Propagating sexual assualt, in the name of prank?

- October 21, 2020

In a sexually repressed country like India, morally questionable, often obscene and vulgar, “prank” video channels on Youtube gets around a million followers Ravi, a boy from a small city in Madhya Pradesh has never been to Delhi but he has a typical view of Delhi’s Connaught Place. He thinks pranking in Delhi’s CP is […]

In a sexually repressed country like India, morally questionable, often obscene and vulgar, “prank” video channels on Youtube gets around a million followers

Ravi, a boy from a small city in Madhya Pradesh has never been to Delhi but he has a typical view of Delhi’s Connaught Place. He thinks pranking in Delhi’s CP is quite a normal thing.

That’s because he is fond of typical prank videos called “Rolling Pranks” on YouTube, where the prankster picks a girl (presumably known to him) from behind and rolls. The content of these videos can at times be called morally questionable, but for Ravi, these videos define the capital city.

Prank videos are watched all over the world. The most prominent template of these videos enjoying international viewership is “Jalal Brothers Prank”, “Kissing Prank” and “Gold Digger prank”, among others. In Delhi too, many YouTubers run prank video channels. If you type prank videos in Delhi, a host of such videos will pop up on your screen.

Arun Rathore is one such Delhi-based YouTuber, who runs a prank channel, and has 1.3 million subscribers. Some of his videos, thumbnail, and titles are provocative — one is a video titled, “Arun Rathore ne 12 saal ki ladki ka balatkar krne ki kosis” (Amit Rathore attempt to rape a 12-year-old girl).

Though the video was supposed to create awareness about rape, the use of questionable language and thumbnail violate YouTube guidelines which say, “Content that could cause minor participants or viewers emotional distress”.

Not only him, there are various creators like Harsh Chaudhary (Prank Youth World) with around one million following, Dhruv Malhotra (Dhruv actoholic), with over two lakh followers, Luchchha Veer with over  a million followers, Ranjeet Pranks over four lakh followers, Simran Verma (ChiK ChiK Boom), with over a million followers, creating content focusing on sexual fantasies.

One such creator , choosing to remain anonymous told us that, “many of these prank videos are staged. Oftentimes we feature our friends in these videos.” Nevertheless, these pranks seem provocative and run on clickbaits but most importantly some videos with templates like “kissing prank” “rolling girlfriend” often seems like staged sexual assaults, and violates YouTube guidelines.

YouTube recently banned dangerous challenges and pranks. It released a statement on 16 January last year where it set stricter guidelines. The statement released said “All custom thumbnail images must follow our Community Guidelines. Selecting a thumbnail that egregiously violates policies (e.g., containing pornography or graphic violence) will now result in a Community Guidelines strike, even if the video does not violate our policies. Multiple strikes will result in the loss of your channel’s custom thumbnail privileges and three strikes in 90 days will result in account termination.”

Olivia Goldhill, science reporter wrote in an article for Quartz that YouTube provides protection for advertisers against harmful content but not the viewers. She analysed the YouTube guidelines for both content creator and advertiser and found strong guidelines for advertisers, not in general. She  found Youtube Policy on hate speech very lax.

Delhi, social media, prank videos
A screenshot of prank videos that can be found on YouTube // Image: YouTube

Why do people watch these videos?

If you were to come across these videos, you would find that many of them have millions of views and some of them come with viewer age advisories.

Comment sections on these videos reflect that many people who watch these videos are not aware of clickbait and have been hoaxed by the thumbnails.

However, these videos garner viewership as they often uses sex fantasies to woo viewers and many people are even swayed by the clickbait.

Prominent psychoanalyst, Sudhir Kakar in his book The Indians: Portrait of a People, co-authored with wife Katharina says India has a sexually repressed society, yearning for the erotic. Not just prank videos, any content with sex appeal is consumed in India. A report by CNBC TV 18, despite a ban on porn sites, India tops on the list of porn consumption on smartphones.

Aditya Nayak, a researcher at JNU, raised an important factor driving the consumption of these videos, he says, “Contemporary life is overloaded with meanings and symbols. From the workplace to public places, every place carries a huge pressure of meaning. And inability to find meaning compels you want to cut-off meaning loaded interactions by isolating the audible and visual perception. These prank videos fulfill the search for such an engagement because they work as a distraction from such a quest.”


The Economy of YouTube videos

YouTube pays for content as per rates set for CPM (cost per thousand impressions). CPM varies from country to country, but in India YouTube CPM rates are 1/25th. However, over the years various brands have entered Indian markets and are paying really well to these content creators.

Sharing an insight about this Nayak says, “After the arrival of Jio, income from YouTube became a lucrative prospect in India. Because the earnings ultimately depend upon the number of views. It also became a route for popularity through YouTube or TikTok, if not for money.”

Taste for prank videos was generated through TV shows from the 1990s, “Millenials who grew up watching TV shows like ‘MTV Bakra’, and ‘Just For Laugh Gags’ (POGO) in the 2000s. These shows had already generated a taste for pranks.” he adds.

Interestingly, when Patriot analysed the brands these prank video makers attract, we found mostly the emerging mobile games, apps, video apps companies. Which suggests that such content is mostly consumed through smartphones.

Video vlogging apps like YouTube have been questioned for the content host on their platform. Although the noise about cringey content was created mostly around TikTok in the last couple of years, YouTube too has also been questioned in this regard in various countries. Since the entry of Jio the consumption of such content increased and so did the content therefore platform hosting these content now need buckle up to stay afoot with content and content creators.

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