National / Media | Japan Pulse

Elementary school kids can say the darndest things online

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

People usually don’t take the thoughts of a 10-year-old child too seriously. Elementary school kids can say the darndest things, and only the nastiest of bullies take any notice of them saying something stupid.

Unless, that is, the child in question happens to be an online influencer with tens of thousands of followers — then it’s open season.

Ten-year-old YouTuber Yutabon operates a channel boasting just over 30,000 followers. Such numbers aren’t particularly impressive in the grand scheme of things, but they’re much better than what most children his age can manage. A clip uploaded during Golden Week includes a segment in which Yutabon tells other children that they shouldn’t attend school classes if they didn’t want to. He has regularly skipped school, according to his videos, and he believes it’s better for kids to do whatever they want instead of subjecting themselves to the misery of compulsory education.

Netizens and online media responded with outrage. The video currently boasts 660,000 dislikes compared to just over 4000 likes, a staggering ratio. Scroll further down and brace yourselves as anonymous YouTube commenters rip into Yutabon and his philosophy on life. The conversation suddenly took on a life of its own online, with users on 2chan expressing concern about the future of humanity before digging deeper into the Yutabon’s history, figuring out who his father was in the process.

This whole saga spread online, before being picked up by mainstream newspapers and network TV. This in turn spawned more YouTube content, with other popular creators riffing on news segments focused on Yutabon and his parents, while others commented on the entire situation. The father responded to the outcry, while others astutely pointed out that generating controversy only helped influencers’ careers.

Yutabon carried on as usual in the midst of all this hate. He has shared videos of him hanging out with a famous scientist, flaunting newspaper articles about himself and giving free hugs to strangers (which, hey, he probably could use after all of this). He didn’t seem to mind that people were downvoting all videos he has ever made and adding a slew of negative comments to his channel. After all, it’s important to keep the content fresh.

The Japanese internet ecosystem is fractured, with people divided by political and demographic differences. In spite of this, everyone can unite around a common cause. Take, for example, recent gaffes from Nippon Ishin no Kai’s Hodaka Maruyama or TV presenters trying to wrestle with issues of gender.

The issue gets more complicated when kids are involved. Children have become fixtures on social media as platforms such as YouTube and Instagram become part of their lives. Some of the most popular channels on the former prominently feature young children, including Kan & Aki’s Channel (more than 2.6 million subscribers) and Sen, Momo, Ai & Shii’s Channel (which officially has zero subscribers, but tracking site socialbreakers ranks as the fifth most subscribed channel in the country, with videos attracting hundreds of thousands of views).

Most of these kid-centric creators make videos for other children — popular clips often feature nothing more than tots opening up toys or visiting kid-friendly places. This is the type of stuff busy parents play (or let their kids stumble upon) when they need a break and, while it may not be particularly nourishing, these uploads tend to be pretty harmless.

The presence of kids online, however, seems to unsettle some netizens. Videos featuring children typically receive many dislikes and if comments are enabled, it’s easy to find at least a few negative ones. (YouTube recently disabled comments for videos featuring young children but, as is the case with most policies rolled out by the platform, this has seemingly been applied haphazardly). While some offerings probably do deserve the criticism — a playlist titled “Videos of children crying” is an obvious example — the reaction can often feel a little over the top. Compare the videos that are made in Japan to, say, an American child creating videos that feature far-right talking points and you should feel a little better.

Yutabon’s controversial remarks bring this online tension to the forefront. If your own 10-year-old child or a student said something like what Yutabon said, you’d probably just roll with it because they are 10 years old. When a kid tries to become the center of attention online, however, people come out swinging, partially out of concern over how it might influence younger viewers and also because it has become almost second nature to lambaste ridiculous statements. It’s a weird sensation, but seems to be the new norm in the social-media age.