YouTube. 8 Sept 2015. Web. 27 Sept 2015

Way Thore,Whitney. “What I Want to Say to Fat People: Response to Nicole Arbour.” YouTube. 5 Sept 2015.Web. 27 Sept 2015.


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