Opinions: The difference in dignity and success of panhandlers is a digital line

Pan you handle it?


I was introduced to the YouTube subscription box when I was just about to enter high school. Bright-eyed and pimple-faced, I stepped away from the world of Webkinz and into the realm of paid-content. No longer did I find myself summertime bored, instead occupying my time with surfing the web, cheerfully sitting through a 15-second ad to get to my favorite YouTuber’s newest upload. I grew used to hearing influencer’s video introductions and conclusions asking for viewers to stick around by subscribing to their channels and give them likes.

Social media isn’t a stranger to paid promotional content, just as social media influencers are in no way strangers to the good ol’ money grab. As it is stated right in their job titles, these entrepreneurs live off of persuading their followings to spend their hard-earned money on affiliated products. In order to grow their earnings, these internet personalities must grow their personal brand, which is based on attracting followers with consumer power. This is basically panhandling, in a roundabout way. Having likes and followers increases the influencer’s earning potential.

More recently, influencers have started using sites like Patreon to directly ask their followers for money. It can and has been argued that this is a modern type of panhandling, a nicely packaged way of begging for money. Yet the perception of a YouTuber panhandling online is vastly different from the perception of a panhandler on the streets.

Illustration by Annie Chang

Take a walk around Vancouver’s Entertainment District and you’ll find everything from a Led Zeppelin cover artist busker to panhandlers, who by definition don’t hold a busking license, providing their own unique forms of entertainment. While there is a line between busking and panhandling, there needs to be recognition that some street artists don’t have the same access as others to certain resources that allow them to utilize their creativity. For both situations, pedestrians remain skeptical and hesitant to shell out donations, whether or not the entertainers offered something up in return.

Yet asking for follower loyalty online, surrounded by backgrounds of flowers and lit candles comes off as more dignified to our society than asking for money on the streets. Likes, shares, subscriptions, follows and comments all aid in the cultivation of channel traffic, which enables Google AdSense ad revenue, in addition to brand partnerships, to increase due to its increase in value. In return, followers are provided with entertainment in the form of comedy sketches, tutorials, advice, films, etc. and chances to win prizes or attend meet-ups with the YouTuber. Both YouTubers and traditional panhandlers provide entertainment in return for money, so apparently the main difference in success is the perception of the performers.

Online influencers should not be considered any more proper or respectable than those looking to get by through physical panhandling. After all, everybody is just looking to get by in life and the world could use a little more compassion.

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