Some BYU students are unsure about the intentions of TikToker and BYU graduate Daniel Spencer, who frequently interviews students on campus and posts compilation videos of their answers. However, Spencer said his intentions are to bring attention to what he sees as potential problems at BYU.
On Oct. 12, Daniel Spencer reposted a video on TikTok from about 2 years ago where he interviewed BYU students on campus and asked them what their favorite swear word is. The video currently has 8.5 million views. The same day, he posted a video taken recently on campus asking students the same question. The new video has 1.2 million views.
Spencer has continued posting videos in which he interviews students on campus, asking questions like, “Would you rather drink a cup of coffee or a cup of cooking oil?” or, “What is your favorite party drink?”
The questions Spencer asks are often related to the BYU Honor Code, which states that students should “respect others, including the avoidance of profane and vulgar language” and “abstain from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, vaping and substance abuse.” Violations of the Honor Code can result in probation, suspension and expulsion, according to the BYU Honor Code website.
BYU graduate, Autumn Jennings, was one of the students interviewed in the original video asking students what their favorite swear word is. Jennings said she was walking on campus with a friend when she recognized Spencer, who she knew from her classes. He asked her to be in a video and she agreed, thinking it would be something fun and easy.
“He started with questions like, ‘Who’s your favorite musician?’ and, ‘How do you season your chicken?’ which lulled me into a false sense of security,” Jennings said. “When he asked me what my favorite swear word was, I was caught off guard.”
Jennings said she was working as a teacher at the Missionary Training Center at the time, so swearing could potentially have harmful repercussions. However, she knew if she didn’t swear she would come across as “cringe” or “weird.”
“I was in a hard position, where no matter what I said, the reaction I received was going to be negative,” Jennings said.
In the end, Jennings decided not to swear and chose to say, “Dang it.” Jennings said many people who watched the video were confused as to why few of the students said actual swear words.
After the video was posted, Jennings’s co-teacher at the MTC shared with their students how she had been in a video and chose not to swear. Many of Jennings’s friends from home also saw the video.
“Imagine if I would have sworn,” Jennings said.
Jennings said she wishes she would have come up with a more clever response that hopefully would have saved her from some of the criticism online.
“I don’t think Daniel really was concerned about the repercussion for people and mostly cared about getting views and what was funny,” Jennings said. “That’s what Daniel does, he makes people laugh, but this time it was definitely at our expense.”
BYU student Emilee Hastings was in a video in which Spencer asks students to finish the lyrics to the song “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo. The lyrics in question feature a swear word. The original video was posted two years ago, and Spencer reposted it on Oct.13th of this year.
“Obviously most BYU students won’t cuss, especially on video,” Hastings said. “A lot of people were commenting and making fun of me for not saying the word.”
Hastings said since Spencer reposted the videos, she has had to relive that time in her life. She now gets 5-10 notifications a day from a video taken two years ago.
“It definitely has become a meme to make fun of BYU kids because there aren’t many young adults who respond the way we do,” Hastings said. “It is pretty funny though so I don’t mind too much.”
BYU student Sam Carillo was interviewed for a video in which Spencer asks students if they would rather watch pornography or die a horrible death. The video has been removed from all of Spencer’s social media.
“Every question he asked was targeted at something negative about the LDS Church or BYU,” Carillo said.
Carillo said Spencer began asking him questions to try and get him to talk negatively about his mission. When Carillo did not answer those questions, Spencer began asking more harmless questions.
When Carillo was asked if he would rather watch pornography or die a horrible death, he said he would rather die.
“I hate porn and it ruins people’s lives,” Carillo said. “I should have answered, ‘I would rather die than be in this interview.'”
Carillo appears as the cover image on Spencer’s feed and is the first person to be interviewed. The video has 9.5 million views on TikTok to date. Carillo said when he looked at the comments, most of them were people making fun of him for how he looked, what he was wearing and his response to the question.
Carillo said BYU students have higher standards they are trying to live, which can make them seem weird to the rest of the world. He feels Spencer’s videos detract from the good aspects of students trying to live the Honor Code and portray BYU in a negative light.
In response to these comments, Spencer said, “It’s never been my intention to put people in a tricky spot but instead to identify problems within the culture at BYU.”
Spencer said the reason he makes these videos is to get people to question why BYU students could face such grave consequences over a word. His hope is that those viewing will come together as a culture and ask themselves if this is a problem.
“The fact that somebody could get fired from their job for saying a swear word on a video blows my mind a little bit,” Spencer said. “In regard to the video asking people if they would rather watch porn or die, most of those people probably have viewed porn before but are terrified to admit that out of fear of becoming a pariah.”
Spencer’s focus is not only on BYU. He hopes to visit many other college campuses and learn about their culture, in hopes of drawing the public’s attention to areas of their culture they might need to change.
“When I did the first curse word video it was more just to do something funny,” Spencer said. “That all changed for me when one of the girls I interviewed expressed she was concerned about losing her job if she swore.”
Spencer said his intention is never to make fun of BYU students, but rather to draw attention to the flaws he perceives in the culture. He said he enjoys getting to know these new people and asks various questions in an attempt to showcase the good in them.
“It is an unfortunate side effect of the internet that people feel like they can just attack or make fun of other people,” Spencer said. “I try to mitigate that in the comments and show different sides of the students in various videos.”
Spencer said he is a comedian and his goal is to create videos that are funny, but his intentions go further than that.
“I want BYU to acknowledge the areas in which they falter by making their students have to answer a certain way out of fear,” Spencer said.
BYU Communications professor and former professor to Spencer, Kevin John, said he doesn’t believe Spencer is going about his approach in the most effective way.
“I think Daniel is awesome, but as someone with a background in strategic communication I don’t think he’s going about his goals in the best way,” John said.
John said although some students and faculty of BYU may see the video, the majority of the video’s audience is those with no connection to BYU and, at that point, the video becomes a point of ridicule.
John explained that the videos are pointing out how “weird” students are for their habits instead of linking back to Spencer’s motivation to drive change.
“The situations he sets up create a more artificially ridiculous scenario than what it actually is,” John said. “That can come across as baiting the individuals to get a certain response.”
John explained that it is sometimes difficult to separate those who are genuinely seeking change at BYU from those who want to ridicule it. However, for those with no ties to BYU, this will most likely be interpreted as simply criticism.
“If he wants to achieve his goal of change more effectively, there needs to be more dialogue in his videos,” John said. “When you watch his videos now, there’s not a lot of listening on his part nor is there room for students to explain their answers or discuss the issue.”
John related the scenario created by Spener to Leon Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Cognitive Dissonance occurs when an individual holds two or more elements of knowledge that are relevant to each other but inconsistent with each other, according to the Handbook of Motivation Science.
“When dissonance is introduced to our thought process, we will seek to resolve it in the quickest and easiest way possible,” John said. “When Daniel asks these questions, he’s not really triggering deeper thought processes but rather creating an uncomfortable situation that people want to get out of.”
John explained that feeling uncomfortable causes people to want to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
“It’s a lot easier to say, ‘I would rather die,’ than to consider other possibilities or possible discussion,” John said.