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It’s hardly a shock when mega-famous YouTubers face public scrutiny these days. From Jeffree Star to James Charles to Nikita Dragun to Jake and Logan Paul, the platform’s biggest stars routinely appear in and out of the news cycle for tasteless videos, old, offensive tweets and their own beefs with other YouTubers. The amount of mess these influencers supply on a monthly basis even requires its own subcommunity of drama and tea channels to keep track of it all.
For David Dobrik though, who’s mostly side-stepped major scandals and the high-school shenanigans of the platform (aside from the ones in his own videos) and built his reputation online as an approachable, nice guy—Gen Z’s Jimmy Fallon, as The Wall Street Journal called him earlier this month—his fall from grace represents the risks of a specific type of white masculinity that’s often enabled and goes unchecked until it’s too late.
First, a summary. Dobrik, 24, is a former Viner who moved to YouTube after the app shut down, along with Logan Paul and Nash Greir. Over the past five years, he’s built his own famous posse of fellow YouTubers, actors and comedians known as The Vlog Squad who are featured in his videos. What happens when they get together can best be described as a hybrid of Friends and Jackass. Dorbrik and his semi-famous coterie pull pranks, perform stunts, ride around Los Angeles in his car, hang out with celebrities, and give away money. The antics in these vlogs represent a type of recklessness and brashness that only a group of white people can get away with or find entertaining at the expense of other people. (Several videos include real-life altercations and pranks with law enforcement). Dobrik maintains that the goal of these videos is “to make people happy,” which, along with his baby face and boy-next-door aura, has shielded him from accusations that he’s promoting fraternity culture. Until the events of last week, that is.
On March 23, Dobrik posted an apology video, his second over the course of a week, regarding allegations from an anonymous woman who claims that a former member of The Vlog Squad named Dominykas Zeglaitis engaged in sexual activity with her when she was too intoxicated to consent.
In a report for The Insider published last Tuesday, the woman under the pseudonym “Hannah” says that, in November 2018, she and a group of friends were invited by Zeglaitis, also known as Durte Dom, to meet him and Dobrik at an apartment where she was illegally given alcohol. Dobrik filmed the events of the night including “Hannah” entering Zeglatitis’s bedroom where she engaged in drunk group sex. Dobrik posted an edited version of the encounter to YouTube in a video titled “SHE SHOULDN’T HAVE PLAYED WITH FIRE!!” He eventually deleted the video at the woman’s request, but it had already been seen 5 million times.
Since the article was published, several brands including Dollar Shave Club, DoorDash, Chipotle, EA Sports, Frank’s RedHot, SeatGeek and Honey have cut ties with Dobrik. And on Monday, Dubrik announced that he was stepping down from the board of Dispo, a disposable camera app he founded, “to not distract from the company’s growth” after the venture capital firm Spark Capital announced they were parting ways. The Insider also reported that the YouTuber had lost more than 66 million views since Friday, some presumably due to the deletion of at least five old videos.
After receiving criticism for the brief video he posted last week in which he mostly distanced himself from Zeglaitis and emphasized how much he values consent as a creator, Dobrik leaves little room for fluff or misinterpretation in his second attempt.
“I want to start this video off by saying I fully believe the woman who came out against Dom,” said Dobrik in his latest apology.
The result, an 7-minute video that includes a trigger warning across the screen and even bleeps out the words “rape” and “sexual assualt,” is actually quite impressive in the amount of correction and precision it entails. There’s a noticeably concerted effort to out-somber the original apology; a minimal background in front of a couch, a closer zoom on his face, tears, an announcement of a hiatus. He pointedly notifies viewers that he’s filming at 1:45 in the morning, indicating that the matter is more important than his sleep. He goes on to say that he doesn’t want “to use buzzwords to justify or explain” the incident but employs a very specific and familiar vocabulary of words and phrases that have been made more accessible to the public—and unfortunately men who need to keep their jobs—in light of the #MeToo movement.
For instance, he acknowledges the “unfair power dynamic” that exists between him, a highly influential, male celebrity, and impressionable fans that he wasn’t aware of before but apparently understands now after having conversations with different people over the past week. He highlights the lack of infrastructure in his content creation that he wants to change when he returns from a break, invoking a discussion about workplace safety that’s been bolstered in regards to #MeToo and other sectors of the entertainment industry and contract work. He also apologizes for not believing women like YouTubers Trisha Paytas and Ally Hardesty who spoke out against male members of the Vlog Squad in the past, including Zeglaitis, for their alleged misconduct. Maybe the moment most telling of Dobrik’s (or his publicist’s) awareness of what it means to take accountability in the digital age when he astutely negates the idea that he’s being “cancelled” and frames the consequences he’s facing as ultimately positive and deserved.
It’s interesting that these consequences come now when just a month ago a former Vlog Squad member Seth Francois spoke with Buzzfeed News about his negative experiences filming with Dobrik. One can assume the immediate reactions from brands working with Dobrik was more of a bandwagon effect than each of the companies reaching a decision completely on their own based on the allegations. Still, it’s upsetting that Francois’ revelations about filming with the Vlog Squad, including a prank that was pulled on him that he now considers sexual assault, didn’t make anyone budge.
In a since-deleted video from 2017 titled “HE THOUGHT HE WAS KISSING HER!! (SUPER CRINGEY),” Dobrik tricks Francois into kissing another Vlog Squad member, 47-year-old comedian Jason Nash, by telling him he would be kissing model Corinna Kopf, also a Vlog Squad member, wearing a disguise. The article also mentions the accusations of racism Francois initially made against Dobrik and co. last June in a video titled “accountability to all creators.” In it, he includes clips from now-deleted videos in which Dobrik jokes about taking him to a police station and another where Francois is told to open a refrigerator that’s been packed with watermelon. Dobrik vaguely expressed remorse for his past indiscretions on his podcast after Francois published the video, which prompted complaints that his apology wasn’t sufficient. But he didn’t suffer any material consequences or feel the need to post a better apology, instead removing old, problematic videos from his channel.
Comparing how seriously society treats allegations of sexual assault as opposed to allegations of racism or allegations of sexual assault by men is a tricky discussion to have publicly and mostly benefits oppressors by ranking acts of harm. But the controversies surrounding Dobrik as well as the most recent allegations against Joss Whedon, following Ray Fisher’s allegations against him last year, demonstrate the value in believing people of color, as the mistreatment of one marginalized group often foretells or illuminates the mistreatment of another.
So what’s next for Dobrik? One can only assume that after a few months of silence, Dobrik will return to his 18.6 million subscribers and continue to profit off of his content with just a few less millions in his pocket. Although, it’s hard to imagine the internet juggernaut failing to secure more deals in the future. The infrastructure Dobrik claims he wants to implement going forward will mostly serve as a smokescreen, as anyone who’s observed YouTube culture over the past decade understands that checks and balances don’t exist on this realm on the web. His biggest challenge presumably will be maintaining his signature shock value while respecting human beings and their boundaries, something much of his content seems to lack.