Who’s Afraid of ‘Skibidi Toilet’?

“People are coming at it from different entry points,” says Buxton. “Some people are coming in from the gaming world, some are coming just for the action storytelling, some like to unpack lore.” She describes these unusual fan works as “casual creation,” saying “this idea of being a daily creator makes it much easier to be an active fan than it was five, 10, 15 years ago. Now you can engage in the subject of your fandom by creating it online.”

Of course, Skibidi Toilet itself could be categorized as a fan creation, containing numerous echoes of Garry’s Mod and the Half-Life games. Like many recent works that emerge online, from streetwear trends to unauthorized TikTok musicals, Skibidi Toilet blurs the line between fan work and original work. “Lots of the kids who got into Skibidi Toilet don’t know anything about where these characters and assets are sourced from,” says Phillip Hamilton, an associate editor at Know Your Meme.

Beyond the actual content of the videos, their release schedule is also a factor. “Skibidi Toilet is huge with people (namely kids) who always want more,” says Hamilton. “Each episode is about a minute long and they blast by so fast, with episodes coming out super frequently.”

During the first wave of the videos’ popularity in mid-2023, Gerasimov was uploading at least two videos each week for months, sometimes uploading a video every single day. Social media algorithms have prioritized more frequent uploaders for years, and Gerasimov had been animating in Source Filmmaker for more than a decade, giving him enough experience to crank out the videos fast enough to satisfy YouTube’s algorithm.

This isn’t the first time that algorithm has popularized content adults find inappropriate for children. In 2017, YouTube faced a public outcry when it was found that the platform was promoting hundreds of disturbing videos, and allowing them to be viewed on its family-friendly YouTube Kids app. The controversy would be known as “Elsagate,” since the offending videos featured popular children’s characters like Elsa, Spider-Man, and Peppa Pig undergoing gory medical procedures, getting kidnapped, and more.

These videos were transparent attempts to game YouTube’s recommendation system for ad revenue. Many of them had hundreds of seemingly inauthentic comments to boost engagement metrics, and a report by the New York Times found one prominent channel was creating videos with a team of roughly 100 people.

YouTube made changes to its algorithm to disincentivize scammers from making these videos. They can’t do the same to flush away Skibidi Toilet, because it wasn’t made to satisfy the algorithm in the same way. It’s a much smaller operation, made with genuine craft and artistic intention. Gerasimov made the videos longer and more ambitious as the series grew in popularity, but that growth happened thanks to people actually enjoying the series, not for associations with popular characters.

Nonetheless, they’ve become even more of a hit among the younger generation, and for parents, this seems to be the real underlying fear. “I think Skibidi Toilet’s ‘negative effects’ on kids are mostly just the obsessive, seemingly addictive aspect,” says Hamilton. “It’s the same reason parents worry about short-form video platforms like TikTok.” The videos took off at the perfect time—after the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated a general shift away from in-person social interaction—for their weirdness to feed into paranoia about what a screen-mediated life might be doing to impressionable young minds.

When it comes to childrens’ browsing habits, there are many scarier things they might find online than Skibidi Toilet. As strange as the videos are, they wouldn’t do very well as propaganda or even advertising. There’s no agenda, for good or ill, besides the entertainment value. In the Washington Post, Taylor Lorenz compared Skibidi Toilet to “harmless entertainment” like Cocomelon and other childrens videos. Not everyone is happy about the popularity of Cocomelon, but that popularity hasn’t caused the same kind of panic.