Can A Youtuber Be A Cult Leader?

I’ve been researching YouTube communities for a few weeks now for an upcoming book and found myself pondering a surprising question. Before we dive in I’d like to remind everyone that I don’t have the answers, just an overwhelming curiosity. Also some of the videos contain naughty language, so be aware.

Communities exist because, as we know, YouTube is a vast website where thousands of videos are uploaded every second and, without individuals of common interest pulling together and promoting each other, they’d all be lost in a vacuum. The thing is, people are people and, no matter how much we’d love to, we don’t really get along – at least certain people can’t with each other. I’ve noticed each community (Booktube, Storytime, Ranters, Vegans… oh God, the Vegans… we’ll come to that) will have its antagonists or people who just don’t agree with the way others are doing things, the others often take sides, and sometimes it leads to the disintegration of the group and sometimes not. It’s the same with any large mass of people, online or otherwise, it’s just a new platform for all this to happen.

There’s another element to online disagreements though, one which is both fascinating and disturbing: can a YouTuber become a cult leader? It sounds completely daft but more and more I’ve wondered at the possibility. There is a general fear that impressionable people can be lured into cults via the internet, though whether there is any basis in fact is another matter.

One YouTuber years ago jokingly (?) attempted to start his own cult and, interestingly, he’s a person many have since had genuine concerns about. They worry that his young fan base is easily taken in by what he tells them and so on. But does that make it possible for him to be a real cult leader? In order to decide that I suppose we ought to define what a cult leader is.

The following video demonstrates the common ways a rational person is manipulated and transformed into a follower:

It seems pretty crazy and far-fetched to think someone could manage all this by uploading videos onto a website, right? But some are convinced it’s possible. I suppose we can look at it two ways. When we don’t like someone, we tend to view everything they say and do through the worst possible lens. For example, the lady in the video below felt a YouTuber was disrespecting disabled people and, once she approached him via social media, he didn’t respond well and neither did his followers.

It’s never nice to be spoken to in an unpleasant manner, in real life or online, and it can be mentally upsetting particularly for the very young or those with chronic illness. The seeping in of negativity from online to everyday life once seemed ridiculous to people, but the potential real world damage is becoming clearer.

The lady below points out several entirely plausible things that qualify him as a potential cult leader, and she’s not the only one, but is it also possible she’s seeing them because…well…she doesn’t like him? Or is she right?

And yet… a YouTuber forming a cult doesn’t seem completely impossible. Back to the vegans.

About a year ago troubling aspects of a group known as Raw Till 4 became evident. Led by a very angry pair known as Durian Rider and his girlfriend Freelee (or Diddly Rider and Free Pee as one dissenter refers to them), the Raw Till 4 diet promotes eating large quantities of raw carbohydrates until 4 when you can… eat cooked carbohydrates? I’m not sure. They set up a vegan festival in Thailand where anyone could go and discuss all things vegetably and raw, before in-fighting and accusations of sexual predation (apparently projection on Durian Rider’s part) caused the entry rules to become stricter and stricter, and those on the fringe were denounced as ‘fake vegans,’ until only a hardcore few meeting all the requirements were allowed to attend. Some began noticing the health advice, among other things, was perhaps not up to par:

However the thing that most worried people was the video of a young girl, 16 at the time, defending the pair. She has a history of eating disorders and apparently blindly followed the pair’s teachings. Notice in the video below the moment she brings up concerns from her doctor and Durian Rider tells her to “ignore your doctor, just listen to the king and queen.”

So yes, I don’t think it’s beyond the scope of possibility. I think we ought to be aware, though, of hysteria and making things fit to our way of thinking. Adam Curtis says, after all, that the internet is “an echo chamber, reflecting our beliefs back at us.” But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen…

18 thoughts on “Can A Youtuber Be A Cult Leader?

  1. I agree with your post. YouTube’s vegan community is particularly crazy. I don’t call myself a vegan anymore and I haven’t for maybe a year or two, but plant based instead, and that is better because on very special occasions (read: maybe in every two or four months), I tend to indulge in small amounts of dairy products and seafood, which is… Absolutely not vegan, even though I volunteer regularly and eat “vegan” 98% of the time. But anyway, the cult-like atmosphere has toned down, finally. The drama never does but we all like a bit of drama (watch Vegan Cheetah for vegan drama. His own life is a mess right now, by the way).
    On a side note, there’s also the whole Onision drama with his forum full of pictures of half naked teenage girls. Many people say he’s some kind of cult leader because he managed to convince them to send pictures, and stay against their parents. A new war started, with people making videos all the time. Maybe you’ve heard of that because it was pretty big.

      1. I am not sure if he’s being sued, but he should be. If I remember the last time I watched a video about him, the whole story seemed solid enough to put him in jail. I kind of feel bad for him, not even sure why, but he has shown no concern for others and doesn’t care if he stains people’s reputations so… Yes, he should be sued.
        Bite Size Vegan is a great YouTuber and I’ve translated a few of her videos. The only “problem” is that she’s really close to Gary Yourosky — not sure if you know who he is, but he’s some kind of vegan god who lots of people call an extremist. Lol. His speeches are good though. And there’s also Unnatural Vegan, she’s nice. Okay, I stopped with my suggestions.

      2. Thank you! I became interested initially because I’m vegetarian, but there do seem to be some pretty crazy extreme vegans! Yeah, I think two women are trying to ask for funds to sue him, pretty fascinating

  2. I have pondered this for some time, having watched the extreme ways one gaming community can tear apart another. The zealotry involved is palpable and contagious, so it would not surprise me if cult-like behaviours were observed.

  3. Cult of personality is definitely a real thing on Youtube, without a doubt. Some people can seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of those who follow everything they say and do, and when the likes of Patreon comes into it and Youtube “stars” start asking their viewers to give them money and do certain things on their behalf, that’s where it begins to get dangerous. Unfortunately, a lot of people (especially younger viewers as you mention) get exploited by people like that.

    1. Yeah definitely. I mean generally I think good on youtubers and people on patreon for getting themselves a fan base and doing well, but it gets worrying when certain things like bad health advice bleed into reality

  4. Stare in the the video void and let your mind go. You are only what we tell you to be. Be me. Be me. Bring me cakes and small statues of myself. My mind is made up and I am right. There is no reality tunnel that is not mine. i have become the familiar skeleton that falls endlessly into your bed upon waking and sends your piss into the clouds in hot jets. Join the congregation of blood gargling, black eyed human dolls with electric minds and jelly bones. Everyone the same forever and ever and the ladder will be built to the stars and flesh shall become as Styrofoam and every smile will give me $8.

    Sorry for the drunken rant. Somewhere hidden in there is a the key to destroying all worship. Just read it backwards 666 times. You’ll get it down. Nothing to worry about ever again.

    All thought patterns are enemies of true thought.

      1. Haha. I vaguely remember writing this the other night after a few too many. I agree with it all completely in the daylight as well as the darkness.

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