Trigger warning for sexual abuse
I’m not a Youtuber. I’ve never recorded a video or even posted a comment on the site. But I do like watching vlogs during my lunchbreaks. I enjoy all the vlogbrothers’ stuff. I’ve been a long-time watcher of Charlie McDonnell. And, for about the last four years, I’ve watched the videos of Alex Day.
So I felt sick to my stomach when reports of Youtubers abusing their fans and girlfriends began to come out last week. The most well-known of the accused? Alex Day, who has over 1 million subscribers on Youtube and is probably best known as the guy behind Alex Reads Twilight. So far, thirteen girls have come forward to accuse him, ranging from anonymous writers to well-known Youtubers and ex-girlfriends of his. The accusations range from emotional pressure and manipulation in order to hook up with them to kissing and groping girls while they slept. If you’ve watched him on Youtube over the years, it’s skin-crawl-causing stuff to read.
The reactions on Tumblr, where people accuse the victims of lying and declare that we should forgive Alex for his past mistakes, are similarly a punch in the gut. The conversation has been all over Tumblr, and Alex Day acknowledged the validity of the accusations in a Tumblr post himself. The conversations of the past week have ripped the veneer off the “nerdfighter” Youtube community and raised a lot of questions about Youtube celebrity culture.
Yet none of this has been mentioned on Youtube. At least, not by major Youtube figures. The accused, unsurprisingly, haven’t made videos about their accusations. None of Alex Day’s similarly-popular peers have made videos about it (understandable, since these people are or were good friends or in relationships with the accused, and have their own emotions to sort through). And, most disappointingly, the vlogbrothers haven’t spoken about it. Although Hank Green has written about how uncomfortable he was that people expected him to be “judge and jury” of Youtubers, the fact remains that Hank and John Green are ultimately the parental figures in this situation, or any Youtube situation involving DFTBA artists or vid-con related stars. They’re the only truly adult (as opposed to early-20-something) Youtubers I can think of in that community, and they’re looked to as leaders. They need to speak out, and yet, on Youtube, they’ve been almost silent. Hank Green made a rather flippant 4 minute video on consent on Friday, but he did not mention anything that has happened — to those not on Tumblr, the video would seem to come out of nowhere. I was hoping that John would address the issue with his video on Tuesday, but he talked about an entirely different topic instead.
And this is a big problem. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the vlogbrothers have created a massive online community, and that community consists primarily of teenage girls. They therefore have a responsibility to look out for the welfare of that community. They’re not necessarily responsible for preventing things like this from happening (they have the responsibility to take preventative measures at events like Vidcon, but they’re not responsible for the actions of everyone on Youtube elsewhere), but they have a responsibility to speak up when things go wrong. They have a responsibility to denounce members of the community who abuse fans (who abuse anybody). They have a responsibility to make sure community members are aware of what has happened. And they need to do it on the platform of that community, which in this case is not Tumblr, but Youtube.
Because sure, it’s being discussed on Tumblr. Hank Green posted about it, Maureen Johnson posted about it, a post has been reblogged by various YA authors. But if viewers aren’t on Tumblr, they won’t know about it. If they’ve missed these posts on their feeds, they won’t know about it. And this is completely unacceptable when guys have been using their Youtube fame to manipulate and abuse people. Especially when the people they’re abusing are mid-teenage fans.
And especially when it would be so easy to dismiss or forget these accusations. No one wants to think that someone they’ve enjoyed watching for years could be capable of such things, and I’m sure the impulse is much stronger when you consider yourself a fangirl of that person, and when you’re a young teenager and haven’t been exposed to these sorts of issues before. Alex Day in particular has been accused of being a masterful manipulator, and that’s clear in all of his reactions to this: an initial denial, followed by an “apology” that never features the word “sorry,” where he thanks people for coming forward and graciously asks DFTBA to take down his merchandise (both posts on Tumblr, to contain the damage). “He’s sorry,” people say. “He’s trying to improve and make amends.” But his “apology” contradicts the statements of many of his accusers. He hasn’t linked to these posts on his Twitter, despite the fact that all other Tumblr posts of his get tweeted automatically. He blocked commenting on his latest video and has been deleting comments that mention any of this. These aren’t the actions of someone who’s truly sorry, but of someone who’s trying to contain the damage and salvage his online career. But without influential, respected members of the community (like the vlogbrothers in particular) speaking out, I’m sure he’ll convince many people. Our societal impulse to blame or dismiss victims and forgive abusers is strong, and we need well known and respected figures to speak out in order to overcome it.
Youtube has a lot of potential for content creation, for meeting people, and for getting your voice heard. But it’s also become not just a community but a celebrity culture, and like all communities, especially those where some people are given more value or prestige than others, it must be monitored and controlled. Those in charge must speak out when problems come to light. And that responsibility ultimately falls to the vlogbrothers and the other adults involved in DFTBA.
I hope they address it soon.