The YouTube Effect Image

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Every new medium, be it radio, film, television, video games, or now YouTube, has been blamed for being a possible downfall for our youth and society in general. Is it different this time? Director Alex Winter’s The YouTube Effect gives us insight into this question while offering a rundown on the history of the platform.

Despite how it sounds, the documentary is not all doom and gloom as it does show us some of the positive aspects of YouTube. The site offers a treasure trove of information and entertainment for all genders and races while affording lucrative careers to people who would have otherwise been unable to do so in the field of traditional media. For example, we’re told that child star Ryan Kaji, of the extremely popular kid’s show Ryan’s World, was on the Forbes list for making twenty-two million dollars in 2018 alone. This is the capitalistic dream at its zenith.

“…sucked down an ‘alt-right rabbit hole’ by YouTube’s infamous algorithm…”

But, the majority of the film focuses on the nightmares that come from the flip side of capitalism: greed and lack of empathy. It ironically all started after Google bought YouTube, with Google’s unofficial motto originally being “don’t be evil.” Andy Parker, father of deceased newscaster Alison Parker, says that evil is exactly what they have become after YouTube failed to take down multiple videos of his daughter being murdered on live television. Like Parker says, it’s not like there’s a Google support number for him to call so that they could easily assist him with this issue. Worse yet, he isn’t the copyright owner of the video, so the company says that he has no legal right to have the gruesome reminder of his daughter’s death removed. What in the actual hell Google/YouTube?

Another major issue that the film zeros in on is the story of YouTuber Caleb Cain. After he sought out some self-help videos on the website, he was sucked down an “alt-right rabbit hole” by YouTube’s infamous algorithm that rewards shocking content. The YouTube Effect shows how the conspiracy ideology (which was amplified by popular videos that the perpetrators discussed watching) has led to some disastrous results, with multiple deadly shootings, as well hate groups like The Proud Boys organizing the January 6th assault on the Capital. Cain says that after watching the videos that brainwashed him, he had lost his ability to empathize. That’s exactly what it takes for someone to go on a mass murder spree. 

There’s no possible way that a film with a runtime of 98 minutes can go in-depth into everything going on with YouTube. Still, Winter does a fine job covering as many bases as best as possible within these time constraints. This movie pairs nicely with some of Winter’s other documentaries that deal with different forms of media and show business, such as DownloadedDeep Web, and Showbiz Kids.

The YouTube Effect may be frightening when you ponder the path as to where technology has us headed, but it’s worth taking the red pill, Matrix-style

The YouTube Effect screened at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.

The YouTube Effect (2022)

Directed and Written: Alex Winter

Starring: Ryan Kaji, Natalie Wynn, Susan Wojcicki, Steve Chen, Anthony Padilla, Caleb Cain, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

The YouTube Effect Image

"…Winter does a fine job covering as many bases as best as possible..."

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