THE story certainly caught the eye. YouTube’s most disliked video ever – having just received more than 10 million thumbs-down icons on the digital platform – turned out to be YouTube’s own 2018 “Rewind” video. This is the company’s annual celebration of what it regards as the year’s best content, made by users.

(Incidentally, this beats Justin Bieber’s “Baby” music video into second place for most hated clip. Well, there’s no accounting for taste.)

It’s rare for me to have a moment like that famous crumbly court judge, who once quaveringly asked “who IS Freddie Mercury?”. But on a first cold viewing of this Rewind video, I had not a single clue who anybody was (other than some randomly inserted funny men like Will Smith and John Oliver).

At first sight, they all seemed like badly photoshopped versions of leading figures from the entertainment-technology complex, lurid members of which I have hastily side-glimpsed from our family TV diet.

And in a familiar way, they all seemed to be faking warmth and spontaneity as badly as its ever been faked in the business of show, which I’ve known for decades. What could have been so offensive, other than its inoffensiveness?

Turns out, with a little investigation, that this was exactly the problem. The “YouTube community” (there is such a constituency) has been objecting that the Rewind selections were far too safe and “advertiser-friendly”.

There’s lots of cavorting with self-made animations, and many dance routines around video games like Fortnite, or music genres like Korean Pop. But apparently these quirky kids from the global village didn’t represent the polemical challenges, or the searing self-revelation, that also drives YouTube content.

READ MORE: Is free speech cybercat out of the bag – or will we limit the sh*tstorm?

Like most other major digital services, YouTube has had a bad 2018 around how much it contributes to social distress and breakdown. Notably absent from Rewind is Logan Paul, one of the biggest YouTubers. Paul has been a byword for excess this year. He live broadcasted his fight in a boxing ring with one of his rivals. Paul was also widely condemned when he filmed bodies hanging from trees in a Japanese suicide forest for his channel.

Also not featured in Rewind 2018 (though appearing in previous years) is the massively followed gamer PewDiePie (otherwise known as Felix Kjellberg). He’s made Nazi jokes and praised anti-Semitic YouTube channels.

And while there is a schmaltzy paen to tolerance and understanding in Rewind, there is no reference to the widespread charge that YouTube’s deep coding – where money is made from sustained user engagement – pushes those users to extremist content.

The media critic Zeynep Tufekci did some quiet testing with YouTube earlier this year. When she liked a vegetarian video, the platform pushed her to veganism and animal rights militancy. When she indulged in Bernie Sanders, suggestions for ever harder-left content was shovelled her way.

“In effect”, as Tufekci wrote in the New York Times, “YouTube has created a restaurant that serves us increasingly sugary, fatty foods, loading up our plates as soon as we are finished with the last meal. Over time, our tastes adjust, and we seek even more sugary, fatty foods, which the restaurant dutifully provides. When confronted about this by the health department and concerned citizens, the restaurant managers reply that they are merely serving us what we want.”

Again, given this growing public critique, it’s strange that the Review doesn’t mention YouTube’s most direct attempt this year to detoxify their menu: banning from its service the conspiracy theorist and right-wing shock-jock Alex Jones, who had millions of subscribers and nearly a billion views overall. (However, it seems Jones has been allowed back on, from December 9 this year.)

Other scholars have defined an “Alternative Influence Network” across YouTube, where charismatic, well-produced vloggers identify themselves against “Social Justice Warriors”, blathering their prejudice and hoping to be picked up by YouTube’s extremism-loving algorithms.

YouTube (and Google/Alphabet, its parent company) clearly must attend to their civic responsibilities. And after major corporations this year withdrew from the site, when they found their advertisements popping up next to extremist content, the platform even has a business incentive to shape up.

Yet the clue to the most interesting element of YouTube still resides in its name. What happens to a culture and society when “mass self-communication” becomes a possibility for each one of its device-wielding members? How much of your “self” do – and should – you “communicate”?

There is often an emotional treadmill involved in successful YouTubing. Success with users (and thus revenue) comes when you post regularly and candidly about your life, mistakes and insecurities. This can result in burnout and psychological meltdown. (Again, missing from the 2018 Rewind was the horror from April this year, when a frustrated Tuber – “All my YouTube channels got filtered by YouTube so my videos hardly get views”, she had posted that month – opened fire on their Californian campus, injuring three and then killing herself).

READ MORE: Three decades since its advent, is it time the internet grew up?

Yet in our family, we have two YouTubers who seem (to me) to be using it for the right reasons. My daughter Eleanor is an aspirant actor-musician – currently on the boards in Southhampton with David Walliams’s Billionaire Boy – who uses the platform as a way for her to relaxedly be her own musician. She strums out covers and her own songs, in a casual, happy way. It’s as much a gift to family and friends as it is self-promotion.

My stepson Con is building up his YouTube channel, Nawtystep, based on his love of what he calls “Dark Electronic Music” (or DEM). He’s an English and philosophy graduate and applies some of his aesthetic skills to review the tsunami of music pouring out of the world’s bedrooms, laptops and leisure time.

For all the novelty of the medium, it warms my heart to see him formally analyse the “out-there, radical drops” in Joyride and Skrillex’s “Agen Wida”, like a literary critic in a blinding white hoodie.

The demographics tell us that YouTube’s primary audience is in its mid-20s (just like these two). Meaning that there’s a psychological and developmental dimension to the medium as well. This is the age and stage where you should be starting to establish your voice and presence as an adult. So why shouldn’t you develop your sensibility and purpose via an online broadcast, as much as you might do in a traditional office or institution?

At a time when we should be valuing the humanly unique rather than the humanly routine (and thus automatable), YouTube can also be a platform for flourishing and flowering. That would be my critique of the 2018 Review, which would be its mostly vaudevillian mood. None of the high artistry or deep intelligence ready available on YouTube made it anywhere near this cut.

A final statistic to show some of the real utility of the service: 51% of users, in a study just completed by Pew Research in the US, say they use YouTube to figure out how to do new things. Vegan recipes, how to knot a tie, unfreezing a frozen computer … and doubtless, how to become a YouTube star.

But out of all the primal emotions that our digital networks are reputed to prey on – lust, fear, anger, panic – it’s quietly pleasing to know that human curiosity, and appetite for knowledge, are the dominant interest in this part of cyberspace.

At least in this respect, we Tube, therefore we are.