By Eleanor Prescott
YouTube ‘social experiments’ are on the rise of late, and these types of videos mean different things to different people. For some, they’re an effective way to bring to light inequalities and double standards within society. To the more cynical amongst us, they’re sometimes biased, possibly exploitative ways of making money from views, or even backpedalling excuses for a prank gone awry.
Coby Persin is one such YouTuber who’s had viral success in the past with social experiments, and added to that this week with a video raising awareness of child brides married off across the globe. To achieve this he filmed New Yorkers reacting to a 12-year-old in a wedding dress posing with a 65-year-old groom. The couple were of course actors, presumably unbeknownst to the public who are quick to speak out, horrified, against a child getting married. Is this in itself shocking or surprising? Not really. Is it exploitative of the public for viral video views? Perhaps.
In this case, it may come from a genuine, philanthropic concern. A common criticism of “social experiments” is bias, altering footage to suit the filmmaker’s agenda – or even fakery. It’s also worth pointing out this is a copycat video of a campaign run by the charity KAFA in Lebanon, and not the first social experiment Persin has copied. But when the video only reiterates what is surely the natural reaction of most people witnessing a child being married, bias isn’t the problem. As for awareness – as long as Persin is factual, it’s an effective way of highlighting an under-discussed issue, even if it copies a charity campaign more likely to be genuine.
Is awareness enough though? And should we be sceptical of Coby Persin considering the money he stands to gain through video views? I’d say so – he doesn’t offer to donate the money from the video to a charity that would help, nor points the viewer in the direction of doing so themselves. He does suggest you share the video though. And truthfully, the only thing that guarantees is more money in his pocket.
That’s not factoring in Persin’s reputation either, or the frequency with which ‘social experiments’ are lumped in with ‘prank’ videos as a way of negating any blame for sleazy behaviour within the video. This has become such a regular occurrence, with high-profile cases such as Sam Pepper, Simple Pickup or SoFloAntonio, that much of the community view pranksters or ‘social experimenters’ as the bottom feeding scum of YouTube. Persin isn’t exempt from this criticism. As a brief example, his video on “The Dangers of Social Media”, where he pretends to groom children to highlight how often children will talk to strangers on the internet, is fairly morally questionable. It’s also been criticised for not proving anything significant – simply talking to your kids about internet ‘stranger danger’ should suffice – not shaming them online. Nestled in amongst ‘prank’ videos about ‘serenading hot girls’, he doesn’t come off that well either.
Ultimately with certain YouTubers, it’s best to be aware of their motives. There’s no denying raising awareness is a good thing, but we’re better off going to the trustworthy sources than the Facebook clickbait.