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Youth culture and notability

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By Waggers
A pig wearing a crown and royal robes.
Opinion pieces such as this one reflect the opinion of their author(s), not necessarily that of The Signpost. E

Technoblade – real name Alexander – was a Minecraft YouTuber who died in June this year. He was immensely popular, with a YouTube channel boasting over 10 million subscribers – a household name among the Minecraft community. That's no small community; over 170 million people play Minecraft at least once a month – if that was a country it would be the 8th biggest country in the world, with over 15 million people playing the game every single day.[1] Technoblade was a very big fish in a very big pond.

Now it's fair to say that not all of Technoblade's 10 million subscribers watched every one of his videos. Some of them received as little as 5–6 million views whereas others exceeded 30 million. His live streams consistently attracted over a million viewers – not much compared to his pre-recorded videos but still much more than many television or radio shows that are considered notable enough to have a Wikipedia article.

And yet, Technoblade did not have a Wikipedia article before he died.

Attempts had been made to write an article about him, but these failed for a couple of reasons. One is that they were often fancruft – badly written biased, unsourced twaddle that wasn't worth the bytes of storage it consumed. The other is that Technoblade was not notable, according to our guidelines, until he died.

While he was alive, although he was very well known among that large community of people I outlined, very little was written about him, especially in what we would recognise as reliable sources. Whereas a conventional media show pulling in the numbers of viewers Technoblade did would almost certainly have widespread coverage in newspapers and magazines, the only substantial material you would be able to find about Technoblade in sources independent of the man himself would be in other people's similar content, blogs or discussion forums. He was probably one of the most notable non-notable people alive.

But when he died of cancer, aged just 23, it was big news. Big enough to warrant stories on news websites across the world, from publishers including the BBC and the Evening Standard to name just a couple, alongside just about every technology-focused publication you could think of. Only when he died was there sufficient coverage for us to create a well-sourced Wikipedia article and fulfill our own notability criteria.

Yet it wasn't his death that was notable. Yes, that's what the articles were about, because that's what the news was. But people die of cancer every single day; there wasn't anything special about Technoblade's death. His death was notable and received that level of news coverage because his life was notable. Because he was notable, as a person, when he was alive.

Notable, but not noted. At least, not by us here on Wikipedia.

So ... did we get it wrong? Is our notability guideline so harsh, so clear-cut, so strict, that it prevented us having an article on a subject that we should have had years earlier? Should we be looking at changing it, or perhaps having a different set of criteria for social media stars like Technoblade who had little written about him in our conventional sources until his death?

Personally, I don't think so. I absolutely think there was indeed a failing here. Technoblade was indeed notable while he was alive, but it was not a failure on Wikipedia's part that resulted in his article never materialising. The simple fact is, had sufficient material been written about him in the mainstream press, or indeed in academic papers studying the phenomena of social media, gaming content creation and youth culture, then we would have had an article on him. As it was, there was simply nothing for us to write about, because we needed others to write about him first.

The problem is not our notability guideline. The problem is not that we should have had an article on Technoblade before he died – we shouldn't. The problem is that mainstream media is still largely comprised of television broadcasters and old-fashioned newspapers who happen to have built websites for themselves, and those organisations are very much self-obsessed. Newspapers write about what's on television. Television news shows – particularly at the beginning and end of the day – devote time to telling you what the newspaper headlines say. It's incredibly rare for them to cover anything that's happening on YouTube or Twitch. And it's that failing of conventional media outlets to engage with modern youth culture – their failing, not ours – that meant poor Technoblade only became the subject of a Wikipedia article after his death.

I'll sign off with this final thought. You might think that I'm writing all this as a Technoblade fan and you'd be wrong. I didn't like him at all, I found his content brash and noisy and I couldn't stomach hearing it for more than a few minutes at a time. So I'm not writing this as a Technoblade fan but as a Wikipedia fan; a fan of our original mantra to "make the internet not suck". And on that note I have to say this: if it takes a clearly notable person to die of cancer at a young age to become technically notable, then the internet does very much suck.

RIP Technoblade.

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I don't think anything needs changing on our end. There are always new sources of information sprouting on- and off-line. Many of these new sources can be reliable, may be reliable. If there weren't any sources, well-established sources and new sources alike, taking the time to cover the popular YouTubers reliably before their deaths, then we just have to wait for the sources to appear posthumously. If anything, it may just be a catch-up before the media in general writes about popular YouTubers like any of the artistic professionals (musicians, actors, etc) are being currently written about. – robertsky (talk) 03:12, 1 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]

This has been a concern of mine for a while. There exists practically no press coverage for Youtube (online video?) specifically, and this is a really weird situation. I believe online video is largely seen as a competitor of big money such as print news and television. There also exists no motivation for Youtube community members to set up traditional-esque sources, as the platform is set up in a lot of contrary ways. Lastly, online video is free and unusually accessible. It has no use for reviews, because users will decide whether a channel catches their interest by watching ten seconds of it. Even fanfiction has a higher bar of consumer entry than that. I agree that we on Wikipedia can't really solve this problem... ~Maplestrip/Mable (chat) 11:18, 1 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]

  • Youtube channels do receive coverage after particularly notable videos (viral videos, I suppose). You're right that when it comes to specific video game Youtubers, there are indeed a lot of successful independent Minecraft Youtubers. I don't know what traditional coverage we might see of Technoblade vs Grian vs GeorgeNotFound vs MumboJumbo vs IBXToyCat; all very distinct people who do fairly similar things. All extremely successful and, I suppose, notable. But still, a good writer could easily cover these individual people and their creative output. There doesn't seem to be motivation to do this at all unless there's a scandal or an unfortunately young death. ~Maplestrip/Mable (chat) 12:39, 1 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]

Thanks for the comments. It's good to know others share similar concerns and we all generally agree. I think User:Maplestrip's observation that the nature of freely-available video as a medium doesn't lend itself to being widely reviewed/documented - as well as being seen as a competitor for traditional media - is particularly pertinent. WaggersTALK 15:43, 1 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]

  • As an encyclopedia, we will always be limited to what reliable secondary sources cover. In a way, we do get to pick what these sources are, which can give us a lot of editorial leeway. We could cite more online videos if we could determine "experts in the field," for example. But really, I think the only proper solution to this issue is if actual journalists or academics with editorial oversight cover these subjects. ~Maplestrip/Mable (chat) 10:15, 2 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]
    To be fair, that's not a characteristic of any encyclopaedia, it's a characteristic of Wikipedia. For example I don't know what Encyclopaedia Britannica's internal policies are but I doubt their information-gathering is limited to secondary sources. We don't allow original research; other encyclopaedias might employ researchers whose very job it is to produce original research for inclusion in their publication.
    Of course we do have sister projects where original research is actively encouraged (Wikinews, Wikiversity, Wikivoyage) and in some cases it may be appropriate for those to be used as sources for Wikipedia content. Perhaps that's where a solution lies for "notable" topics that aren't covered in conventional sources. WaggersTALK 10:48, 2 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]
  • Original research is actually largely disallowed on Wikinews as well. I'm not familiar with the policies of the other two. I've personally always approved of Wikinews as a reliable source, but I don't think it's currently well-suited for solving this issue. Young journalists and open-minded publications can indeed be the solution here though. This is how a lot of sources in webcomics came to be, for example. But most people with an interest in online video are more likely to become independent online video creators. The Youtube channel Super Bunnyhop might be an interesting example: a video game journalist with a journalism degree spending his entire career as an independent video creator. Jim Sterling might be a similar example, but they have way more traditional writing credits outside of their independent video work. ~Maplestrip/Mable (chat) 11:19, 2 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]
    I guess we might get to a point where we start identifying particular YouTube (or other platform) channels that we deem to be reliable in the same way as some traditional media publications are reliable and others aren't. It's arguably much harder to discern which is which with video though, especially as many video creators use pseudonyms so it's harder to establish their credentials. WaggersTALK 12:41, 2 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]
I had GPT-3 react to this article in the role of the late Technoblade:

I'm not sure what to say. I'm touched that someone would write such kind words about me, and I'm honored that my life was notable enough to warrant an article on Wikipedia. I'm sorry that it took my death for that to happen, but I'm glad that my life meant something to someone. Thank you for the kind words.

That was refreshing to hear. Rest in peace. 🐶 EpicPupper (he/him | talk) 21:10, 2 August 2022 (UTC)[reply]

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