Who exactly is Sam Pepper? Some remember him from being a contestant on Big Brother. Others know him as YouTube prankster with a legion of followers. However, to the rest, he is an alleged rapist and harrasser of women.
Pepper sent shockwaves through the YouTube community and beyond, after he uploaded a video entitled ‘Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank’, involving him touching and groping unwilling women. Following massive backlash from the public, YouTube removed the video. He then uploaded a second video identical to the first, this time featuring him touching men. He concluded by uploading a third and final video, declaring the entire thing a “social experiment”, carried out in order to highlight sexual harrassment on both sexes.
Since then, several girls have come forward with allegations of rape and sexual assault against Pepper. Following this, fellow YouTuber Jason Viohni, better known as VeeOneEye, was accused of sexual abuse and soliciting nude photos from fans.
When did YouTube stop being a website which promotes original content, and start becoming a community harbouring personalities who abuse fans?
YouTube has a long history of sex scandals, with allegations surfacing as early as 2012. Musician Mike Lombardo was swiftly dropped from DFTBA records after he was charged with soliciting sexually explicit photos from an underage fan. Lombardo is now serving a five-year prison sentence for receiving child pornography.
Last year, Ed ‘Eddplant’ Blann confessed to being in an abusive relationship with a fan.
“Over the course of those eight months I treated her appallingly, manipulated her, and behaved in an extremely misogynistic way”, he said in a statement. Blann was also signed to DFTBA records – both as a solo artist and as apart of Doctor Who fan band, Chameleon Circuit.
Hank Green, founder of YouTube conference VidCon said he was, “horrified and extremely disappointed … That I was not able to realise that this was happening and put a stop to it.”
His releases were later removed from DFTBA’s website.
In the same month, fellow musician and YouTuber, Alex Day, publicly admitted to being involved in manipulative and potentially abusive relationships with women.
“It’s only in the last 24 hours that I’m realising how much I created situations that put people under enormous pressure”, Day wrote on Tumblr, “I’m not blaming this on my lack of awareness or knowledge of consent and boundaries. I’m blaming myself. I’m deeply, deeply ashamed of this.”
Day – a DFTBA label mate to Blann – also saw his releases and merchandise removed from the label’s website.
This week, Day returned to YouTube with a 31 minute long video, apologising for his involvement in the alleged manipulative relationships. However, he was also quick to defend himself.
“I’m not a rapist, I’m not a sexual predator, I’ve never forced anyone to do anything if I understood they didn’t want to.”
Alex Day has also been criticised for allowing adverts to be featured alongside his video, meaning he will profit from views.
He defended this by stating on his channel that, “I trust myself to do good things with the money that comes from that”.
In a blog by YouTube Speaks, a group discussing abuse on the video sharing site, people were encouraged to view an alternative version without adverts.
Fellow YouTubers have demonstrated their power as viewers, as well as the site itself. Sex-education teacher and YouTuber Laci Green has called on people to rally against Pepper and other misogynistic and abusive YouTubers.
“Here’s the bottom line – this is disgusting, this is wrong and it needs to stop.” Green said, encouraging her viewers to take the claims seriously.
She also advised the public not to engage with these vloggers’ channels, and commended their victims’ bravery in coming forward with their stories.
Pepper has since been dropped by his network, Collective Digital Studios, banned from future fan conferences and fellow YouTube channel, ‘YouTubers React’.
YouTube culture is often associated with youth, and its audience is largely female. Fifty-three per cent of viewers are women, and it’s thought that the majority of subscribers are teenage girls. Global measurement company Nielsen asserts that YouTube reaches more American 18 to 34-year-olds than any other cable network.
“My only consolation,” wrote Hank Green, “is that I honestly believe these issues are coming to light in this community not because they are more common, but because we are more empowered to speak out and not hide from or cover them up.”