YouTube has shut down a popular channel for tweens called SevenSuperGirls after the channel's creator pleaded guilty to child abuse in a Florida court.
"We take safety on YouTube very seriously," a company spokesperson said in a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News. "We work closely with leading child safety organizations and others in our industry to protect young people. When we’re made aware of serious allegations of this nature we take action, which may include terminating channels upon conclusion of an investigation."
Ian Rylett, 55, is one of the founders of the once wildly popular YouTube brand SevenAwesomeKids. Established in 2008, the franchise at one point boasted nearly 20 million subscribers across seven channels; SevenSuperGirls was its biggest. It claimed it had about 9 million subscribers and 5 billion views, featuring daily videos from a rotating cast of young women. Rylett paid them a monthly salary in exchange for filming videos he directed.
Five months ago, BuzzFeed News learned that detectives had been called to Rylett's hotel room near Walt Disney World in August, after Rylett allegedly verbally abused a young woman. He allegedly demanded that she undress in front of him against her will, according to the arrest report, and that she “practice wrapping her breasts down, to make them appear smaller for the video shoot.” The girl — who was under 16 at the time — claimed that Rylett touched her breasts and attempted to forcefully remove her underwear. Rylett was arrested on charges that he had molested the girl.
The arrest was part of a series of troubling revelations involving YouTube and child-exploitative content, which had started to become public in 2017. By the end of the year, after a public outcry, YouTube began cracking down on potentially exploitative child videos it was hosting — though the problem persisted. Most recently, YouTube has been under fire for the "Momo Challenge," in which a distorted woman's face asking kids to harm themselves supposedly proliferated in videos on the platform. (It turned out that there was no evidence the creepy meme was as widespread as reports suggested it was.)
Last week, according to local news website ClickOrlando.com, Rylett entered into a plea agreement to avoid a public trial and a possible 15-year prison sentence if he were convicted of molestation. Matthew Ferry, Rylett’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In exchange for pleading guilty to child abuse, Rylett was sentenced to 90 days in Orange County Jail in Florida, minus the 29 days he had already served while awaiting trial.
In September, after learning of Rylett's arrest, YouTube’s response was fairly tepid. The company said it had simply demonetized his channels — but it did not indicate that it had reached out to any of the teen girls and young women Rylett worked with. When BuzzFeed News reported on the story at the time, Rylett's YouTube channels had been left dormant, but they were still online.
YouTube told BuzzFeed News that anyone can flag content on the platform, and some reports the company has received have in turn been reported to law enforcement. Yet it appears that it was only after Rylett's definitive guilty plea the company terminated the SevenAwesomeKids network, including SevenSuperGirls.
Rylett, meanwhile, will not be permitted to have contact with the victim or her mother as part of the terms of his plea agreement. The court has also instructed him not to have contact with any other minors, except for his daughter.