YouTube Pranks Causing More Harm Than Good

The popular “prank”-style videos on YouTube are popping up everywhere, but do they have any redeeming qualities?

Joseph Rivas, Columnist

YouTube has created its fair share of abominations and disasters over the years but one in particular makes me… concerned. YouTube “prank” videos are nothing new but recently some have crossed the line and taken the “prank” too far.

My first qualm, one of many mind you, lies within the usage of the word “prank.” It used to be a joke set up against a particular person or group for the enjoyment of the prankster. Of course, it’s inherently one sided and often callous, but rarely harmful in any meaningful way. But some of the pranks seen on sites like YouTube seem to take the word “prank” and use it as a synonym for inciting a reaction of any form. Some even go as far as to blatantly attempt to incite violence or social unrest, albeit on a personal level.

Things like going to poor neighborhoods and asking people if they want to “buy a gun” and then flashing an orange plastic water gun is and always will be a bad idea, and the fact that someone thought it would be a good idea seems to suggest a lack of common sense on a fundamental level. One group (that will go unnamed) have even walked up to people and asked them if they wanted to fight. That is quite simply not a prank. What’s the outcome of these “pranks,” anyway?

Sadly, it’s violence. Most of the videos end with the prankster in question getting hit by a flying appendage and then staggering back and asking bewilderingly: “Why did he hit me?”

Another problem that may arise, and in some cases already has, is the likelihood that amateur or lesser known YouTubers see the zeitgeist surrounding prank videos and attempt to get in on it while its still popular. If they attempt, however, to outdo some of the pranks they’ve seen and they’ll end up being hurt or hurting others.

The one thing that makes a prank is the reveal that it was all just a set up, but this requires a couple things to work. The person being pranked must have a good sense of humor to accept it as a joke and not a personal attack. The second crucial point is that the prankster should make the reveal convincing and sincere, otherwise it may come off as an excuse, which may cause the  further agitation of the person being pranked.

Another type of video is the “social experiment.” These usually entail a man or woman walking around asking questions or setting up a situation to stranger and sometimes paid actors told to act like a stranger. Now that doesn’t seem too bad, but like most things on YouTube, it has been taken way too far. In fact, it’s been taken to the point where it has become a serious problem for both the content creator and the victim in question. The biggest and most notable example of this was illustrated by the once-popular YouTuber Sam Pepper, who notoriously made headlines when many came out and directed claims of sexual harassment and exploitation committed by Pepper under the guise of “it’s for a video and thusly perfectly okay.” The most notable one was the immensely viral video of him publicly groping women seemingly without consent. He later tried to defend his actions by claiming it was a part of a “social experiment.” Supposedly, it was meant to promote gender equality, but in the end, following the hellstorm of controversy, the content creation company that funded Peppers’ videos dropped him and left him to fend for himself. As usual, this went with the whole “his actions don’t reflect the views or goal of the company” spiel. This incident got a fair amount of press, but that’s only because the perpetrator was well-known and had already established a fanbase. Despite this, it doesn’t take much to see that it’s not an isolated incident by any means. It actually happens all the time, and many of the prankers continue without any ramification.

I’d also like to say that I personally am not against prank videos in general. If this is the way they want to express themselves artistically or creatively, that’s fine with me (who am I to tell them otherwise?). However, I will take direct issue when it begins to become a problem or hurt people. The current state of this form of video content has been diminished by a select few and what was once a hilarious and enjoyable thing is now little more than a bad joke with an even worse punchline.