Since its launch in 2005, YouTube has been a place of creativity and the natural home of what we used to call 'user-generated content'.
These 'users', however, aren't just uploading fuzzy videos of pop concerts or cats falling over nowadays. YouTube has evolved into a slick, influential platform where millions of people use their talent, knack for holding an audience, or simply sheer tyranny of will to make a fast buck.
The mainstream media first took noticed of Youtubers around four or five years ago, showcasing them in gently mocking, dismissive editorials. The overall tone was "here are some people you've never heard of and why you don't need to pay them any attention". And beyond the odd scandal – which always quickly blew over because the internet's ability to grow a new skin is positively psoriatic – YouTubers have been largely left alone, unchecked, to carry on.
Recently, however, the scandals have become harder to ignore, and we are beginning to confront the Wild West of the internet. Zoella, one of Britain's leading YouTubers, was last year accused of selling fans overpriced merchandise and criticised for disagreeable tweets. Millionaire gamer YouTuber PewDiePie had some explaining to do (again) after being caught on camera making racist remarks, and now Logan Paul has taken things next level by filming a dead body in a notorious suicide spot in Japan.
As always, we only sit up and take notice when something goes wrong. For too long we've dismissed content that feels unsophisticated or we feel is aimed at saddo teenagers or social outcasts, rather than accepting there's a very real audience out there elevating these people to a new kind of stardom.
Many situations that go awry for YouTubers wouldn't be allowed to happen on "traditional media". On TV, for example, there are untold levels of compliance to keep mad, bad and dangerous ideas off screens. As any author will tell you, there are many levels of editing to protect you from making a tit of yourself on the page. Even the dubious far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, so used to spouting freely online, found himself at the mercy of an editor's weary barbs when trying to submit the manuscript for his book. Why, then, do we allow YouTubers to blunder into crisis after crisis?
We are rightly very afraid of regulating the internet; it feels like the final haven for free speech and we are reluctant to gag anyone or smother creativity. But any YouTuber making money out of an audience surely has a responsibility to go through some kind of compliance training, or be held accountable for the message they're peddling?
It's not even about the much-trotted out cliché of "protecting our children", but saving these content creators from themselves. Most are very young, with their whole lives ahead of them to make mistakes. Missteps made so publicly can be career-ending stuff.
Not only that, but with the fandom for these people – who seem more accessible, real and relatable than huge superstars like Justin Bieber or Rihanna – being so forgiving, there's a feeling we're desensitising a generation to socially unacceptable behaviour. They just want to move on and forget about it, but is this an act of forgiveness or a general reluctance to deal with difficult situations? With internet culture so focused on extremes, trading in either outrage or adoration and very little in between, it seems to encourage a wider lack of empathy among both content creators and consumers.
The internet is an exciting, wildly creative place, and whatever you think about YouTubers, they are inspiring millions, be it materially or emotionally, and they can be a force for good. They're a serious business, making serious money – and it's time we stopped treating them like a flash in the pan and hold them accountable for their actions.
The Guyliner is a writer from London who talks about dating, relationships, LGBT issues and popular culture. He writes regular columns for Gay Times and GQ. Follow : @theguyliner