Viners and YouTubers: The Internet’s New Villains?
Over the years, the internet has produced a countless amount of great things, (remember “keyboard cat?”) but not all things are cupcakes and rainbows in the world wide web. In recent years, internet personalities have been getting caught in various scandals, some being worse than others. However, when their viewers continue to give undying support and go as far as to say that these people “saved” them, it’s time to look at the big picture being displayed on our computer or phone screens. What do these people do, why are they “famous,” and why do people still like them?
The popular video sharing website YouTube.com started out in 2005 and has gradually gained popularity since. From producing those such as Shane Dawson, who just directed his first feature film, and Tyler Oakley, popular blogger who has appeared on shows like The Talk, YouTube seemed to have a pretty good reputation in it’s early days. However, with the installation of YouTube conventions such as VidCon and YouTubers earning “celebrity” status, came scandals no one saw coming.
One of the earliest scandals that shocked the YouTube community came in July 2012, regarding YouTube musician Mike Lombardo. Lombardo, a piano-driven rock musician from New York, originally created his YouTube channel, MikeLombardoMusic, as a way to post his homework assignments while attending Berklee College of Music. When his videos started gaining the public’s attention, the musician began posting music videos, song tutorials, and personal updates, or “vlogs” as the internet world would call it, to please his viewers. He was then signed to DFTBA Records, ran by YouTubers Hank and John Green (author of “The Fault in Our Stars”). After wide success and four EPs being produced on the label, Lombardo began to have a lot of blood on his hands after child pornography sent to him by underage female fans was discovered on his computer. With more than 200,000 subscribers on the site, Lombardo was arrested and pled guilty on September 18th, 2013. After a back-and-forth discussion between prosecutors, Lombardo was sentenced to 5 years in prison, set to be released in 2018, as opposed to 20, the statutory maximum. Now registered as a sex offender, Lombardo has been, as expected, dropped from the record label.
Across the pond, young aspiring musicians were gaining internet popularity, as well. Alex Day claimed his internet celebrity status after his music with lyrics dedicated to the popular British sci-fi show Doctor Who went viral. Day initially started making YouTube videos to produce comedy videos for family and friends, but when his popular video series “Alex Reads Twilight” reached over 14 million views, he knew he was onto something. His music also got the attention of DFTBA Records, with which he released three albums and two EPs, which earned him three UK Top 40 hits; he was officially the most popular British YouTuber. With all of this success surrounding him, he decided to take it a step further and write a book. It was set to release in July of 2014, but was cancelled by publishers; why?
In March of 2014, Day was in the hot seat when two 17 and 15 year old girls came forth to tell their stories involving the internet star. The two girls attended a sleepover with Day, and made claims of being “sexually coerced and manipulated” by him. Like a domino affect, 14 girls have come forth to expose Day and his inappropriate behavior towards minors. Day took to the internet to issue what he called an apology by saying, “I created situations that put people under enormous pressure, I’m deeply, deeply ashamed of this.” Much like Lombardo, Day’s music was taken down from the DFTBA record labels website, and the release of his first book was canceled. After stepping away from YouTube for seven months, Day went public with the allegations on October 5, 2014, saying he “didn’t realize at the time that the women felt pressured.” This statement received tremendous criticism from YouTubers such as Jack Howard who said that he “does not agree with his choice to continue making videos” after the allegations. Day then announced on October 13th, 2014 that his book is set to be released independently, and plans on releasing new music later in 2015, despite the fact that he now has less than a million subscribers as of December 2014.
What seems to be the biggest YouTube sex scandal right now involves self-proclaimed prankster and former UK Big Brother contestant Sam Pepper. Pepper’s YouTube videos consist of the Brit pulling pranks, mainly on women, all in the name of comedy. Whether it be using Instagram’s location indicator to pick up girls, or persuading girls he just met to make out with him, one can clearly see that Pepper has not had the best of reputations. His most controversial video to date shows Pepper approaching women to ask for directions, and once the women look away, he proceed to grab their butts, and then playing it off like it wasn’t him. The video has since been removed from YouTube, but Pepper continued to try and make the video seem like a good thing. The YouTuber tried to make light of the video, saying it was aiming to bring “attention to domestic abuse” and called it a “social experiment.” Amidst all the controversy surrounding the video, Sam had gotten himself caught up in yet another controversy, this time involving rape. BBC Newsbeat ran a story on Pepper saying that he was questioned by LAPD in July after a 19-year-old claimed Pepper raped her. The woman, in an interview with BuzzFeed, described the several encounters she had with Pepper, in which he forced sexual acts on her against her will. After making YouTube video entitled “Sam Pepper- The Real Reveal” an anonymous 19-year-old woman also talked to BuzzFeed, saying that the LAPD filed a report against Pepper, but it did not result in his arrest.
All of these situations and many others that have been taking place in the YouTube world make one wonder why these people are still supported. Many fans of the YouTubers mentioned above continue to back-up their internet “idols” by using the “past is in the past” excuse and choose to not believe the stories that victims have told. With the majority of these men’s viewers consisting of young girls, it makes many wonder what YouTube has become. YouTuber Nathan “TheThirdPew” Zed has made a video regarding these scandals advising his viewers to not be persuaded by the apologizes being issued solely based on the notion that “everybody makes mistakes.” He then goes on to say that these situations are taking place because these YouTubers have people looking up to them just because they are in a position of power. Society is unfortunately teaching the youth of this generation to “forgive and forget” as opposed to telling the difference between what is morally right and wrong.
With every new trend on the internet comes even more people who are famous for what seems like nothing. This trend is the popular phone app Vine. Similar to YouTube, Vine is a video sharing site, but the videos posted have a time limit of up to 6 seconds. Whether it be funny clips, singing videos, or short skits, Vine has produced entertainers such as Us the Duo, Shawn Mendes, and Jack and Jack. But, for some reason, the person with the most “followers” on Vine, is Nash Grier.
Grier, 16, has generated over 10.8 million Vine followers. But what exactly does he do? Good question. A recent Vine of his, featuring fellow Viner Cameron Dallas, consists of Grier eating chapstick and has gotten 150,800 “likes” so far, if that answers your question. His Vines seem “in the moment” and not very planned out or with special visual or sound effects. One of his most popular features his little sister and him singing Lorde’s popular song “Royals,” but instead of singing “you can call me queen bee,” Grier’s sister confidently sings “you can call be green beans.” Due to his rapid success from Vine, Grier and a group of friends and Viners developed a traveling tour called Magcon. The tour can be described as a “variety show” with music performances, skits, dancing, and pricey meet and greets with the Vine starts. After appearing on talk shows such as Good Day New York and Good Morning America, Grier seemed to have it pretty good. However, just like the YouTubers previously mentioned, Nash has gotten into some controversy lately, ironically, over a YouTube video. The video, entitled, “What Guys Look For In Girls,” which has been removed, shows Grier, with friends Cameron Dallas and Jc Caylen, listing off attributes they find attractive in girls. The one that stood out the most was Grier’s tangent about how he believes girls should shave everywhere, including their face and arms. Throughout the video, Grier and his buddies are expressing what they like in a partner, but continue to enforce “being yourself” or having “a natural look.” In re-uploads of the video, many defend Grier by saying that a clean-shaven women is what he personally finds attractive, but others disagree, saying that the video is a giant contradiction and not what a guy in the public eye should be preaching to his fan base consisting 99% of young girls. Many have said the video has made them feel bad about themselves, while others defend the video, saying it all boils down to personal preference. Regarding public backlash Grier has received, Nathan “TheThirdPew” Zed also spoke his mind on the issue, making it one of his most popular YouTube videos. In his rant, he says, directed at Grier, “that fact that you thought this was completely okay shows that you can no comprehension for what girls are really like.” Later in the video, he expresses his feelings towards the responsibilities of being a YouTuber, “as YouTubers, we have the responsibility to make our viewers not feel worse while watching our videos.” The entirety of the video can be seen here.
Grier has also been on blast for homophobic tweets and Vines he has made in the past that have come back to haunt him. The deleted Vine, uploaded in April, has resurfaced and shows Grier quite angrily shouting a homophobic slur after showing a clip from a commercial about HIV. Time for damage control! Nash took to his Twitter page after the video gained all of the negative attention by saying, ” “I was young, ignorant, stupid and in a bad place. I’ve moved on and learned from my mistakes.” Many have spoken out about the Vine, including YouTuber and Trevor Project activist Tyler Oakley who tweeted, “promoting a false stereotype that HIV only affects gays to his millions of teen fans is extremely dangerous. Call me and people like me, ‘fag’ all you want, but spreading false information about deadly diseases is next level.” Not only is Nash spreading false stereotypes, but he is also planting the negativity into the minds of his teenage fans, as Tyler has correctly noted.
In addition, Grier has used his share of homophobic slurs on Twitter in 2012 and 2013. Nash’s father has defended his son, saying that he was young when those tweets were posted (up to 2 years younger, at that). After countless amounts of screenshots of the tweets were plastered online, Grier blamed the tweets on friends of his that would “take his phone and tweet dumb shit.” By the looks of it, his “friend” would take his phone a lot, as he has used slurs on Twitter multiple times (screenshots can be seen here). Another popular Viner and fellow Magcon member, Taylor Caniff, with over 1.9 million Vine followers, has been in a similar situation as Grier, after an old video surfaced of him calling gays “disgusting.” Caniff has not issued a formal apology, but still insists he is not homophobic at all, even after constantly referencing the controversy in recent YouTube videos. Tyler Oakley also took a stab at Caniff’s words by tweeting, “the way you act in livestreams doesn’t prove that you’re not homophobic, it proves that you think being gay is a punchline” while also questioning why people supported the video. Supporters have gotten the hashtag “#WeLoveTaylorCaniff” to “trend” on Twitter, if that can be considered an accomplishment.
To bring the two worlds of Vine and sexual assault together, here is some information about Viner Curtis Lepore. Formally a member of a heavy metal band from Syracuse, New York, Curtis Lepore was not new to internet stardom. Before Vine, the blue-eyed, tatted-up 30 year old was sitting pretty on Instagram with over 20,000 followers for posting pictures of his dog, Buster. Due to this following, he decided to jump on Vine when he first heard of the app. Because Vine is so easy to create and share content, Lepore would simply shoot short and funny videos of his dog, and post it for his followers to see. After a Vine of his featuring Buster was featured on the “popular page” on Vine, that’s when things started to take off. For popular viners like Lepore, vining became more of a business opportunity than a hobby. Seeing as Vine doesn’t have ads, it’s a perfect outlet for product placement. For Lepore, showing or mentioning a product in a short clip can earn him up to $16,000, according to an interview with Rolling Stone. With 7.2 million followers on Vine, Curtis Lepore seemed to be on top of the internet world. Much like Grier, Lepore doesn’t seem to be popular for a particular reason, other than the typical “skits” with fellow Vine buddies and occasional Buster cameos. But, his world came crumbling down when he was charged for raping ex-girlfriend and Viner Jessi Smiles in 2013.
Jessi “Smiles” Vazquez was once a cashier at a day spa, but when a client mentioned Vine to her, she never anticipated the fame she would soon receive. Smiles perviously auditioned for The X Factor and The Voice, but when those auditions did not go over well, she felt discouraged. Once she started posting Vines, she quickly gained popularity through short clips of her singing accompanied by an acoustic guitar, or little rants done while in traffic; ex: “girls are not made of flowers. We fart, poop. And when we’re on a date with you, thinking of farting, holding it in, it hurts. Sorry!” The Vine she posted which nearly doubled her followers over night was one entitled “The Shit Guys Care About.” The answer? A three-second clip of her twerking. Like Lepore, Smiles also saw Vine as a business opportunity and began doing ads for companies like Wendy’s which scored her up to $3,000 for a Vine. Because of her outgoing personality and willingness to go against typical female stereotypes, Curtis became infatuated with the up and coming Vine star.
The two internet celebs met through the app, and formed a virtual romantic relationship. They met for the first time in person in New York, generating a enormous crowd of adoring fans who watched their love unfold online. After months of their relationship going public, things seemed to take a turn for the worse. In August, Smiles felt dizzy after filming a Vine that ended in her hitting her head. After falling asleep due to being lightheaded, Smiles claims she woke up to Lepore raping her.
On September 18th, Lepore was arrested. His mother, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, was quoted as saying, “…what he has told me is what happens in every bedroom in America. He was lovingly waking her up. He did not rape her.” Jen Marsh, president of RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) shuts Lepore’s mother down, saying that because there was no consent, it is considered sexual assault. Lenore saw no fault in his actions, claiming that they would have sex every time she visited him. Marsh also notes, “previous consent does not qualify as consent.” The day after Lepore’s arrest, he was released on $100,000 bail. In February, Lepore plead guilty, and served 24 days community service. However, Smiles has not let the situation dampen her spirit. She still Vines on occasion but is focusing on writing and releasing original music, like her recent single, “What If I.”
Today, with it being custom for the internet acting as a gateway for young teenage boys to put themselves out there and gain followers, it seems as though anyone can be an internet “celebrity.” Many argue that these YouTube and Vine stars are only popular because their followers think they’re attractive, which seems to be a common thing with internet fame; who needs talent when you have good looks? Even if all of these actions and comments have been committed and said in the past, why are we still allowing these people to be popular? Have these internet stars’ “fans” have been brainwashed and desensitized to what is truly terrible about these people? Right now, that seems pretty likely. The fact that these men are getting off the hook so easily for their actions and still maintain supporters and popularity online speaks volumes about our current culture online and what we consider worthy of our time and entertainment. It could be because of their youth or levels of comedic and musical talent or creativity, but the internet seems like a much too complex place to draw a clear answer as to why these people are still praised by their adoring followers and subscribers.
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“YouTube Star Sam Pepper Accused of Raping Several Teenagers.” Gawker. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. <http://gawker.com/youtube-star-sam-pepper-accused-of-raping-several-teena-1642114530>.
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