Over the past few days, more allegations of Youtuber abuse have come to light, this time against Sam Pepper.
Laci Green’s video above is the best summary of what’s happened (click through to the video page for more links), but for those who can’t watch: popular Youtuber Sam Pepper posted a “prank” video where he sexually assaulted random girls on the street with a fake hand. When the Youtuber community responded with disgust, he posted another video claiming that it was all a “social experiment.” And in the past few days, several videos have been posted accusing Sam Pepper of abuse and rape.
This isn’t the first time that these sort of allegations have been seen in the Youtube community. In March, a flood of stories came out against several popular Youtubers, in particular Alex Day (probably most well-known for his Alex Reads Twilight series). The difference between then and now is that now, people are actually responding.
Not that people didn’t talk about the issue in March. But they only talked about it on Tumblr, where the allegations arose. No major Youtuber mentioned it on the platform where it mattered, despite the fact that the accused were using their status as Youtube Celebrities to abuse teenage fans. There were a few vague videos on the importance of consent, and that was that.
So on the one hand, it’s really heartening to see so many Youtubers responding to this, both on Youtube and on Twitter and other platforms. But on the other hand, it has really depressing implications. Sam Pepper is getting called out and discussed on Youtube because he posted video evidence on his own Youtube channel. And as Laci Green points out, he wasn’t called out after doing it once. He has made several similar “prank” videos in the past, including lassoing random strangers and handcuffing strange women to him and demanding that they kiss him in order to be released. I don’t know what happened with this particular video to create such a strong backlash against it. I wish I did. But the fact remains that he happily posted evidence against himself again and again before he finally got a reaction. And when there isn’t any video evidence, as has been the case with other Youtubers? It’s pushed under the rug, addressed on Tumblr but ignored on the platform where most of the viewers actually are.
The swift and decisive reaction to Sam Pepper might leave people in the community feeling like they can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. And maybe I’m being cynical for disagreeing with that. Maybe events this year have led to more awareness, and a greater willingness to act when allegations come to light. But the facts remain that Sam Pepper posted several similar videos before this, and that other popular Youtubers act in a similar way without widespread criticism. It remains a fact that I no longer have enough fingers to count the number of Youtubers accused of taking advantage of and/or abusing their teenage fans this year, and yet this is the first time I’ve heard the abuse explicitly mentioned by a popular Youtuber.
Youtube still has a serious problem of abuse in its culture. And I really hope that this will be a turning point, with more safeguards, more discussion and more clear condemnation of abusers in the future, and not a moment where people get up in arms for a week, and then sweep it under the rug again.