YouTuber LeafyIsHere Bullying an Autistic Man Highlights a Major Problem with the Site

Yesterday YouTube user TommyNC2010 uploaded a video of him crying, informing his viewers that he’s “having a difficult time right now.” “Some people are threatening my life, threatening my family, and all I wanted to do was inspire people,” Tommy sobs. It’s upsetting to watch, and the unfortunate situation Tommy has found himself in – suddenly becoming “YouTube famous” by way of popular video maker LeafyIsHere making fun of him – is rendered more uncomfortable when you consider the circumstances.

As Tommy notes in one of his earlier videos, he is autistic. His videos mainly consist of vlogs and general messages of positivity, with him producing thoroughly inoffensive and harmless content across the board. Nonetheless, one of his videos was spotted by LeafyIsHere, a YouTuber with over 1.5 million subscribers, who is known for creating videos in which he relentlessly mocks other YouTubers. While this isn’t exactly new ground for a YouTube channel to cover, it’s the targets of his ire that make LeafyIsHere a controversial figure, and emblematic of a much deeper issue with the video-sharing site.

Tommy discussing the threats he reportedly received as a result of LeafyIsHere’s video.

Even a cursory glance at LeafyIsHere’s library of videos reveals his predilection for making the vulnerable the targets of his ire, with his odd focus upon literally making fun of children being the most egregious examples of his work. In these videos, typically titled something along the lines of ‘THE CRINGIEST KID ON THE ENTIRE INTERNET,’ LeafyIsHere dismantles vlogs created by kids barely in their teens, who each have a significantly smaller following than he boasts. LeafyIsHere’s claims that what he’s doing isn’t cyber-bullying and is, in his words, “satire”, a claim that is undermined by the fact that yes it absolutely is bullying regardless of his own misunderstanding of how satire actually works.

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If you removed the context of this taking place on the Internet, what you have is a 20-year-old relentlessly belittling a 13-year-old while a crowd of people watch on and laugh, before inevitably going on to harass that individual themselves. Ethan Klein from h3h3productions posted a video discussing the “cancerous” impact of videos such as LeafyIsHere’s, pointing out how, despite their content being morally questionable, YouTube’s algorithms ensure that they’ll be featured in the recommended column of the site due to the large amount of views they generate. 

LeafyIsHereVideos

An overview of LeafyIsHere’s videos.

But LeafyIsHere’s video about TommyNC2010 appears to have been the straw that has broken the camel’s back. Whereas Tommy has been the subject of online fame before, having been featured on Tosh.0 back in May 2015 in a similarly mocking segment – though at least one which actually received Tommy’s involvement with him personally appearing on the Comedy Central show – Leafy’s video was a cruel, lengthy rant featuring jibes about Tommy’s personality, weight, hygiene and physical appearance. It went above and beyond what could be described as a “ribbing,” veering wildly into legitimate bullying, even if a follow-up tweet posted by Leafy of a screenshot of Tyler The Creator’s famous “How The Fuck is Cyber-Bullying Even Real?” diatribe suggests he doesn’t think so. With that being said, believing that someone’s actions on the Internet are ineffectual is an odd stance for him to take considering that his entire career is conducted online.

Leafy removed the video and apologized in a series of tweets, writing: “I taken [sic] down my recent video because I didn’t know all the circumstance involving the individual in the video. Tosh.0 made a video very similar to mine awhile back and he credited Tosh.0 in his own YouTube banner. Regardless I’m sorry about this whole event taking place.” Considering Leafy’s YouTube career appears to be at least 60% him making fun of actual children, it’s difficult to believe that he understands where he’s stepped out of line here (especially considering the tone of his apology), nor if the backlash against the video will inspire him to alter his content in any way. With there currently being a live stream of his subscriber count dropping, it seems that this situation will stand to haunt Leafy for quite some time regardless.

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But even though right-minded people would abstain from devising an entire YouTube channel around belittling children and other such vulnerable people in the first place, it’s clear to see why people with a less well-developed moral compass would be inclined to press on anyway, considering that YouTube affords these channels more ad revenue than the majority of their competitors. This is because for a while now, YouTube has financially favored content creators with channels that feature regular uploads, boast lengthy videos and, of course, attract plenty of views. While on paper this should encourage YouTubers to create better content that will keep people on the site for a longer period of time, in actuality it’s more financially beneficial for creators to produce clickbait videos with minimal effort that will generate tons of views, given the amount of expense and effort required in actually creating a worthwhile video, as opposed to creating one that needlessly savages an easy target in order to entertain an emotionally underdeveloped audience. This is where a guy like Leafy can butter his bread, though he is by no means the only channel guilty of this.

A re-upload of LeafyIsHere’s original video. Leafy later claimed that he didn’t know Tommy was autistic before he uploaded the video.

Though there is still a ton of great content to be found on YouTube, those who produce it are essentially investing in formats that go against the tide of what is most financially viable on the site. Anything that requires actual production values is thrown out of the window for the vast majority, considering they could likely earn more money with a video of them bellowing over the top of video game footage, and animation – once one of the more popular genres of YouTube video – has basically been rendered obsolete. With the big views reserved for Let’s Play channels focusing upon gaming content and clickbait thumbnails/titles, for those who haven’t already cultivated a following on the site, doing anything other than appealing to the lowest common denominator is ensuring that your climbing up the ranks will be a slower process. This is evidenced by Leafy’s rise to prominence, with his channel having grown by a massive 1.4 million subscribers in just 7 months.

For those looking to earn a sustainable living from the site, it is commonly believed that daily uploads are nigh-on essential. Unfortunately this ensures a dearth of quality content, with it being understandably difficult to produce such a large amount of videos for an increasing audience. This means that YouTubers such as Leafy seem to have lost their grasp on what is/isn’t acceptable as a result of trying to chase after more views, egged on by a system that actively rewards them for thoughtless videos specifically designed to appeal to as many people as people, regardless of the quality of the content.

But with YouTube maintaining a consistently hands-off approach to moderating its own site, popping its head above the parapet only to issue a copyright takedown notice every now and again while many of its more popular channels frequently contribute to the community surrounding the site becoming increasingly toxic, channels such as LeafyIsHere’s are going to continue popping up with alarming frequency. However, it seems that other YouTubers and their viewers are now placing a spotlight upon them, which will hopefully lead to more of these channels actually being held accountable for their actions. If YouTube is going to continue to turn a blind eye to its users flagrantly bullying children and guys like Tommy, who will hopefully not be discouraged from creating his uplifting videos as a result of this flirtation with the more negative aspects of the site, then at least its more emotionally intelligent and empathetic users aren’t going to do so.