I wish I could say I was surprised when news broke in September that YouTube starSam Pepper had allegedly groped and solicited nude photographs from underage fans. It wasn’t just that Pepper had frequently harassed women on the street under the guise of making “prank videos,” but the allegations against Pepper also felt far too familiar. He’s just the latest in a growing list of male YouTube stars who have been accused of taking advantage of their young audiences. To me this is personal. These young men are more than just quasi-famous YouTube abstractions: They are young men I have considered friends, colleagues, and even protégés. I’m left grappling with the uncomfortable truth that YouTube’s video blogging community — where previously unknown personalities can quickly amass thousands of fans — can sometimes enable an alarmingly specific type of predator.
With each credibly accused YouTube contemporary I have grown more shocked and saddened. All told, 11 out of 29 (and growing) accused YouTubers on a Tumblr “master list” have at some point been in my Rolodex, including several who have specifically cited my early work — which includes a 2007 tutorial on “How to solve a Rubik’s Cube” with over 28 million views, and subsequent content featuring political commentary, variety shows, interactive musicals, and even extreme pogo sticking — as part of their inspiration to begin video blogging.