Jacksepticeye Interview: “People Never Talk About How Damaging It Is To Have People Constantly Rave About You”

Seán McLoughlin, better known online as Jacksepticeye, is one of YouTube’s biggest creators. He’s been making videos for almost ten years now and has seen how the platform has developed in its most personal decade yet.

“I've been doing it long enough now that you start seeing the cycles of when things change,” he says. “With YouTube, in the beginning, it was a lot of sketch comedy, kind of like Hollywood brought into YouTube culture. People were doing improv bits and sketch comedy. After a while, people were like, ‘Okay, what else can YouTubers do?’ That's when my generation kicked in. It was a lot more about the personal connection with your audience, how close you are with them and being nice, honest, transparent with them. I gravitated towards that because that was the way I wanted to do it anyway.

“Now things are switching back. You'll see more high production and high editing. And the conversation about parasocial relationships has come up so often in the last few years that now giving over so much of yourself to your audience is seen as a negative thing. The wheel keeps turning and I'm sure it'll turn back and go to the way I started again, eventually. But it's just been fascinating to see the different types of YouTubers that have come out of it.”

With YouTube’s past out of the way, we also discuss its potential future – the metaverse. Big companies are pushing for it, trying to make sure they don’t miss out on what they’re hoping will be the next internet boom, but many creators are hesitant.

“I can't stand it. I just don't care. Listening to people talk about NFTs and crypto and the metaverse is so exhausting. I have enough trouble living in the real universe. I don't have to try to struggle to live in the meta-universe. It feels like a train that nothing is really stopping at this point. Whether anyone cares about that train or not is a different story, but it's going to pull into the station eventually.”

Going back to the beginning, one of the biggest YouTubers to come out of the platform’s early days is PewDiePie, who gave McLoughlin's channel a boost when he was just starting out. McLoughlin started on YouTube in very late 2012, around the time that PewDiePie, real name Felix Kjellberg, was seeing huge growth with his let’s play content. The shout-out from him led to a shift in McLoughlin’s attitude.

“[He made] me feel like what I have is good. And I know that if he thinks it's good, then it must be something worth pursuing. Then I hit the ground running with that and worked so much harder at it than I had been before.”

But, as many YouTubers know, working harder can lead to burnout. McLoughlin used to put out two videos a day to try and keep up with the YouTube algorithm, one that infamously has always favoured creators who post consistently. But, while fatigue due to busy upload schedules and maintaining parasocial relationships is more openly talked about now, what’s still ignored is the effect that being praised constantly can have on creators. For McLoughlin, the expectation set by fans feels like it’s impossible to achieve and maintain.

“Having so many people say nice things all the time puts way too much pressure on a person. Everyone's like, ‘Oh, he's so unproblematic and scandal-free and positive all the time. And he's so caring and good and kind.’ I tried to be, but at the same time, it's kind of like you're building me up to fail at some point. And whenever that happens, which inevitably it does – everybody gets tested at some point – then you're just gonna fall harder.

“For me, with all of the controversy stuff that was going on years ago, I just didn't know how to navigate it. I was being questioned intellectually for the first time. And I fumbled the ball. It's great to have praise and that people enjoy what I do. But I can't take all that praise and think that it's 100 percent fact, the same way I can't take all the negative things and think it's 100 percent fact. I would not be able to keep going. I would not be able to upload content every day because you just can't keep up with that sort of pressure all the time.”

It’s McLoughlin’s friendship with Kjellberg, and people wanting him to speak out about the latter’s numerous controversies, that he’s referring to. Kjellberg has been at the centre of many scandals over the years. The most egregious ones include saying the n-word live on stream – something far too many get caught doing – and paying people on Fiverr to hold up a sign reading ‘Death to all Jews’. The former is so common it’s referred to as a ‘gamer moment’, and Kjellberg claimed the latter was to show “how crazy the modern world is.” McLoughlin’s consistent defence of his friend has led to some fans feeling disappointed in him.

“With Felix, we've always been closer personally than we are in public [online]. That’s what the key factor is. You don't need to give your opinion on absolutely everything that's happening all the time. Back then I was definitely pressured to, because a lot of people online were telling me I had to. I don't know, it's been a weird thing. Nowadays things are a lot more chilled out, a lot more mellow. We’re 30-year-old men. We just want to chill out and have fun. You have to stick with your own feelings and think, ‘Well, I know him as a person. I know where his morals lie and I know his actual stance on things.’”

McLoughlin’s reasoning for not wanting to speak out against his friend is explained by his feelings about whether or not his large platform – 28.1 million subscribers – means he has a responsibility to his audience.

“I think responsibility is something that you come up with yourself. Other than like, obviously, don't be a shithead, don't put out hate speech, and don't say any nasty things, I feel like you get into it as much as you want. A lot of people who do this job are socially awkward, and I feel like that sort of responsibility […] can be a bit daunting, and I don't really blame anyone for pulling away from it.

“I don't feel like I should give my opinion on absolutely everything that's happening because I don't want to do more damage than good. If it's a no-brainer, then yeah, it's good to show people where your morals are. A lot of people have that pressure to jump in and say something about everything. That's happening because they get a lot of pressure from people online. I follow my own moral compass and whatever I feel like is the right way to go then I'll try my best. I don't think anyone can do any wrong then.”

While most YouTubers probably don’t start out expecting their opinions to be heard by tens of millions of fans, many now do, and like it or not, there’s an inherent responsibility that comes with that platform. It’s awkward calling out your mates, sure, but it’s the kind of anti-racist work white people need to do. Saying racial slurs and using anti-Semitism as a social experiment seem like obvious no-brainers, and refusing to speak out against those issues in favour of only spotlighting positive things is a choice McGloughlin has made.

It’s a choice many big YouTubers and Twitch streamers make. While controversy can often be good for a quick boost in views, brands and advertising companies don’t like people who get too ‘political’, so steering clear of divisive topics works as a cynical business tactic that prioritises channel growth over accountability. It also helps to postpone the fall from grace McLoughlin knows everyone has to face. It’s hard to get mad at someone raising money for charity, but speaking about racism and social issues leaves a lot more room for criticism. His desire to not cause controversy or misstep is something that appears to be on his mind a lot.

“People kept saying ‘Well. PewDiePie made your channel so why can't you do that for other people?’ A lot of the people who want shout-outs think it's like a one-stop thing to make them famous, which is not always the case. So usually, if I see channels that I think are doing great anyway, I'll figure out some way of promoting them or talking about them that's a bit more organic than making it like a competition. No matter who I pick I’m giving them a vehicle to either go be great or go be bad, that's completely outside of my control.”

Despite an apparent desire for control behind the scenes, on camera McLoughlin seems breezy. He elaborates on this attitude when I ask about the success of other Irish YouTubers such as Call Me Kevin and RTGame.

“It would be foolish to think that [the accent] didn't play some sort of factor. A lot of Americans love Irish people, they have a lot of ancestry there. If you don't see that many Irish streamers out there, then you're going to gravitate towards that if that's what you're into. When I became the biggest one in Ireland there were no people doing it at that scale. There were a couple of Irish YouTubers around and Kevin was one of them. He's been doing it a lot longer than I have. But it was the first time to reach such a wide audience and start competing with a lot of the American YouTubers’ channels.

“I think it's not so much the accent as much as Irish sensibilities. We're a lot more realistic about things and a lot more like happy go lucky – we just mess around. We don't really take things too seriously. We're a bit more sarcastic. I think it's more of the culture than it is just the accent on its own.”

Jacksepticeye’s biographical documentary, How Did We Get Here?, will be available to watch on-demand and digitally, March 15.

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