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On YouTuber apologies and cancel culture: Colleen Ballinger dismisses grooming allegations with song

Posted by Caroline Edwards in Comment

12 months ago

Fake crying, insincere words and a clickbait title are typically what make up the memeable YouTuber apology videos. When a vlogger is involved in a controversy, they often take to the platform to apologise to their fans, but rarely are these seen as authentic. Can YouTubers ever provide a non-controversial, genuine apology, whether in a video or written in their notes app? Doubtful.

The most recent “apology” video was posted by US creator Colleen Ballinger – best known as her persona Miranda Sings – on her vlogging channel on 28 June. The YouTuber released a video titled “hi.” to deny allegations of grooming her underage fans in a song while playing the ukelele.

It’s been branded as an apology video, only she didn’t apologise. She called the allegations “lies and rumours” that were “made up for clout”. Her name trended on Twitter and the video surpassed 2.4 million views in 19 hours – in just over one day the figure was at 4.4 million.

It’s puzzling why Ballinger would decide to strum the ukulele and create a song (although she did say “My team has strongly advised me not to say what I want to say” before explaining they never said she couldn’t sing) other than to push the video to go viral.

As journalist Kat Tenbarge noted on Twitter: “How to make a YouTube apology video: Don’t address the allegations, just minimize and characterize them however you prefer! Don’t acknowledge the harm you caused others, focus on how being criticized makes YOU feel! Above all, discredit and distract! And… scene!” Exactly.

This video was a stark turn from one in 2020, in which Ballinger addressed and apologised for racist comments she made in old videos and for sending former fan and YouTuber Adam McIntyre lingerie – he was 13 at the time – among other controversies. Fast forward to 2023, and the allegations against Ballinger have been steadily growing as more former fans have spoken out.

Writer and comedian Benedict Townsend said in a tweet: “This is basically the worst outcome you could hope for with an apology video. It’s like the deepfake crying apology video that went viral. if you make it so bizarre that ppl who don’t care about YouTube start hearing about it, you’re screwed.”

The YouTuber apology playbook

Ballinger is far from the only YouTuber to release a “non-apology” or apology video – there’s a clear format that creators follow. As CORQ previously noted when writing about vlogger David Dobrik’s two apology videos in 2021, the typical procedure is: “Loss of sponsorships deals, a teary-eyed performative apology video and a brief hiatus from the internet before re-emerging as a ‘changed person’ a couple of months later.”

We’ve seen this time and time again. In January 2022, Elle Swift (née Darby) took to the platform to apologise for her resurfaced racist, homophobic and fatphobic tweets (although her apology was seen as insincere), and the video has 1.3 million views. She returned to YouTube in June of the same year and continues to create content. More recently, KSI apologised for using a racial slur in a Sidemen video. He took a brief hiatus from socials and visited the Guru Nanak Gurdwara place of worship in Gravesend, Kent to speak to South Asian communities and educate himself. PR 101.

A YouTuber apology is a complicated issue and is rarely going to satisfy everyone – but making fun of serious grooming allegations that hurt dedicated fans and dismissing them as “lies” in a song is certainly not an appropriate response.

Newsletter Shit You Should Care About posed a poignant question on Twitter: “What could Colleen Ballinger have done that would have passed the internet’s apology-o-meter?” The clear response was to actually apologise. Commenters noted she should have reached out to those affected, taken accountability and addressed the allegations while providing her point of view.

Given the internet’s reaction, and past experience, it’s likely Ballinger will release a second video and the court of YouTube will again decide if it’s up to par. Whatever happens, if history tells us anything, she’ll never truly be cancelled – YouTubers somehow always bounce back.

By Caroline Edwards, CORQ news and features writer. Picture credit: Colleen Ballinger