A superstar YouTube couple sent ripples through the platform when they announced they were breaking up in June 2018.
Liza Koshy and David Dobrik are two of the platform’s most loved creators, and appeared in many of each other’s vlogs during their relationship. They posted a video on Dobrik’s channel, titled “ we broke up,” which has now been watched over 54 million times.
They explained in the video they had grown apart from living such separate lives in recent months, but were still best friends.
“One of us is going through some stuff,” Koshy explained. “Things like ‘only time can heal,’ or ‘you have to love yourself before you can love anybody else’ kind of stuff. I didn’t know those were real — they’re real.”
Sharing these intimate moments of their lives with the audience has long been an integral part of the viewer-YouTuber relationship. Other famous couples on the platform like Shane Dawson and Lisa Schwartz and Jake Paul and Erika Costell all posted videos about their breakups — albeit separately — when they happened.
As Patricia Hernandez wrote in an article for The Verge, couples on YouTube exist in a strange space where their breakups are information the audience feel they’re entitled to.
“While most of us can simply stop tagging an ex on our social media accounts, YouTubers with channels revolving around their lives don’t have that luxury,” she wrote. “Their entire livelihoods could be at risk if they disappoint or upset the audience following them. As ridiculous as it might sound, there’s a real need for disclosure regarding where they stand with those regularly featured in their videos.”
YouTubers have extremely loyal fanbases. The sheer amount of content they post about their lives means viewers often feel like they truly know their favourite stars.
Media psychologist Pamela Rutledge calls this a parasocial relationship, which is a sense of authenticity gained through speaking directly to the audience.
“This experience is amplified in social media where influencers respond to some comments and fans, increasing the illusion of friendship,” she told INSIDER.
With Koshy and Dobrik, their fans shared some of their heartbreak. Despite being broken up for six months, it was clear in the video the wound was still raw and the pair still deeply cared for one another. They cracked jokes and laughed in between moments of being truly sad and sincere.
Both in real time, and in editing, they made sure the 8-minute video was authentic and entertaining for the audience.
Rutledge said humans are, by nature, interested in what others are doing. And the age of social media means we are inundated by social information which has little relevance to our daily lives, so as we perceive it as entertainment.
“We are also highly responsive to indications of emotion, affiliation, belonging and social connection because these are core needs,” she said. “Online, YouTuber relationships are the soundbite, reality show versions of the Hallmark Channel.”
It’s probably fair to say many people watch breakup videos in the hope of seeing some drama. And the YouTubers who primarily consider themselves entertainers are happy to play into that.
While Dobrik and Koshy focused on authenticity, other relationships on the platform have become more and more for the show. For instance, the recent engagement of two of the platform’s most contentious figures — Tana Mongeau and Jake Paul.
Over the past two months, Mongeau and Paul have made videos together with increasing absurdity. It started with a joke about Paul being Mongeau’s rebound, but then they decided to double down on the rumor they were dating by making out on camera and getting matching tattoos. The whole ordeal has since peaked with Paul proposing to Mongeau at her 21st birthday party.
“They capture people’s attention because there is an inherent mystery — not in the relationship but in whether or not it’s real,” said Rutledge. “This is a gimmick with a one time ticket. It is unusual, so people watch.”
For some creators, they can’t help but make every aspect of their lives visible, because of the questions they’d receive if their boyfriend or girlfriend is suddenly absent from their uploads. For others, it seems the getting together, breaking up, and beyond is a lucrative way of maintaining their cash flow.
The bizarre partnership, however unbelievable, gains views from both fans who are in support and those who are appalled by it in equal measure.
But subscribers are only interested for so long, which was a fate suffered by teenage YouTuber called Danielle Cohn. Her most popular videos center around her and her equally young boyfriend, like “OUR FIRST TIME!”, “Breaking Up With My Boyfriend On Valentines Day **HE GOT SAD**”, and “We Got Married…”
All of the above were simply clickbait, but racked millions of views. Cohn’s content still makes hundreds of thousands of people click, but that’s a fraction of the views she was getting when her drama was at its highest.
“YouTubers in it for the celebrity with nothing of more substantive value to offer are forced to go more extreme and more ridiculous,” said Rutledge. “At a certain point, the audience will move on to the next spectacle.”