Privacy, risk and trolls: Dealing with the security challenges of YouTube fame

It seems a new YouTube star is born every day lately with thousands now making money and pursuing full-time careers in online video. But the popularity that comes with millions of viewers is not without its privacy challenges

Youtube logo
Credit: Rego Korosi

ANAHEIM - With over a billion users and millions of hours of content, YouTube is the second most-visited web site on the internet and has seen its popularity explode over the last decade.

YouTube officials say the media force of the online video-sharing site shows no signs of slowing as growth in watch time has climbed at least 50 percent year over year for the last three years.

These days, millions of people are logging on daily to watch videos, and it is launching careers and paying big bucks for some creators who have managed to net millions of subscribers. Subscribers watch these YouTubers with the same kind of loyalty a generation before them watched popular television shows.

They log on to check out their favorite YouTube content, which can include anything from family reality shows to gaming content to lifestyle tips and tricks. The amount of content and subjects are endless. Fans watch, make comments and share the videos.  Advertisers easily recognize the power of YouTube, particularly among younger demographics, and are making deals daily with popular YouTube stars. Many YouTubers make six or seven figure salaries off of the content they are creating.

CSO spent part of this week in Anaheim at VidCon, an annual event for video creators and their fans, attending sessions to learn more about the privacy and security challenges these YouTube success stories face each day. Unlike television and movie stars, these online celebrities face a different kind of privacy challenge because, by nature of the work they do, they are expected to be accessible and to interact with fans.

Keeping things private and running a successful video log (vlog) are not exactly two compatible goals. This is because, according to LaToya Forever, an online personality with two popular vlogs on YouTube, one of the secrets of YouTube success is keeping things “100 percent real and genuine.” This means broadcasting everything from adorable kid moments to family drama for the world to see.

“Sometimes it’s hard to wade through and decide what to share and what not to share,” said Nikki Phillipi, a lifestyle vlogger with over a million subscribers.

One way to ensure nothing goes online that isn’t considered carefully is to delay posting, said Katie Bratayley (not her real last name), a popular mom vlogger with a YouTube channel that has more than 2 million subscribers.  Katie and her family dealt with bringing one of the most difficult private issues public last year when her son, Caleb, died unexpectedly.

“We’re two days behind on what we post which gives us time to think about if we should we post this or should it stay private.”

Mindy McKnight, a mother of six with daughters who are now running their own YouTube channels, said her family understands the rules of posting because she holds them to an informal contract around privacy.

“We make it clear that these are the family rules. You don’t show our address, or our license plates, for example. Either follow these rules or there will be a consequence to your use of your YouTube channel if you don’t follow them,” she told an audience in a panel titled Being a Mom on YouTube. 

McKnight’s family boasts more than 4 million subscribers to their channel, called Cute Girls Hairstyles. What started as a hair design tip channel morphed into a reality show about their family, she said.

“People came for the hair designs, but stayed for the family,” said McKnight.  As a result, her privacy standards have evolved, too.

“We used to shoot only the back of their heads and referred to them as Kid 1 and Kid 2, etc. As I became more comfortable in the space, we started using names.”

“We are private about our location,” added a mom vlogger known as Kristine Fun Pack. Her channel, the popular Family Fun Pack, has millions of subscribers. Unfortunately, the attention has brought with it some concerning comments over the years, she said.   

“We’ve had some really creepy comments. I have to take them all seriously. In the beginning, we used fake names. We’ve stopped doing that but we still use an alias in public.”

Among some of the other privacy notes from panelists were caveats about keeping on top of what kind of private information might be visible in the background of videos. Beware of things you might not even consider when you shoot, several noted. Mail, for example, could be viewed by stopping the video and taking in certain sensitive information.

Regardless of how private each YouTuber was keeping their life online, all noted a similar problem with so-called trolls; commenters who show up to make disparaging remarks in the comments section of their channels.

In fact, sometimes the behavior goes beyond mean comments as trolls made news earlier this week for hacking popular YouTube channel WatchMojo.

All panelists said that often the best strategy for dealing with nasty or harassing behavior in the comments section was most often to simply not deal with it at all.

Jack Baran, known as Thatsojack on YouTube, is an openly-gay YouTube star with content that is a mix of humor and frank discussion about a variety of topics. Baran, with well over a million subscribers, has dealt with his fair share of trolls over the last few years while he has been creating content on YouTube. He says his advice is simply to develop a thick skin, as mean people are inevitable in the online video world.

“People are vicious,” noted Baran in a session titled Taking the High Road, which offered advice for dealing with online trolls and mean comments. “It’s terrifying how aggressive some people can be. But if someone is being a bullying to you online, you don’t have to deal with them. It takes time, but you have to train yourself to ignore it.”

You can check out some of the work of these panelists below:

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