YouTube is popularly criticized as a site where softcore porn, copyright violations, violence, and abuse videos are posted and encouraged. Parents block YouTube from their computers, YouTube has undergone several lawsuits regarding copyrights, and many people feel the world would just be better without the site.
Not that YouTube hasn’t had issues with many of the above things. A site where the entire internet is allowed to upload videos with a limited amount of moderators available to censor and control content means that videos will be posted that do not conform to the idea of common decency. However, YouTube is also a legitimate community which can make real, positive differences in the world.
Nerdfighters were organized and founded by John and Hank Green, two brothers who decided that they wanted to reconnect. So they decided to do so via YouTube, sending videos to each other every day for a year, . John would post one day, Hank would post the next. Within this time, they were noticed by many people online, and a fan club was made, which dubbed the Greens “The Vlogbrothers”. Since the two brothers proudly classify themselves nerds, when John found an arcade game called ‘Nerdfighters’, he shared his discovery with their watchers; and soon the group which watched John and Hank and sympathized with their geeky tendencies had dubbed themselves after the game. The community has only continued to grow, and has done some amazing things.
The Project for Awesome started in 2007 when the Vlogbrothers asked the Nerdfighters to each post a video promoting their favorite charity. They would then support others’ videos, trying to get as many of them on the front page of YouTube as possible. Any money raised or given to the participants would go to their chosen charity. As the website for planning the event proclaims, “Every year, YouTube’s Community takes over YouTube for a day…and instead of being stupid or funny or informative…we promote charities. Just one day a year…we’ll get back to being silly tomorrow.”
The Vlogbrothers have also given a large amount of webtime supporting an organization called Kiva, which gives out short-term loans to help people in third-world countries start their own businesses. Though no one has kept track of the amount of money given to this cause by Nerdfighters and other YouTube communities, some Nerdfighters joined the Nerdfighter lending group on Kiva’s website, which proclaims that $8,625 has been raised since September 2, 2008.
The Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck (worldsuck: the suck in the world that Nerdfighters fight against) was founded by John and Hank Green as a sort of all-purpose mission. The site’s page on Causes.com states, “The money from this foundation will be used to decrease WorldSuck. We may buy lunch for hungry people. We may donate to charities. We may send people who have never been to concerts to concerts. We are not sure what we are going to do, actually. We welcome suggestions, especially in the comments below.” The Foundation is associated with Kiva, and over time many of the Vlogbrothers’ videos have been about what they used the money from the Foundation for.
Hanko de Mayo was a 2010 project for Hank’s birthday, which happens to be May the fifth. Every year the brothers try to do something special for the others’ birthday. Hank is a known environmentalist, so this year, John decided that he was going to use that theme to promote Hank’s birthday. Thus, Hank was greeted on his birthday with a video of Nerdfighters all over the globe, planting trees and plants. Over ten thousand of them, in fact.
A well-known Nerdfighter is another YouTube vlogger who has dubbed himself, “Charlieissocoollike”. Charlie has supported numerous charities, including Children In Need, and the Teenage Cancer Trust. He’s gone to some extremes with his endorsement; he raised $5,167 dollars for Cancer Research UK by shaving his head!
Charlie also participated in Chartjackers. Chartjackers was a YouTube group which attempted to create a song and get it within the top 40 of Britain’s charts within ten weeks – with nothing. Asking for help from the online community, they needed lyricists, musicians, singers, directors, and participants for a music video. Charlie edited the music video and worked on lyrics. In the end they made it to number 36 on the charts, and raised over 10,000 pounds for Children In Need.
Yes, YouTube has some problems. But real communities thrive on it, and these communities make a difference in real, positive ways that many offline communities have never even attempted. Over ten thousand trees? A number 36 song on the charts – by amateurs? Five thousand dollars raised by shaving one’s head? This doesn’t happen “IRL” – but somehow it does, due to the power of the people on YouTube.