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YouTubers: taking advantage of ‘celebrity’?

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Recently the YouTube community has been rocked by allegations of an under age sex scandal, Christy Ku looks at the development of events and how this has impacted the online YouTube community. 

Over the past month, allegations of sexual abuse and emotional manipulation against certain members of the YouTube community have emerged, specifically against video bloggers (vloggers) and musicians Tom Milson and Alex Day.  These accusations are not currently a legal matter; however they have been taken seriously by their label DFTBA Records and by fellow YouTubers.

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Photo Credit: redsoul300 via Compfight cc

Initially, a girl named Olga Breslavets spoke out about her six month relationship with Tom Milson, which was emotionally abusive, beginning when she was fifteen and he was twenty one.  Seemingly encouraged, several others have also stepped out with their allegations against Alex Day, detailing emotional and sexual manipulation, as well as adultery. Whilst Milson has remained silent on the matter, Day has produced two statements on his Tumblr account. At first, he writes that “At no point in my life have I ever had a sexual relationship with someone under the age of consent [or] ever undertaken any romantic activity, sexual or otherwise, without being sure the other person wanted it.” However, his later post appeared to contradict his previous statement; “the result of that belief is that ‘only no means no’, is that I spend a long part of my life doing shitty things to good people and barely ever realising or acknowledging that I was doing the shitty things”. He has since asked DFTBA Records to take down his merchandise.

Sadly, this is not the first time that cases like these have occurred. Last year, Ed Blann (known by his YouTube name as ‘Eddplant’) acknowledged and appeared to admit to accusations of sexual abuse and emotional manipulation in his relationship, stating “Over the course of those eight months I treated her appallingly, manipulated her, and behaved in an extremely misogynistic way towards her”. In July 2012, American YouTuber Mike Lombardo pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography from his fans, and was recently sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Fake accusations have been made against other prominent YouTubers, but they were quickly denounced as false and criticised for detracting attention away from legitimate allegations. Indie record label and merchandise seller DFTBA Records have responded by dropping the accused from the label, removing merchandise, and co-founder Alan Lastufa has donated any profits he earned from his collaboration with Milson to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). Hank Green, the other co-founder of DFTBA Records, released a video on sexual consent on his collaboration channel with his brother and New York Times selling novelist John Green.

Both brothers, Hank and John, have spoken in support of the victims on their individual Tumblr accounts, as well as expressing their anger and disappointment.

At the moment, the cases involving Blann, Milson and Day have not been taken to court, and nothing has been legally proven. However, the cases have sparked other YouTubers to publicly speak about issues of consent, online safety and healthy relationships between online creators and their audience (examples include Charlie McDonnell, vlogger and Day’s former housemate, musician Meghan Tonjes  and comedian Thomas ‘Tomska’ Ridgwell).

These allegations are particularly disturbing as YouTubers can be seen as a new form of celebrity. As the audience is able to track and be a part of their fame, which usually begins by YouTubers filming a video in their own homes, it is easier for the audience have a sense of empathy, and even friendship towards them, as well as viewing them as relatable. Although these YouTubers may have gone on to receive media attention, have record deals and go on tours, the direct communication available between content creators and the audience through the use of videos establishes a level of intimacy. A sense of trust can also be formed, as the audience is able to see YouTubers in their personal space, talking with their own voice, and therefore able to see ‘who they really are’. The ability to speak and interact directly and personally to the audience means YouTubers are able to maintain their aura of normality, something mainstream celebrities appear to struggle with maintaining once they reach fame.

However, it is of highest importance to support the apparent victims, and not let them be ignored under a stream of outrage. Their bravery in speaking out should be admired and they should not be blamed for any abuse they have suffered.

Those who have been affected by abuse can get support from:

Exeter Rape and Sexual Abuse Helpline                  0808 800 0188
Victim Support Devon Support Line                        0845 456 6099 / 0845 303 0900
Devon Rape Crisis Service                                            01392 204174
Rape and Sexual Abuse Line                                       0808 800 0188  (Plymouth)

 

For advice on internet safety:

Metropolitan Police: http://safe.met.police.uk/internet_safety/get_the_facts.html

Christy Ku, Online Books Editor

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