With millions of people idolizing you and wanting to be your best friend, to brands sending you clothes from their online boutiques for you to feature and sponsor on your channel, and doing meet and greets with screaming fans that love you and traveled hours just to see you stand twenty feet away, doesn’t the life of a famous YouTube vlogger sound exciting? I mean, free clothes and thousands of people vying for your attention and friendship; what’s not to love? Unfortunately, the life of a YouTube celebrity is not that simple for 19-year-old vlogger, Marina Joyce.
If you’ve been online anytime in the past week, you would’ve noticed the hashtag #SaveMarinaJoyce on Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube, followed by pictures and captions alerting people about a conspiracy surrounding her strange behavior. After noticing bruises on her arms and poorly edited videos, pre-teens around the world took in upon themselves to be e-detectives. After re-watching her videos, they noticed that Joyce had been dropping hints indicating that she was in danger. They slowed down clips, heard someone subtly whisper, “Help me”, took note of every facial expression and hand movement, and were able to narrow it down to three main conspiracies. Either her abusive boyfriend was forcing her to continuously make YouTube videos, ISIS had kidnapped her and was forcing her to do the same, or she was on a lot of drugs.
From an outside perspective, she did seem a little off in her latest video. In earlier ones, she was bubbly, spontaneous, and fun, but in her newest video, she appeared to be unfocused, emotionless, and there was a distinct personality change. Her editing was also botched, almost as though she rushed to make and compile it, and uploaded without caring about perfecting the final product. I’m no Marina Joyce fan and only heard about her a week ago when the conspiracies surfaced, but if I was able to notice these subtleties, imagine what fans who have followed her from day one and have a cult-like devotion to her would see and pick up on.
While it must be nice having millions of people watching out for you and caring about your safety, Joyce’s fans were so worried they even called British police to investigate her strange online behavior. Her fans are so devoted because of the type of celebrity Joyce is. There’s a sense of intimacy felt between YouTubers and their fans that young fans do not and cannot feel with Hollywood actors or musicians. Hollywood celebrities are almost untouchable; they are held to a higher and live a more glamorous life than the rest of society. Designers dress them head-to-toe to when they attend award shows, and it’s their job to follow the latest trends. Although both Hollywood and YouTube celebrities are required to maintain an online presence on social networking sites, Hollywood actors curate their posts differently from YouTube celebrities. YouTubers got their success by being relatable and down-to-earth, and must maintain that image.
YouTubers film their videos in their bedrooms with the help of their friends, instead of a using film crew. They respond to questions and comments, and they let fans into their lives; they want to make a connection with their audience. In response, fans feel as though they have an Internet best friend and actually know them. Fans become protective and possessive, wanting to know what’s going on in their lives and the YouTubers respond by giving them that information. After a while, the fans start expecting information all the time because of the connection they feel to their Internet best friend. So when Joyce began withholding bits of her life, her fans, who felt as though they deserved to know what was happening to her, began questioning what was going on. When their questions weren’t answered, they took matters into their own hands and started speculating, spreading false information and ended up with absurd conspiracies.
Despite how much they think they know about Joyce’s life, fans forget that YouTube videos are highly edited. The videos may seem spontaneous, authentic, and relatable, but they are produced for mass consumption and it took a lot of editing to get the final video to feel that way. Joyce has given her fans information about her life before, there’s still a lot about her they do not and will never know. In addition to keeping some parts of her life private, some portions of her videos may get cut just because they didn’t fit the overall aesthetic, maybe her video was too long and she needed to make it shorter or maybe she accidentally stuttered in a few sentences and couldn’t use those clips. In addition, Joyce is not obligated to tell her fans anything she does not want to tell them.
Her fans have this one-sided illusion that they know what’s best for Joyce because they have a parasocial relationship with her. With this relationship, one person extends emotional energy, interest, and time in one individual, and the other individual does not even know the other one exists. Parasocial relationships exploded with the introduction of televisions in the 1950s, increased with the availability of the Internet in the 1990s, and then escalated with social networking sites in the 2000s. Whenever an individual engages with their favorite sports team or TV show character, they have a parasocial relationship with them. These relationships are the driving forces for television ratings, sales, and YouTube celebrities. The Internet also gives fans access to their favorite celebrities 24 hours a day, seven days week. Fans have the ability to follow their favorite celebrity religiously on SnapChat, Instagram, and Twitter, devour any information given to them, and then they wait for more.
Joyce has 1,917,915 subscribers and over 561K followers on Twitter who all have a parasocial relationship with her. Her fans don’t know what’s happening to her, but they believe they do because of the ‘clues’ she’s been leaving them. Despite her attempts to squash conspiracy theories numerous times, her fans were convinced she was forced to do that as well. At the end of the day, they are under the illusion that only they know what’s best for Joyce because of how available she is to them online. Marina Joyce does not need to be saved from an abusive boyfriend or ISIS, she needs to be saved from her over-protective and possessive fans who feel such strong connections to her.