CULTURE

Keemstar the Grifter: Etika's Suicide and the Perils of YouTube Drama

Keemstar doesn't report news. He eggs it on.

Etika on Keemstar's #DRAMAALERT

DRAMAALERT

On April 30th, 2019, popular YouTuber Desmond 'Etika' Amofah, in the throes of a mental breakdown, appeared on a YouTube "news" channel called DramaAlert, wherein the host, Keemstar, challenged him: "Then why live? Just jump off a cliff."

Less than two months later, Etika actually jumped off a bridge.

Keemstar's initial response to Etika's disappearance sheds light on the extreme toxicity of YouTube drama culture.

In the world of petty YouTube drama, there's no bigger name than Keemstar. The 37-year-old YouTuber, whose real name is Daniel Keem, is best known for his DramaAlert channel where he capitalizes on the constant stream of infighting within YouTube culture. While he bills his show as the "#1 source for news on the social interactions in online entertainment," it's more accurate to call it a platform for Keemstar to heighten, encourage, and involve himself in the drama. Keemstar, with strands of grey in his overgrown beard, can often be found arguing with and making fun of people 10 to 20 years his junior.

For months prior to his suicide, Etika publicly struggled with mental illness, posting delusional and suicidal thoughts on social media and recording multiple confrontations with police that led to brief stints in institutions. Keemstar took Etika's arrest as an opportunity to bring him on the show to make light of his mental illness, suggest that his suicidal musings were an act, and ultimately, egg him on like he was a sideshow attraction.

Before bringing Etika on the show, some fans warned Keemstar that Etika wasn't in a good mental space for that level of ridicule.


"Suck a d**k. I run a news channel, I'm going to get my viewers the news, I don't give a f**k about your fake SJW emotions on twitter for attention," tweeted Keemstar.

On DramaAlert, Etika manically ranted about life being a simulation and his own role as a god, to which Keemstar responded by facetiously suggesting he jump off a cliff. Some might claim that line is taken out of context, but the only necessary context is that a 37-year-old man brought an obviously mentally troubled kid on his show to make fun of him and flippantly joke about committing suicide. Then the kid really jumped. That is the context.

The entire episode can be watched here, but fair warning: It's hard to watch an adult smugly egg on a troubled young man in the middle of a mental breakdown.

Etika ( INTERVIEW ) after being ARRESTED by Police! #DramaAlert ( SHOCKING ) www.youtube.com

The interview culminates in Etika calling Keemstar out for wrongly outing an older, small-time Runscape streamer as a pedophile and making the man cry on livestream years prior.

"I always shied away from whenever people would make fun of people. It just felt bad. It's like why would you tear that person down? Be nice to people...you're f**king mean," said Etika.

"Sometimes I am mean about it but it's still funny," responded Keemstar.

Etika grew increasingly upset about the situation, yelling at Keemstar to shut up and eventually disconnecting.

"Oh my god, what a f***king nut job," Keemstar laughed at the end.

Afterwards, Keemstar bragged about direct messaging Etika to call him "weak" and Etika blocking him in response.

Keemstar Etika blocked

On June 20th, Etika posted his final video, "I'm sorry" on YouTube. His body wouldn't be found for another five days, during which fans frantically searched New York City for him.

During this time, Keemstar posted an almost constant stream of Etika-related tweets and memes on Twitter, many of them doubting the authenticity of his mental illness and suggesting it was a stunt, just like he did during his DramaAlert episode. He has since deleted these Tweets, but luckily there are screenshots.

keemstar etika doubt

As a side note, Keemstar also has a history of making fun of mental illness.

keemstar mental illness

Now that Etika is dead, Keemstar has purged his Twitter of all "doubt" and is instead pretending that he was a true friend to Etika who really, truly cared about him.

Indeed, Etika apparently was a big fan of Keemstar, and he mentioned him directly in "I'm sorry."

Naturally, some of Etika's fans who witnessed Keemstar's behavior throughout the whole ordeal have been calling out Keemstar for his hypocrisy.

"I really don't care how much hate I get for this. You had a prime opportunity to help this man, and you sat back and laughed. Hope you enjoy living with regret," said one user.

Keemstar responded to the backlash with a Tweet lamenting his frustration "with some people in this community that would use this opportunity to swing at me or others. Incredibly disrespectful."

Except: They're one hundred percent correct. YouTube has one of the most toxic cultures anywhere online, and much of that centers around "drama." YouTube monetarily incentivizes fighting, meanness, and bullying. For a mentally ill content creator in that space, it's incredibly easy to be swallowed whole. Keemstar reigns supreme at the center of that culture, with his DRAMAALERT faux "news" channel boasting over five million subscribers.

Keemstar is a cultural grifter who manipulated a mentally ill man for clicks and continued to meme "mental illness for attention" bulls**t until the man was finally found dead. He doesn't "report news." He eggs it on. Worst of all, this isn't new for Keemstar. He's a vulture who has spent years preying on people's worst moments for profit. In that line of work, it was inevitable that one of his targets would eventually commit suicide, and it's insane that Keemstar is now trying to position himself as a good guy.

How can someone who behaves like Keemstar possibly speak of disrespect? How little self-awareness does someone like that need to have to function?

All of this isn't to say that Keemstar directly caused Etika's suicide. Nobody should hold Keemstar responsible, and Etika was failed on many fronts, including by the US mental health care system and society's larger stigma around mental illness. But Etika's death was entirely preventable, and instead of helping him in his moment of need, Keemstar publicly ridiculed him before a massive audience for profit. Keemstar does not get to turn around now and play the hero or the mourning friend. Keemstar's behavior is indicative of YouTube's larger culture of toxicity and abuse, and that culture just cost a young life. Now, Keemstar has to live with that.

CULTURE

Happy 30th Birthday Etika: Mental Illness as an Influencer

When someone exists as an influencer, with hordes of faceless people following them for "content," their humanity gets lost in the mix.

*Update: On June 25th, 2019, Etika's body was found in the East River by the NYPD. If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

At midnight on June 20th, popular YouTuber and video game streamer, Etika, posted a video titled "I'm sorry" on his alternate channel.

The video shows the YouTuber, whose real name is Desmond Amofah, filming himself as he walks around New York, monologuing about how badly he messed up his life, doling out apologies for anything and everything. He apologizes for pushing people away, letting people down, and failing to seek help for his own mental illness. He speaks calmly and in the past tense. He mentions suicide more than once, and he laments not being able to see what happens next in Attack on Titan. Although the video was posted at midnight, it was filmed during daylight hours and likely scheduled in advance. Etika has not been seen or heard from since.

Many fans are worried that Etika is at high-risk of suicide. Others think that it might be a publicity stunt, one in a long pattern of Etika-related suicidal content. Regardless, his experiences shed light on the troubling dichotomy between Internet fame and suffering mental illness for social media influencers who experience both.

Best known for his Nintendo-related reaction videos, Etika's original YouTube channel had over 662,000 subscribers before he purposely had it banned during what seemed like a mental breakdown. In 2018, Etika uploaded a video rant against Twitter over a temporary ban for using the n-word with a soft "a." His reason for being mad makes sense, but his speech and behavior in the video seem erratic. Shortly after, Etika bombed his own channel with porn, resulting in a permanent YouTube ban. He then posted what seemed like a suicide note on his subreddit, saying, "And now, it's my turn to die. I love you all." He later apologized on Twitch livestream, chalking it up to a "meltdown."

The Know Your Meme entry on Etika documents a pattern of similarly worrying incidents that have escalated over time, suggesting possible mental health issues. These include suicidal tweets, an Instagram-streamed arrest, and his assault of a cop which led to him being briefly put in a mental health facility.

Etika Suicide Tweet

After the arrest, Etika also appeared in a very troubling interview with fellow YouTuber, Keemstar, who capitalizes on Internet-related drama on his "DramaAlert" channel.

Etika ( INTERVIEW ) after being ARRESTED by Police! #DramaAlert ( SHOCKING ) www.youtube.com

During the interview, Etika says, "I walked into the mental place, I became God, and I walked out." The two end up arguing, resulting in Etika blocking Keemstar on Twitter afterwards. Keemstar responded by tweeting about how Etika "RAGE QUIT" the interview "cus I called him out for being WEAK!"


keemstar etika

But mental illness doesn't make someone weak; it makes them ill. Even if all of Etika's earlier suicide-related content was some kind of "stunt," it would still point to a larger cry for help that seems all too obvious. Unfortunately, when someone exists as an influencer, with hordes of faceless people following them for "content," their humanity gets lost in the mix. The toxicity of Internet fame can be a hard pill to swallow even for perfectly mentally stable influencers. For those with mental illnesses, it can be shattering.

Many fans view their favorite social media influencers almost as friends. They may spend hours every day listening to a specific person talk and learning details about their life, so they come to feel like they really know that person. But for an influencer, the relationship with fans can never truly exist on equal footing; it is, by nature, hierarchical. The influencer creates content and the fans consume it. Even fans who genuinely want to be friends (and how does one differentiate those from the ones seeking fame, power, or influence?) don't actually want to know the real person. They want to know the influencer's persona.

The only thing lonelier than being truly alone is being surrounded by people who think they know you when they really don't. This is an experience all too common for people with mental illness, who often feel the need to hide their issues for fear of social stigmatization. For influencers, the problem is compounded. Even if they're open about their mental illness, they risk being made fun of by a large audience or, possibly worse, having their worst moments encouraged as a source of "drama." This certainly seemed to be the case for Etika.

In a moment of reflection during "I'm Sorry," Etika says: "Let my story be one that advises caution on too much of the social media s**t, man. It can f**k you up."