YouTube is temporarily demonetizing the account of popular prank YouTubers Nelk Boys after the men were accused of throwing massive parties at Illinois State University. The pair had previously shared viral videos "protesting" COVID protocol.
A spokesperson for YouTube told BuzzFeed News the Nelk Boys' recent behavior violates the platform's Creator Responsibility policy and they believe the men are "creating a widespread public health risk."
Illinois State University also told BuzzFeed News they are working with local and campus police to investigate footage from the parties that were shared to social media this week. A spokesperson for the school said students in violation could face charges from the town of Normal, Illinois, as well as "suspension from the university."
Earlier this week, the Nelk Boys — who have almost 5.7 million subscribers on YouTube — shared a series of Instagram stories that reporter Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times then screen-recorded. The videos showed massive parties on ISU's campus with no one wearing masks or social distancing.
The men who mainly front the fratty channel, Kyle Forgeard, Jesse Sebastiani, and Steve Deleonardis, were previously in Los Angeles protesting COVID mandates as a stunt for a YouTube video. The men led a crowd chanting "open the gyms" with signs from their fans that read "Gym Lives Matter."
The video of their "protest" has been viewed over 1.7 million times, with 129,000 users giving it a thumbs-up.
After the Instagram story videos from @nelkboys went viral, the president of ISU delivered a speech condemning the actions of the students who participated and the "so-called YouTube celebrities."
"It gives me no joy to convey my great disappointment in the actions of
those who gathered," said President Larry Dietz. "Hundreds of faculty and staff members at the university have been working nonstop to ensure that your education can continue in a safe and healthy environment. The actions of some were an insult to them, to the town where you are a citizen, and to your families who support you being here."
When asked if ISU knew about the Nelk Boys' visit prior, Rachel Hatch, the assistant director of media relations at the school, told BuzzFeed News in an email statement that "the incident was a pop-up event, for which the university had no knowledge beforehand."
Hatch said the school is cooperating with town officials of Normal, where the school is located, the Normal Police Department, as well as ISU campus police to investigate and identify students in the Instagram stories.
"Students will be charged with violations of the Student Code of Conduct and are subject to Town of Normal ordinance violations for their participation," Hatch said. "Violations of the Student Code of Conduct can result in suspension from the University."
Online, people began calling for YouTube to take action against these creators' negligent and dangerous messaging. They're calling for the platform to demonetize their videos or ban the Nelk Boys from the platform.
On Friday, YouTube announced their decision to temporarily demonetize the Nelk Boys channel.
"If we see that a creator’s off-platform behavior harms our users, community, employees or ecosystem, we take action to protect the community," the spokesperson said in an email statement. "In this case, these creators were encouraging large groups of people to actively disregard social distancing guidelines from local health authorities that were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, creating a widespread public health risk."
When BuzzFeed News inquired if any of the Nelk Boys' personal channels (like SteveWillDoIt) will also be suspended, YouTube said that it has "taken action only on the Nelk channel." The two creators will be able to apply to reinstate their channel in 30 days.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the Nelk Boys.
Correction: The Nelk Boys' account is temporarily suspended from YouTube's Partner Program. This was misstated in a previous version of this story.
The Nelk Boys group includes three main members. A previous version of this story incorrectly identified an unofficial member as an official member.