Vlogs permit anyone to produce content and make it available to a global audience. The usual intermediary, such as TV network, which would have selected a perspective on how a subject is to be presented and which message(s) the piece should privilege does not exist. In contrast, disintermediation means that a creator has the power to decide what a vlog episode’s particular focus will be, what perspective will be taken, and what message(s) the piece will aim to communicate to the viewer. “Because so much online activity is proactive and constructionist—creating content, sharing content, or simply crafting online identities through profiles (Floridi and Sanders 2005)—a significant onus is placed on creators to consider the broad implications of their actions” (James 13).
To explore the matter of ethics in vlogging further, I interviewed Jeff Pelletier, CEO of basetwomedia, a video production agency. Pelletier uses his own YouTube channel – “Jeff Pelletier Runs” – as a secondary income source. His channel focuses on his hobby trail running. He shares that many people viewing his content do not share his hobby (Pelletier). Subscribers describe his content as “inspirational.” Therefore, Pelletier must assume that some viewers may emulate what he shows them. “Because of my channel, people started running,” he adds. Having people aspire to participate in an activity that they are novices in brings some of Pelletier’s ethical considerations to the forefront. His vlog implies that he wants viewers to stay safe should they create their own trail running adventure.
Pelletier decided that – when filming – he must be a role model. This choice is part of his vlogging performance role. When shooting content for his website, Pelletier follows best practices in the outdoors. In episode 18 of his 2022 training diaries, he and his girlfriend make the decision to abort a trail run due to changing weather (“Colorado Road Trip” 18:59min-22:34min). This perspective is especially important as many of his viewers are (likely) unable to identify some dangers in the wilderness correctly and respond effectively. On camera, he models behavior that agencies (such as federal park services and search and rescue units) promote to keep people safe while enjoying the outdoors.
By sharing aspects of the trip that did not go according to plan and explaining them, Pelletier’s video provides the opportunity for informal learning, that is “learning [that] results from daily activities related to work, leisure, and family, emphasizing that these activities may not be recognized by individuals themselves as participants in their learning” (Codreanu and Combe 154). In the article “How Non-specialist Students of English Practice Informational Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools,” Toffoli and Socket define informal learning as “practices which do not take place as part of a lesson, whether during class time or as a homework assignment, and any activity prescribed by a teacher in such a context could not therefore be considered informal learning activity even if the activity itself were indistinguishable from other activities spontaneously engaged in by the language learner” (126). While the authors specifically refer to language learning, one key aspect of their definition applies here. If a viewer is not consciously viewing a text, such as a vlog, from a learning perspective, they may not be conscious of what they learned from the text and how they did so. The learning will have occurred informally.
Pelletier can be described as a good play vlogger. Good play refers to someone whose online conduct “is both meaningful and engaging to the participant and responsible to others in the community in which it is carried out” (James 15). In another video, Pelletier and some friends come across a bear while on a trail run (“Taper Time”). Pelletier shares with his viewers their instant response. His vlog is not cleansed to show ‘a perfect trail run’. Neither is he capturing these encounters from an ‘exciting, dramatic’ perspective, such as getting closer to the animal to shoot better footage, thereby putting all involved in danger. His video depicts him remaining calm and focused on decision making, modeling best practices and implicitly communicating the goal of staying safe.
Vloggers can decide for themselves what ethical guidelines their videos abide by. Pelletier’s work illustrates that ethical considerations can be a deliberate guiding tool.
Codreanu, Tatiana and Christelle Combe. “Vlogs, Video Publishing, and Informal Language Learning.” The Handbook of Informal Language Learning, eds. Mark Dressman and Randall Sadler, Wiley & Sons Inc., 2020, pp. 153-168.
“Colorado Road Trip and Pacing Hardrock – Training Diaries Ep 18.” YouTube, uploaded by Jeff Pelletier, July 21, 2022, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-S_Nd_T4KU.
James, Carrie, et al. Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media – A Synthesis from the GoodPlay Project. The MIT Press, 2009.
Pelletier, Jeff. “Jeff Pelletier.” YouTube, 2007, www.youtube.com/c/JeffPelletierRuns.
Pelletier, Jeff. Personal interview. 29 July 2022.
“Taper Time + Bears are Awake – Training Diaries Ep 12.” YouTube, uploaded by Jeff Pelletier, June 1, 2022, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XUDUrOojr0.
Toffoli, Denyze and Geoffrey Socket. “How Non-Specialist Students of English Practice Informational Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools.” ASp, Vol. 58, 2010, pp. 125-144.