• Jane Churchill

An Interview with Tiffany Ferguson

Tiffany Ferguson is a New York based YouTuber and Content Creator known for her Internet Analysis series. Tiffany has acquired over 650K subscribers since beginning her channel and is well known in the digital sphere for her commentary on progressive politics, finances, college, culture and media. Tiffany’s content provides an honest look into modern young adulthood as she discusses the intersection between culture and the Internet. She also hosts a podcast titled ‘Previously Gifted’ where she discusses more personal topics.

You’ve been making internet analysis videos for quite some time now. Was there a specific video you created that made you realise this was the direction you wanted to take your channel?

Yes, I think it was late 2018; I happened to make a video about Joana Ceddia, comparing her rise to fame to Emma Chamberlain’s. That had just been something that I was interested in. I was checking out Socialblade and thought, this might be an interesting video!

After that I made a video about the impact of Vine on Millennials and Gen Z - our sense of humour. In that video I casually referred to it as an “internet analysis sort of video” and the name stuck. My viewers really responded positively to these videos and I think they got me some new subscribers as well. Then I realized, oh, I can talk about media, internet culture, and social media overall… It’s been fun being able to discuss all of these varied topics under one (loose) series!

It's funny because prior to that I had felt very lost with my channel. I didn't know what types of videos I wanted to make, so Internet Analysis has been an incredible motivator. Seeing the growth of my channel and all the positive feedback was really encouraging and freeing. Now though I don't really post anything other than internet analysis on my main channel. I primarily use my podcast or my second channel for anything that's more casual or personal.

An internet topic I’m particularly curious about is the rise of online activism. I’m curious to hear your “analysis” and thoughts on online activism. Do you think Tana Mongeau changing her Twitter name to BLM or Charlie D’Amelio sharing a black square actually has an impact? Do you think it can be a bit performative, or do you think that any kind of online ‘activist’ content is beneficial?

Oh believe me, this topic has been on my idea list for a long time! I've always been interested in analyzing how people respond to traumatic events especially on social media. (In the US, regarding gun violence for example - every time a mass shooting occurs, the same cycle happens online. Some people share thoughts and prayers, others emphasize the importance of gun control, then people fight about whether it’s “too soon” to “get political.” It’s devastating and incredibly frustrating that we don’t seem to make any progress, no matter how many times these similar, preventable tragedies occur. The inaction of politicians and the heavy influence of the NRA are to blame, plus the deeply ingrained gun culture in this country…)

2020 was definitely a major year for social media activism, and I’m sure that will continue from now on. Even just a few years ago, it was widely considered pretty taboo or controversial to discuss politics, current events, or social issues online, especially for “influencers.” Now there’s an expectation that people will talk and post about these important issues. Audiences want the people they follow to say something, use their platforms for good. Saying “I don’t want to get political” doesn’t really fly anymore -- I think that’s a good thing because everything is political. These discussions are important, so I’m very happy to see the increase in online political / social engagement. However, we shouldn’t assume that anyone with a high follower count is automatically going to be a good source of information, especially when it comes to complex topics. Influencers and content creators should absolutely use their platforms to promote fundraisers, petitions, and resources, but we are (usually) not the experts. Even influencers with good intentions can spread misinformation or counterproductive / harmful info, so we as media consumers should always take things with a grain of salt and do more research for ourselves as well.

In terms of performative activism, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to say whether or not someone’s post or behavior is performative… but yeah I think we all realized pretty quick that those black squares, for example, were not informative or productive in the slightest! (And crucially, they drowned out actual important, relevant information about BLM.) Generally, my rule of thumb is: Is this post informative? Does it encourage action?

I would love to include the rise of infographics and “bite-sized activism” in an Internet Analysis video someday, but it’s a really important issue so I want to be careful about how I cover it. On one hand, it’s great to see complex issues organized in a way that’s more digestible and accessible, but I also think that -- and this has been said by a lot of people -- our learning must go beyond quick bits of information. As with any topic I cover, I think nuance is essential. Hopefully I can connect with some online (or IRL) activists putting in the work, using these strategies and more, to inform that video.

Some Youtubers have commented that they struggle to find the balance between making videos they know will perform well, and making content that aligns more with their interests/values which may not necessarily perform as well. How does it feel to see those kinds of videos get less views, and do you think it’s still important to make them?

This is definitely something that I struggle with. One of the hardest parts about being a YouTuber are the numbers and knowing that those numbers are public. If a video underperforms it's not just me who knows it. Anyone who looks at my channel could see oh, that video flopped. There's a lot of ego involved but also of course financial elements because this is my job.

“One of the hardest parts about being a YouTuber are the numbers and knowing that those numbers are public. If a video underperforms it's not just me who knows it.”

I'm lucky that the topics I cover are things I'm genuinely interested in. Sometimes there are topics that I think might be too niche to put on my main channel. That's why I'm happy to have my podcast and second channel; those are good outlets for other things I want to discuss that might not fit in a main channel video.

Sometimes the issue is more, should I cover this drama or this current event just because it's popular and it might get a lot of views? I try to stay true to myself and what I want my channel to be. I don't want to chase trends and force myself to cover topics I don't care about, or to rush to post a video while something is still relevant. I know this is a problem for journalists, writers, and other creatives as well. We all have some sort of algorithm that we are trying to satisfy.

Some of the videos you’ve made about your debt, mental health, loneliness and getting rejected from colleges are quite vulnerable topics. Is it hard for you to open up online? What does it feel like reading the comments?

I think it's pretty easy for me to open up online. Since I've been on YouTube making videos since I was 11, it sometimes feels more normal for me to open up to a camera then to speak with actual people. These days I'm a lot more private than I used to be. I'm more selective about what I share in terms of my personal life and my relationships. However, there are certain topics like debt, anxiety, and loneliness that I know are relatable and therefore my experiences can be comforting or helpful to other people going through similar things.

Overall I'm lucky that I have a very kind, thoughtful audience. My more vulnerable videos have almost always gotten very positive, encouraging feedback. Of course there is the odd hate comment, such as that I was stupid for getting into credit card debt or for taking out student loans, but I don't mind comments like that because they seem to be in bad faith.

On other videos though like my internet analysis ones, I am very sensitive to criticism. I try to research and write my videos very carefully. Sometimes though I mess up or I miss something or I explain something wrong, and I'm so glad my viewers are willing to let me know when I do. (I wouldn’t want an audience full of people who would blindly support and agree with everything I say!)

But yeah sometimes it's hard to handle constant criticism or even just feedback in general. It's very unnatural to hear so many opinions about yourself or about your work. I've gotten into the habit of staying away from comments and messages too much. I read comments whenever a video is first posted to see what the general feedback is, then later I stick to the top comments. After a few days I pretty much stop checking them.

I think your college experience was particularly relatable to so many young people, but particularly in Australia. Many of us take several gap years, change degrees, take time off and move around. It seems to be that in the US the “college experience” is much more rigid. Did you ever feel frustrated that your timeline seemed different to those around you?

Yes I wish gap years and more flexible paths were more common / accepted in the US! Generally we’re still told the narrative that college should be a straightforward, 4 year journey, but that just isn’t true for most people. Many of us have “messy” or complicated routes in our pursuits of education.

Throughout my college years, I was definitely frustrated and tired. Sometimes I felt embarrassed to be “behind schedule” or to not have the expected, traditional college experience. As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve realized how valuable my other life experiences were. I was a better, more serious and dedicated student because of it all.

As a new university graduate (congrats!), what are your general reflections on university education? Looking back, do you think the hardships you had to go through to get your degree were worth it?

I am a big advocate of higher education, though I know that not everyone is interested in (or able to pursue) this path. There are many obstacles in pursuing a degree, including mental & physical health, plus financial issues, to name a few.

I had to deal with a ridiculous amount of paperwork, applications, and hoops to jump through, when I was first applying to college, then when I was moving universities and trying to ensure that my credits would transfer.

Finances were another major issue for me. I’ve been financially independent since I was 19 and moved away from home, across the country to start college in New Orleans, Louisiana.

For my first two years of college, student loans and credit cards were the only ways I could bridge the gap between my scholarships and remaining costs. I had work-study jobs, was earning a bit of money from YouTube, did some babysitting… but I could never earn enough to keep up. I’m very jealous of any students who don’t have to work during university! It’s difficult and exhausting to try to balance classes, schoolwork, and jobs.

Overall, getting my degree was worth the time, effort, and cost, even if just for the satisfaction of knowing that I got through it.

However, I think the typical college experience is way more difficult than it should be.

We desperately need affordable tuition (ideally free public universities!), way more financial support to cover student living expenses, affordable & guaranteed student housing, affordable meals for students, plus much greater support & services for student health -- mental and physical. Very idealistic wishlist but I’d be stoked if my tax dollars were funding things like that!

Now that Donald Trump has finally left, do things actually feel any different yet? As an American, what are your thoughts on what the next four years will look like?

I’m not a fan of Biden -- I am still devastated that Bernie Sanders lost the primary -- but I did experience a lot of joy in seeing Trump finally leave the White House. I wish I could be optimistic about what Biden’s administration can accomplish, but I don’t have faith in neoliberals. Already we’ve seen Biden (and other Democrats in power) walk back on their campaign promises, even though they’re controlling Congress and the presidency! Come on! Our country is severely overdue for COVID relief, for one. In the next few years, I hope to see more leftists win seats in the midterms. Electoral politics are not the end game though. We still need to protest and fight, plus support mutual aid groups and grassroots initiatives in our communities. There’s always more work to do.

Follow Tiffany on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and listen to Previously Gifted.