A few weeks Once upon a time, my friend learned that a childhood classmate died unexpectedly. They didn’t stay in touch, but she was saddened and curious about what happened, so she did what people do when they hear someone they know has died: Googled his obituary. He found it strange—so he texted to ask if I had ever heard of such a thing. Along with the pages hosting his official obit, he saw 10 separate YouTube videos of different people casually reciting information about his death.
He is now part of a group united by a disturbing but increasingly common experience. People who have lost someone, whether it’s a dearly loved family member or a long-lost acquaintance, now have to navigate a lucrative cottage industry. trying to hijack their attention. Instead of searching for important funeral details or where to write a memorial or send flowers, they are faced with a flood of low-budget videos that poorly summarize the death notices of the person they lost.
Obituary pirating, where people scrape and republish obituaries from funeral homes and websites like Legacy.com, has been an ethically dubious business for years. Piracy websites often have enough search engine optimization skills to rise to the top of search results, and they use the resulting traffic to charge a premium for digital ads that appear next to text raised wholesale from funeral homes, local newspapers, and other authorized obituaries. publishers. Sometimes, these pirate sites go a step further, manipulating bereaved people into buying sympathy gifts like candles or flowers and pocketing the money.
The flood of YouTube obituary videos is a janky update to this practice. Some of these channels upload dozens of death notice summaries every hour, abandoning any pretense of looking like an official source of information in an effort to get out as many videos as they can.
Although text-based obituary Pirating has plagued the industry for years, these videos are a recent phenomenon. “This is a new one for me,” said Jessica Koth, director of public relations for the National Funeral Directors Association. “These videos are not authorized or authorized by the funeral home or the family of the person who died. I imagine they will upset the families involved.”
Unhappy posts about the practice abound on Reddit, where for the past few years people have been complaining about how tasteless it is and wondering why it’s happening and if they can do anything to stop it. “These people are monetizing the death of our loved ones,” said one of the messages.
“It preys on people who are grieving a lot,” said another. “If nothing can be done about it, it will be very sad.”
More channels upload new videos every few minutes. Many look almost identical and there are men sitting alone and speaking directly to the camera. They are often seen relaxing at home. (It’s hard to verify exactly where they are; I contacted the owners of several accounts, but no one responded.) Some related obituaries with corny slideshows of candles and photos of the deceased. from social media. Their subscriber numbers are low, which makes it all the more confusing; at the higher end, channels have several thousand subscribers and millions of total views. The highest number of followers I found was a little over 26,000; the page with the highest views has a total of 1.7 million.
Sometimes these obituary YouTubers promote products in the video description, such as a $225 vitamin C cream sold on Amazon. Sometimes they just list strings of SEO-baiting keywords, like “death,” “cause of death,” “death,” “RIP,” and “what happened.” While each channel differs from the next in small ways, there’s a unifying aesthetic — everyone seems rushed and careless, and there’s no sign of emotion or recognition that they’re discussing someone’s greatest tragedy.