Yousef “FouseyTube” Erakat has weathered a few rough months that have led to frustrated rants on YouTube, documentaries examining past events and his own parents flying into Los Angeles to check on their son.
What started with a music festival — simply referred to as July 15th or “Hate Dies, Love Arrives” — promising performances from Drake and J. Cole exploded into a swirl of confusing and ostentatious announcements. Erakat disappeared from Twitter and Instagram, only to reappear. He spoke to anyone and everyone about his disastrous event, which ended with the Greek Theater in Los Angeles being evacuated after a bomb threat was called in. Now, two months later, he’s all but removed himself from the spotlight.
Erakat’s move is his most intriguing: the videomaker has decided to “give away” his YouTube channels.
On Sept. 8, Erakat announced that he was going to say goodbye to his friends and family, and leave the country on a one-way ticket. He filmed the video on a mountaintop, and made suggestive comments about his mental health status that prompted fans and other YouTube creators to ask whether Erakat was in a good mental state. The video has since been deleted, but Polygon saw it before it was taken down.
Erakat has talked at length about living with Bipolar Disorder, and there were concerns from numerous prominent people leading up to this decision that he was going through a manic episode. Though he routinely disavowed those concerns, he did speak about his mental state in the above video, admitting he was going through a rough time and needed to leave YouTube.
“In all my years of therapy, the number one question they’d ask is, ‘Are you suicidal,’” Erakat says in the now removed video. “My answer would be, ‘I fantasize about suicide all the time, but never would I have the courage to take my own life.’ The day I posted [a music video that wasn’t well received], and I got that pushback from everybody, is the first time that I said, ‘I would love to not be here.’ And suicide became such an easy option. Instead of letting that win, I decided to just leave.’
His radio silence on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter only led to more concern from people. He returned on Sept. 11 with an announcement about gifting a handful of his channels to his best friends. The biggest news didn’t happen until Sept. 15, when Erakat announced that his main channel, FouseyTube, would become a platform for smaller creators to share their work.
“FouseyTube is being handed to each and every single one of you,” a letter posted by Erakat reads. “No matter who you are. How old you are. Or how much you’ve accomplished in your life. I would like to grant every one of you the opportunity to post to this channel. Seriously. Whether you are already a YouTuber looking for exposure. Whether you’ve always wanted to be a YouTuber. Or even if you have no interest in being a YouTuber but just wanted to see what it would feel like to post on a public platform, here’s your chance.”
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, someone managing Erakat’s account would pick a video to highlight, and direct attention to that channel.
The pivot raises a number of new questions about Erakat’s intentions and future. Is this new approach to the channels permanent? Or will he make a return? And for now, who’s profiting off the videos being uploaded to his channel?
On the other side
Oliver “Colossal is Crazy” is basically YouTube’s foremost FouseyTube expert.
He’s produced two documentaries about the YouTube creator, examining some of Erakat’s most notorious “social experiments,” pranks and disappearances from YouTube, all the way through his latest controversy, the disastrous Hate Dies, Love Arrives music festival. Speaking to Polygon over Skype, Oliver said Erakat’s decision to turn his main channel, which boasts 10 million subscribers, into a community platform is new for the YouTuber, but the gesture isn’t. It’s not unlike Erakat to do something dramatic for positive attention, Oliver said, and he’s skeptical about the charity.
“It’s all an illusion,” Oliver, who doesn’t want his last name used, said. “100 percent. The only big shocker to me is that people continue to fall for it. I just can’t believe that people have fallen for it for so long. Everything he’s done has been under this guise of positivity. The event was called ‘Hate Dies, Love Arrives.’ It was going to end racism. But really the event was about getting attention and being relevant.”
Oliver has good reason to believe that Erakat is working to reclaim his name, based on his actions in the past. In 2016, Erakat helped raise awareness for Efrain Ortiz, who was battling a rare brain cancer known as DIPG. Most people praised the YouTuber for his work, but some critics thought it seemed a little disingenuous, as Erakat was caught in the middle of an intense feud with fellow YouTuber Keemstar, which was something he brought up in his video with Ortiz. Erakat even used the hashtag #MakeYouTubePositiveAgain. Some people, like Oliver, saw it as a way for Erakat to lessen the hate being sent his way.
“I think he was getting the most hate he’d ever gotten at the time,” Oliver said. “In order to deal with it, he decided to visit a child literally the next day, a child with brain cancer. This child ... was actually on his deathbed and if you go watch the video ... he brings up this drama because obviously he was going through drama. For me it was all very obvious, but how do you prove what’s going through someone’s mind? You just can’t. You just have to be rational about it.”
While YouTubers like Oliver point to other, earlier social experiments that seemed to use positivity as a guise for views, Erakat has denied these criticisms across the board.
One of Oliver’s biggest concerns with Erakat’s new endeavor is monetization. The videos being uploaded to Erakat’s FouseyTube channel are from small creators, usually with anywhere from zero to a few thousand subscribers. They’re likely not making any money through YouTube’s Partner Program, which enables AdSense privileges. There isn’t much information about monetization on Erakat’s official website, either.
Oliver told Polygon that community channels aren’t uncommon, but they effectively profit off smaller YouTubers’ videos by exchanging any money made by the channel host for exposure to the host’s built-in audience.
“It was always kind of frowned upon,” Oliver said. “I saw other YouTubers and friends of mine who were uploading content to a channel and they really weren’t getting anything. It was minimal at best, and no benefits whatsoever. Of course, the channel was reaping all the money — and it was a lot of money. It ended up being like a five million subscriber channel by the end of it.”
He added that Erakat’s formula seems to follow in those same directions, but with one twist that he predicts happening.
“It seems convenient,” Oliver said. “He walks away for a bit. People upload videos for him so his channel doesn’t completely die, and he takes the revenue from it, which is what I understand he’s doing. They got some relevancy in return, but he takes the revenue.”
Polygon has reached out to Erakat several times for comment.
Anything for views
At the center of the discussion surrounding Erakat intentions is a escalating conversation about mental health on YouTube.
It’s a system governed by one term: relevancy. Remaining relevant means keeping a certain subscription count, and growing; it means building views on each video; it means being talked about by commentators or being invited out to events like VidCon. Relevancy dominates discussion on YouTube more than almost any other platform, perhaps bar Instagram.
“When I was chasing the numbers, chasing the fame, I did some shit that literally sold my dignity for views and money,” Erakat told Adam22 in an interview this past July. “That’s YouTube. You start putting on an act. You become a slave to the numbers. You start doing shit that you wouldn’t do in your actual life.”
The obsession with statistics, and using those numbers in disputes with other creators, is one of the most fraught problems within the community — and one that Oliver can agree with Erakat on.
“It’s one hundred percent true, and true of like 99 percent of YouTube really,” Oliver said when asked about worrying over remaining relevant statistically on YouTube. “I mean anyone who’s got X amount of subscribers in any case.”
Numbers, and an almost compulsive need to achieve fame, ran Erakat down multiple times. He’s admitted as such in his own videos, on podcasts and in documentaries. His first announcement video about leaving YouTube, posted on Sept. 9, includes a lengthy breakdown of just how much the pressures of YouTube got to him.
Being on YouTube, as well as it may have seemed to be, a life full of glitz and glamor and fame ... it never made me happy. That’s why I left so many times, but the voices of people around me who cared about me saying, ‘You can’t leave the money, you can’t leave the numbers,’ where always there and it always pushed me back. It always made me unhappy.
My true calling in life doesn’t ask me to become the person I was becoming. On my road to 10 million subscribers, or however many subscribers I reached on other channels or however many movies I’ve been in, I was becoming somebody who ... I can’t even explain how far away from me it was. It was a person that went against everything that I as a person believe in, made me do things that I as a person would never do.
It made me lie; it made me cheat; it made me manipulative; it made me untrustworthy; it made me angry; it made me greedy; it made me jealous; it made me envious; it brought out the worst in me.
The hardest part about that is waking up in the morning, looking at yourself in the mirror, and saying, ‘This is me,” and then posting a video of somebody completely different and showing the world, ‘This is me.’ When that person starts getting hated on, living with that confusion of, ‘Who am I?’ If this is me, the person that I’m staring at in the mirror, then why am I hated for the person I am not?’
Erakat’s most recent decision to leave YouTube is complicated — he hasn’t really left. He’s still monetizing content. Erakat hasn’t gone anywhere.
Two years ago, Erakat took a break, writing on Instagram that it was “liberating to walk away from the shackles and the pressures of views and money and status and realizing that no matter what, I’m going to be ok and happy.” He returned in April 2017 with a vlog detailing just how much YouTube affected him.
“Every single day I choose not to pick up this camera is because I’m terrified,” Erakat said, as reported by TubeFilter. “I’m terrified about what the world has to say about me, I’m terrified about how people perceive me, and I’m terrified of people’s opinions. I’m terrified of reading anything about myself because I lost so much sense of who I am as a person that everything I started believing is what I read.”
Now, he’s on hiatus once again, and without hinting at a return date. One source within the YouTube community told Polygon, “Fousey realized a while ago how social media is influencing him negatively, and how toxic it can be for someone with mental illness like depression and anxiety.
“He is trying to take care of his mental health by changing himself and by setting his mind to see the world in a way that the old Fousey could not,” they said.
“I will say, firstly, that if there was ever going to be a time that Fousey didn’t come back, it’d be now — this would be the time based on all the times we’ve seen before,” Oliver said. “He’s come back, obviously. There is I think a better chance he will come back, but if he was never going to come back, this will be it.”
For now, Erakat’s channel remains a community platform for small creators. Whether or not it remains that is something no one has the answer to.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Erakat introduced the video. That was incorrect. It’s been updated to reflect these changes.