The YouTube community has been put on high alert this year, first with two extremely popular YouTubers (Alex Day in particular having over 1 million subscribers) being accused of manipulating and having sex with teenage girls, and more recently with accusations of sexual assault and rape against Jason Veeoneeye and Sam Pepper. If you have never embraced either Tumblr, or the world of online stupidity, cat videos and watching other people’s daily lives that is YouTube (as I proudly have), you might not be aware of who these people are, the influence they have, or the vast numbers of people who watch their videos and subscribe to their channels.
Sam Pepper, aged 25, first gained fame off the back of the reality TV show Big Brother, after which he established a career for himself making videos such as ‘instawhore prank’, ‘fingering strangers in public’ and ‘My sexual fetish’. Though he was clearly already making videos that should have raised the suspicion that he was morally challenged, his most recent video depicted him sexually assaulting women on the street and calling it a ‘prank’. After the onslaught of negative comments and people calling him out on his sexist and indecent behaviour, he decided to ‘reveal’ his true motive in another video, since taken down, whereby he claimed to be trying to highlight male sexual assault…. By assaulting women?! Needless to say the Tumblr feminist community had a field day, and before long anonymous and non-anonymous accounts of Pepper’s offline sexual antics were being highlighted. It also emerged that the LAPD had already investigated him for sexual assault earlier this year but he was not arrested.
YouTubers such as iamdottie, Tyler Oakley, Hannah Hart, Emma Blackery and Carrie Fletcher, lead by sex educator and sex positive activist Laci Green, wrote an open letter to Sam Pepper after his first video expressing their disgust and asking him to take it down. Laci Green has also helped many of the women who have come forward with stories against Pepper to come to terms with what has happened to them and to press charges in a number of cases. Anonymous and non-anonymous accounts include stories of him having pressured underage girls into sex, manipulated them to stay quiet, got them drunk for his amusement and in some cases physically restrained and raped them. Due to her openness to fight against abuse problems that involve YouTube, Green herself has received threats to stay quiet by Pepper. Needless to say Pepper has been ejected from the YouTube community. John and Hank Green, two brothers who run VidCon, one of the largest conventions for content creators and their fans, made a formal statement that this behaviour was not welcome on YouTube and uninvited him from attending any conventions in the future. YouTube also dropped him as a partner. It is still unknown whether he will be arrested.
As all eyes are on Sam Pepper, Alex Day, accused of manipulating several girls into having sex with them and denying their consent, returned to YouTube, not to apologize but to explain his side of things and seemingly downplay his actions in the light of what Sam Pepper did.
So that is the story of Sam Pepper and the situation of abuse that is rife on YouTube. But why are these instances of abuse becoming more and more regular? And is there any way in which to regulate it?
As we move into an era when we can use social media to do almost anything these days, is the availability and accessibility of these ‘YouTube famous’ personalities all positive? Or is there something unwholesome about twenty-something men being able to contact 14-year-old girls? Is this type of sexual predator a new breed, someone who poses themselves as a cool, twenty-something attractive content creator who can be your friend, give you advice, make you laugh and who is older and therefore also wiser? Though apparently not wise enough to avoid getting you drunk and forcing themselves upon you. Abusers are no longer the monsters you were warned about in the press, for example the stereotypical aging, so-called ‘creepy’ or ‘dirty’ perverts; instead they are seemingly trustworthy and attractive, someone young teenage girls wouldn’t necessarily suspect.
My question is, is this new type of abuse an inevitable side effect for the future of social media and technological advancement? By opening up and inventing more ways to contact each other and share parts of ourselves online, are we also opening ourselves up to more channels of communication for sexual predators to abuse? While there is clearly no way to anticipate which content creator might also be an opportunistic predator there can be more safeguards at conventions and meet ups to ensure the safety of (underage) fans. The community should also continue to be outspoken about these issues in order to deter these instances reoccurring and also to ensure that those who do step beyond the lines of human decency know they aren’t going to get away with it.
Alice is a bisexual activist, blogger and gender warrior. She recently finished her Masters in Gender so splits her time between the fetish goth scene (she means finding a job) and volunteering for the National Domestic Violence Helpline. You can follow her on Tumblr (link- aliceryder.tumblr.com) and Instagram (link-aliceryder)