Gay and famous on YouTube: Australian Influencers, Discursive activism, and Queer networks of microcelebrity

Since they first debut in the early-2000s, Influencers have progressed from hobbyist home-based webcamming and desktop publishing to extremely lucrative full-time careers. So viable and attractive is their craft that the industry has grown rapidly, with followers intensifying in brand loyalty to their favourites, wannabe Influencers attempting to mimic after successful exemplars, and businesses clamouring to tap into the following of these notable icons. Influencers are now capitalizing on their high visibility in digital spaces to propel themselves into other mainstream media industries including television, cinema, music, publishing, and fashion. Many Influencers are also engaging in social justice ecologies, using their lifestyle narratives and platforms to personalize and promote causes pertaining to politics and LGBT advocacy. These queer Influencers are important nodes in LGBT networks on the internet, especially as they have become ambassadors for various queer-related community and corporate services, amplify crucial health and wellbeing messages as informal sexuality educators, and continue to foster a sense of community and loyalty among their young followers. While Influencers are now established across social media platforms and old/new media, under the historical legacy of the It Gets Better network of videos that first debut on YouTube in 2010, queer Influencers on YouTube operate with distinct cultural repertoires and community vernacular. In instituting and enacting the narrative tropes of queer confessions on YouTube – such as coming out, struggling with depression or self-harm, the processes of transitioning, confirming a relationship, or announcing a breakup – queer Influencers on YouTube tend to adopt the stance of responsibility, care, and advocacy when addressing young followers, especially those they imagine to be closeted, struggling, or looking for guidance. In this paper, I draw on digital ethnography to produce a content analysis of three gay-identifying Australian YouTubers, focused on how they use their status as Influencers to promote discursive queer support, and how they constitute and utilize queer networks of microcelebrity in their activism and for their careers.

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For the conference paper: Abidin, Crystal. 2017. “Gay and famous on YouTube: Influencers, Queer microcelebrity publics, and Discursive activism.” The Australian Sociological Association, UWA, Perth. November 28-30, 2017.