The platform recently took action against a high-profile makeup artist. Here’s some background.
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Taylor Lorenz and
James Charles, a high-profile beauty YouTuber with 25.5 million subscribers, is facing backlash for allegedly sending sexually explicit messages to minors. On Tuesday, a YouTube spokesperson said that the platform had temporarily suspended monetization on his channel.
Morphe, a makeup company that Mr. Charles has worked with since 2016, said on Twitter last week that its relationship with Mr. Charles was ending. Two other companies that Mr. Charles has worked with, Lilly Lashes and Laura’s Boutique, did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
In less than five years, Mr. Charles, 21, has rocketed from Bethlehem, N.Y., a town south of Albany where he grew up and where he charged friends $5 to $10 to do their makeup, to celebrity status in Los Angeles. On YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, millions of followers tune in to watch Mr. Charles apply makeup to himself and others, including Kylie Jenner, Lil Nas X and Doja Cat.
Since turning 17, Mr. Charles has been the face of CoverGirl, attended the Met Gala and hosted a competition show on YouTube. His eye shadow palette with Morphe developed a cult following among Gen Z consumers, causing frenzies.
In 2019, it seemed like Mr. Charles’s rise was coming to a halt, after a former mentor publicly accused him of betrayal. His following plummeted, fans posted angry messages on his social media pages, and other influencers voiced their own criticisms. Video messages were flung back and forth by opposing parties.
Since that incident, his follower count on YouTube has nearly doubled. On TikTok, where he has 36.2 million followers, Mr. Charles collaborates with the app’s biggest stars, including Charli D’Amelio and Dixie D’Amelio.
In 2020, Mr. Charles was a producer and the host of a five-episode YouTube competition show called “Instant Influencer.” The winner was promised mentorship from Mr. Charles and $50,000.
In February, a 16-year-old TikTok user accused Mr. Charles of sending him nude photographs and pressuring him into inappropriate conversation on Snapchat.
Mr. Charles issued a statement on Twitter denying the allegation. “The accusation that I have groomed this person is completely false,” he wrote, adding that he was unaware the person he was messaging was under 18. Soon, other underage TikTok and Snapchat users said they had engaged in similar exchanges with Mr. Charles.
In March, Variety reported that “Instant Influencer” would no longer be hosted by Mr. Charles.
On April 1, Mr. Charles admitted that he had sent messages to minors in a video on his YouTube channel called “holding myself accountable.” In the video, Mr. Charles said that at the time, he believed that the recipients of his messages were 18 or older. But, he said, “these conversations should’ve never happened, point blank period.”
“There is no excuse for it,” he added.
On April 16, as the backlash intensified, Mr. Charles issued another statement on Twitter. “Many other people have come forward with a series of misleading stories and false allegations which have been reported on by many people, creators, and news outlets,” he wrote. “My legal team has begun taking action against those that have spread misinformation and/or created completely fake stories, as this has gone too far.” Mr. Charles did not reply to a request for comment for this article.
The company said it had “applied our creator responsibility policy and removed James Charles from the YouTube Partner Program.” When creators step outside the bounds of what YouTube considers appropriate behavior, YouTube can turn off the ads that play in their videos or prevent their content from being recommended.
“Not to sound all dad-like here, but you might say that with great popularity comes great responsibility,” Matt Koval, the company’s creator liaison, says in a video that explains the Creator Responsibility Initiative.
Reckless, dangerous or inappropriate behavior can lead to corporate-enacted punishment, Mr. Koval says. And it’s not just about what you show in your videos, according to the initiative. Offline actions count, too; those include abuse, violence, cruelty or fraud.
Cosmetify, a company that helps shoppers compare cosmetics prices and directs them to stores, estimates that Mr. Charles earns about $25,500 for every YouTube video that he posts, based on his number of subscribers, the average views on his videos and viewer engagement, and other metrics. This makes him the highest-paid beauty influencer on the platform, according to Cosmetify.
Using data from Influencer Marketing Hub and from Exolyt, Cosmetify also estimates that his earnings from other social media platforms are even higher, with a payout of $89,000 for one Instagram post on behalf of a brand, and $35,000 for one TikTok video on behalf of a brand. These calculations are based on the sizes of his audiences, the number of times a post is seen, and how many times it is liked and commented on.
In the last year, Mr. Charles has uploaded more than 75 videos to his YouTube channel. (That number doesn’t include episodes from his competition show, “Instant Influencer.”)
Many commentators and experts on YouTube are skeptical that the response to Mr. Charles will have long-lasting impact. The YouTube ban is temporary, and creators who are involved in controversy often emerge from their scandals more famous and with a larger following than before.
Large creators who generate outsize engagement are also held to different standards by platforms. “Even though many see Charles’s demonetization as the right thing to do, many feel as though it’s a Band-Aid fix to a much larger issue,” said Brendan Gahan, the chief social officer at Mekanism, an advertising agency. “Less well-known creators tend to not have as much flexibility or direct engagement with YouTube. Demonetization can happen without notice or the ability to explain and appeal to decision makers at YouTube directly.”
Kat Tenbarge, an internet culture writer for Insider, wrote on Twitter: “It doesn’t really make for meaningful change when YouTube demonetizes celebrity content creators on a temporary basis after most of them have already said they’ll be taking long breaks.”
Other high-profile YouTube stars including Logan Paul, Shane Dawson and David Dobrik have had their channels demonetized after controversies in the media. Many demonetized creators still run highly profitable businesses.