TW: Sexual assault, rape
Amidst all of the gloom and doom of infamous YouTubers past, a few select YouTubers have been awarded the title unproblematic fave. The unproblematic fave is someone who doesn’t make a fool of themselves to stay relevant; someone who tends to stay out of drama. Think Jenna Marbles (pre-self-cancellation), the Try Guys, and Jackie Aina. For a while, YouTuber David Dobrik would have undoubtedly been someone that would come to mind. The former Vine star stood out as a lone, unproblematic wolf in a pack of daily vloggers who were notorious for being horrible people. He and his fellow YouTubers that make up the Vlog Squad were upheld as a paragon of YouTuber supergroups done right. But recently, many people have come forward to explain that this is far from the case. I mean, this isn’t necessarily new information. YouTuber Trisha Paytas, who dated Vlog Squad Member Jason Nash, called the group “toxic”. Problem is, Paytas is not squeaky clean herself, and that was used by Vlog Squad fans to silence her. However, more and more people started sharing their less than savory experiences with the Vlog Squad, and the elephant in the room got harder and harder to ignore. And finally, everything reached a boiling point when two allegations of sexual assault were made against members of the Vlog Squad.
A former Vlog Squad member named Seth Francois recently came on the H3 Podcast, which is hosted by YouTubers Ethan and Hila Klein, and talked about his time with the Vlog Squad. Throughout his time with the group, he participated in and was the butt of many racially charged jokes and bits. He also detailed his experience of being sexually assaulted by Vlog Squad member Jason Nash on two separate occasions. On the first occasion, Francois explained that Dobrik had asked him if he was okay with making out with fellow Vlog Squad member Corinna Kopf and that he consented to this. Dobrik said that Kopf would be in an “old man mask”, which Francois had no problem with. However, Francois was blindfolded, and so he could not see that he was not kissing Kopf, but Nash. The second time, Dobrik concocted an even more elaborate scheme – he made a fake website for a beef jerky company and called Francois claiming that the company wanted him in an advertisement. Francois, who was an aspiring actor, was overjoyed. He thought this would be the next step in furthering his dream career. During the advert, he was supposed to make out with one of the extras, who was to be in a gorilla costume. But when filming day came, the person under the gorilla suit turned out to be Nash yet again.
The second person who came out against the Vlog Squad shared their experience in an Insider article. The person, who chose to go by the pseudonym Hannah, detailed her experience of being purposefully intoxicated and then raped by a Vlog Squad member who goes by Durt Dom. She explained that she and her friends had responded to a story-post Dom made about wanting to have group sex with girls. They were not interested in having sex and just wanted to meet the Vlog Squad. When this became clear to the Vlog Squad members after they had met, Dobrik said that he wanted his friends to buy them alcohol (despite them being underage) to “loosen them up” so that they would be more entertaining on camera. Allegedly, Vlog Squad members Jeff Wittek and Toddy Smith bought the alcohol and the Vlog Squad members started feeding the girls alcohol to get them drunk. After intoxicating them, Dom coerced two of the girls into having a threesome with him. Hannah said that at some point when Dom raped her, she even passed out. The next day, she couldn’t even remember what had happened – the friends that were with her had to remind her.
These two occurrences may be different in their unfolding, but they establish a disturbing pattern of behavior. David Dobrik is powerful. The Vlog Squad became untouchable almost instantly after their transition from Vine. YouTube loves them, so much that Dobrik’s first measly attempt at an apology (more on that later) was trending for a bit despite being posted on his least subscribed-to channel. People have been asking Seth Francois why he seemed to play along with what happened in the videos, or why he didn’t come out earlier. But how could he have gotten mad, or spoken up earlier? David was his boss. David paid his rent – David made him famous. Everything he had, he owed to David. He didn’t want to seem like the angry Black man making a scene for no reason – he didn’t want to seem ungrateful. So of course he played along and kept coming back – it was his only option. And what would you do if you were a young adult who met some of your favorite YouTubers while they were filming a video? What if they offered you a drink? You couldn’t possibly say no to them; you wouldn’t want to be a downer – especially on camera.
None of what happened to Seth Francois or Hannah is their fault. The fact that Francois kept didn’t make a scene isn’t his fault. The fact that Hannah took some drinks from the Vlog Squad isn’t her fault. This is all about power. And no matter how much David Dobrik claims he didn’t see the power imbalance before, it’s there and it is massive. And with no Human Resources team, nobody to make sure nothing happens, people can use their power to do whatever they want. And these are just two of the cases where Dobrik and other members of the Vlog Squad have. So far, Dobrik has posted two apologies, although calling the first video he put out an apology is a little bit of a stretch. The first was a notes app apology in video form. He titled the video ‘let’s talk’ and proceeded to turn off the likes-to-dislike ratio and the comments section. The second video was better, though he set the bar pretty low with the first one. He acknowledged his ignorance and insensitivity, and the fact that he should have never posted the video in the first place. He decided to take a break to put infrastructure in place to cultivate a better working environment. He promised to reach out to anyone else he has hurt. And that’s all well and good, but it feels like it’s coming too late. Dobrik’s content has always come at the expense of other people’s comfort and humanity, and these instances are just the culmination of that. He’s had so much time to address things like this, and he chooses to do it when he’s losing sponsorships? Call me pessimistic, but that seems a little suspect. But if he is genuine, which I hope he is, I hope that Dobrik will do all he said he would and more. He needs to tear the foundation he built some six years ago down and start all over again; there have been too many people hurt not to.
Dodgson, Lindsay. “A Former Member of David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad Says He Was Sexually Assaulted during a Video Shoot.” Insider, https://www.insider.com/seth-francois-accuses-jason-nash-vlog-squad-david-dobrik-assault-2021-2. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
O’Connell-Joshua, Grace. “A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Insider Reporter Kat Tenbarge Investigated Rape Allegations against a Member of David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad.” Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/qa-reporter-kat-tenbarge-investigating-rape-allegations-vlog-squad-member-2021-3. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.
Tenbarge, Kat. “A Former Member of YouTuber David Dobrik’s ‘Vlog Squad’ Said the Group Was ‘Toxic’ and like a ‘Cult.’” Insider, https://www.insider.com/big-nik-david-dobrik-vlog-squad-allegations-cult-toxic-h3h3-2021-2. Accessed 30 Mar. 2021.