Is Social Media Stardom Worth Losing Your Life?

19-year old Mona Lisa Perez and her boyfriend Pedro Ruiz III were teenage parents to a three-year daughter. They joined YouTube in March 2017 and began documenting their life as teenage parents, playing harmless pranks and doing basic stunts for viewership. It was all good until the couple decided to shoot a video performing a deadly stunt. Perez was to shoot her boyfriend with a gun as he held a book to his chest. Little did they know that in the bid of fame, they’d be losing their lives to the darkness forever.

On 28th June, Pedro asked Mona Lisa to shoot him with a .50 caliber Desert Eagle pistol while he held a fat encyclopedia, assuming that the bullet would not penetrate. Pedro had shown Perez a book he shot through earlier and the bullet didn’t go through. He convinced her that although dangerous, it would not hurt him. In a tweet, Mona Lisa, this was the most dangerous stunt they were to perform, suggesting it was Pedro’s idea. Sadly, they underestimated the power of a Desert Eagle .50-caliber pistol. When Mona Lisa shot him, the bullet went right through the book into his chest, killing him instantly. What’s worse? The couple’s daughter was a witness to the act. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Mona Lisa is four-months pregnant with their second child and now she may face criminal charges leading up to 10-years in jail.

The irony is, the couple got the views they wanted. Soon after this news was spread on the internet, their YouTube channel had 960,617 views and some 7,000+ comments on their last video. People simply couldn’t understand why they would do such a thing? What people didn’t understand was that the Pedro had no accurate understanding of social media or specifically of YouTube. He assumed that if he had more views, he’d become famous.

YouTube Monetization and 15-Minutes Fame Lures Naive Users into Dangerous Activities

Before the YouTube monetization scheme, users simply put up videos for fun or for the love of entertaining people. But when YouTube introduced its monetization option (allowing advertising agencies to incorporate ads into users’ videos), YouTubing has become a full-day job earning active YouTubers nearly $1million a year. Now, naive users would assume that it takes is one video or a series of stunning videos with thousands of views to make them that money. They resort to doing all kinds of weird acts to achieve that viral sensation and get both recognition and money. Pedro was in the chase of this fantasy and naive that he was, lost his life tragically.

Reality Begs to Differ

Success stories of rich YouTubers like Felix Kjellberg or PewDiePie inspire naive users to blindly follow the YouTube fame and money bait. Kjellberg reportedly makes millions of dollars off the business deals he receives because of his massive viewership. His secret to success? Nothing other than using his natural talent for comedy and commentary to make entertaining videos. Young teenagers and aspiring YouTubers fail to see behind the curtain and easily get tempted with such, ‘inspiring stories.’ They only focus on the views, thinking that more views will equate more money. But even for Kjelberg, it is a combination of a book, a mobile game and merchandise sales that make him the millions of dollars.

The reality is much different. And as people would like to believe it, it isn’t simply about recording and posting videos. It’s a full-time job needing careful analysis and expensive investment of production equipment, time and effort to make it work. There are plenty of failed YouTubers who have tried to make a living out of the channel only to find expenses outweighing profit. Most of them who do manage to secure the top views move on to creating other revenue-generating products such as books, TV appearances, reality shows etc. But even to reach that, they need to go beyond YouTube and be known to a wider audience.

Olga Kay, another millennial YouTube makes videos ranting about the female experience, gets $75 for every 1,000 views and around $130,000 per year. Production costs, taxes, and YouTube’s own 45% cut leaves her with nothing much. So unless she doesn’t step foot into other media areas, she will remain as an entertainer with no profitability. Some YouTubers have even given up on creating content for the channel simply because they are not able to achieve the ROI over production, marketing, and distribution expenses. They now consider YouTube to be a strong brand-building platform, but definitely not one where they can monetize or earn a monthly living from.

A new YouTube user like Pedro would only get a few cents per ad, depending on various factors like the country the viewer is from, the type of video and how long the viewer watches. For the average user, those cents do not add up to a standard of income that he or she could subsist upon. Some YouTube users claim that they earn only $2 to $3 for every 1,000 views which means the average user can only make $15 a month. Despite this meager figure, thousands of users try to upload all kinds of videos - the more dangerous the more views, the more extreme the more shares.

Social Media and Our Dark Vices

Pedro Ruiz told his aunt (who tried to reason with him) that he wanted to perform this stunt to get viewers and become famous. Pedro was ready to risk his life in order to get the fame he needed. He knew too that it wasn’t just the fame, but the money, the probable sponsorships, and deals that would come along. If it took Danielle Bregoli, the girl famous for, ‘Cash me Outside,’ just some Dr. Phil drama to get fame, surely, a risky stunt can get Pedro massive viewership. Endorsements and celebrations of odd behavior or extreme actions motivate struggling YouTubers and wannabe social media stars to go out of their way to achieve fame.

How Can We Use Social Media Effectively to Our Benefit?

Social media is a reality we can no longer deny or ignore. It’s a new way of doing business, of building lives, of achieving success, of creating a career, of making money etc. So if you want social media to work to your benefit, you first need to know how to separate fact from fiction, reality from perception and wishes from action.

Most people believe in false notions of social engagement - if I do something outrageous, I’ll get fame. What they don’t realize is the goal is very short-term. People will see your video, share it, laugh or adore you for it and then forget about it. The goal is not to get 15-minutes fame, but to be a consistent source of information, of entertainment or of value. You have to be value-oriented if you want internet fame. You need to be strategically clever and have a strong idea of your audience if you want to produce work they will recommend or share.

It’s important to realize that social media can work wonders and can be extremely beneficial to our lives if we learn to take it with a reality pill. You can’t grow rich overnight. You can’t get thousands of followers overnight and you certainly can’t get success. You can, however, invest the right amount of time, effort and thought into creating content that elevates your social and professional profile. For that, you need to be a professional who understands the platforms well. So unless you haven’t given yourself the training needed to make it big on social media, avoid doing things that could result in permanent damage.

Finally, while we may condone Pedro and his girlfriend and call them, ‘dumb, stupid, shallow,’ we need to realize that we allow and reward this behavior in the name of entertainment. If they weren’t in the face of this tragedy, they’d definitely get the views and the shares - what’s worse is, others would try to perform the same dangerous stunt (which could result in loss of innocent lives). Now that we have the death of a young man, the imprisonment of a 19-year old woman and a dark future of two kids, we ask WHY.

We the people make the internet what it is. What we promote today can come haunt us tomorrow.

Farah tries to keep up with the fast-paced tech world by writing about it. She covers latest tech news and writes informative pieces to help her readers make informed decisions about their tech preferences.