At first sight, the recent troubles at the popular geek website, Channel Awesome, seemed to be little more than a storm-in-an-internet-teacup. The catalogue of exploitative management practices aired in minute detail by former contributors to the video review platform were far from surprising. For many observers the online dossier called Not So Awesome served as a timely warning to content providers, reminding them that volunteering their services to third-party enterprises did not make them employees or partners. Indeed, as many have noted, for every online star to have emerged over the last decade from the Channel Awesome family and its associated YouTube channel, several more have fallen by the wayside, their labour and talent bringing no rewards beyond driving the success of others.
Like the unexpected demise of the Facts Channel in Ireland, with its largely inane but highly shareable videos of Irish people sampling American foods or drinks, many of these YouTube shell companies exist solely to serve the needs of their owners, be it for profit or for fame. For such businesses the needs or aspirations of their non-employees are more of an inconvenience than an asset. If they are recognised at all. In the internet gig-economy fostered by Google’s video hosting platform and its competitors, exploitation has become the name of the game.
However, over the last week the debate about Channel Awesome has taken an unexpected turn following seemingly well-founded rumours of serious sexual assault involving initially anonymous figures who had previously worked with the website. This has transformed a discussion about amateurish business practices by amateur business people into a something far darker, inducing a number of otherwise navel-gazing or narcissistic YouTubers to examine their own actions and attitudes.
The latest allegations focus on the tragic figure of Justin Carmical, better known by his online persona JewWario, a once popular game reviewer with Channel Awesome. The middle-aged American committed violent suicide in early 2014, shocking his subscribers and leading to a wealth of tributes from his friends and admirers. However, the Google document detailing the myriad misdemeanours of Chanel Awesome and the media company’s poor response to those claims have led several close associates of the deceased man to identify him as the suspected groomer of a fellow, underage contributor to the website. And perhaps much worse than that.