Some horrible stuff has been happening in the YouTube community. There has been a spate of male vloggers facing accusations of manipulation of a sexual nature and underage sex scandals. 

sam pepper
Sam Pepper

This year alone, musician and YouTuber Tom Milson has been accused of conducting a manipulative physical relationship with an underage fan. Our former YouTube favourite Alex Day then fell to disgrace, as tumblr hosted a steady stream of accusations that Alex had been involved with a number of fans with little care for consent. Now, Sam Pepper releases a video (now removed) entitled Fake Hand Ass Grab, framed as a “prank” that involves groping unsuspecting women – who are clearly uncomfortable with the situation – on purpose. Quite rightly, viewers and the rest of the vlogging community are up in arms.

YouTube and moderation

I’m not entirely sure how Sam Pepper became acceptable in the first place. His channel features a variety of prank videos, including one entitled How To Make Out With Strangers. How did something that seedy make this boy so famous? How was there not an uproar before Pepper made his way from girls faces to girls asses by way of rapey approach?

sam-pepper ass grab
Oh. Oh it’s so not ok.

The question of moderation predictably comes to the fore. Broadly, I get that social media content is hard to control for the channel owners. There’s a thin line between offensive content and freedom of speech and that must be super hard to define. But not having firm regulations and thorough monitoring – particularly for YouTube partners whose target audience are largely young people – carries the new media version of risky messaging, much like The Sun’s page 3. Audiences are impressionable. Treating sex crimes and lusting after underage girls as commonplace, everyday events broadcasts that it’s ok to commit those crimes, provided it’s framed in the right way. The proof is in the responses to those that have taken action against Sam Pepper from young fans of his; that we need to chill out. That groping girls in public is just a joke. That his video was no big deal.

It is a big deal. And supporting someone who sees nothing wrong with doing that then broadcasting it to two and a half million subscribers is definitely not ok. It saddens me that new generations of young people embracing YouTube as a place to socialise, learn and gather information about the world are being mis-informed in the same way that women’s magazines try to make us strive for an unreachable perfection. I wish YouTube had been more hands-on with guidance after seeing a YouTube partner publish this kind of content.

Self-regulation

Whilst the Sam Pepper scandal is horrifying, this event and the others like it have identified how truly amazing the rest of the vlogging community are. 

The vloggers in the same social circles as Alex Day and Sam Pepper have publicly taken a stand, each personally weighing in on the seriousness of sexual consent and manipulative relationships. Their reaction to the disgraced individuals has largely been to cut ties with them, and publicly explain why what that person did was wrong. Perhaps conversations between that group run much deeper, but on the face of it, they hold a united front.

Using creativity to educate fans

Though the remaining vloggers are obviously very serious about their message, the way they set about educating their audience on sex and consent is one to be applauded. Harnessing their own special connections with their audience, they use creative means to inform rather than lecture their followers. There’s tons of seriously good advice out there now, including Charlie McDonnell’s plea to fans to not let their guard down because they’re meeting their YouTube heroes; Carrie Hope Fletcher’s open outrage at Sam Pepper’s objectifying video; and, my absolute favourite, comedy duo Jack and Dean’s music video simply entitled “Consent“. It’s one of the cleverest things I’ve seen in a long time. Jack Howard states that the release date was a pure coincidence in that it followed the Alex Day debacle, which is dubious, but regardless highlights the problem and the solution perfectly (and tunefully). Check it: 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTxlB_RFrB0?list=PL84D5411C33AA52E7]

Particularly commendable is vlogger ringleader Hank Green’s conduct with regard to his record label and the shamed YouTubers that were signed to it. Both Alex and Tom were removed, their music no longer sold and their merchandise taken down. Hard, I imagine, to have to do that to people who are/were your friends, not just business contacts. But Hank stood by his non-acceptance of the behaviour – the kind of no-nonsense approach YouTube should have taken before it got to this point, really. 

Opting to cut the drama and take the education of the YouTube community into their own hands is a really great idea. The power of celebrity YouTubers has become a scarily powerful force, and in the face of that power being used for the wrong reasons, it’s so great to see so many influential Youtube partners using their status as a force for good. Long live those that dutifully protect their fans through creative education.

Oh, I also think the simple sending of Jack and Dean’s Consent video should be a standard reply to all disrespectful arseholes the world over. I’m not sure how YouTube would feel about making that a guideline, though.

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