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I’m Not Convinced The David Dobrik Scandal Will Change Anything About YouTube Culture

In this week's newsletter: the repetitive and demoralizing culture of trying to hold YouTubers accountable.

Posted on March 26, 2021, at 8:00 a.m. ET

This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.

YouTube / David Dobrik

Last week, an allegation rocked the once-clean image of mega YouTuber David Dobrik. In a story from Business Insider, a woman who wished to remain anonymous said she was raped by Vlog Squad member Dom Zeglaitis in 2018. The woman claimed she had consumed so much alcohol that she could not consent to having sex with Zeglaitis.

She also accused Dobrik of filming her entering the bedroom where the incident occurred and posting it on YouTube a few days later. She said he later deleted the vlog at her request. Business Insider talked to one of the woman’s friends and YouTuber Trisha Paytas, who verified that the group of young women there that night were underage and supplied with hard liquor. I reached out to both Dobrik and Zeglaitis about the allegations but didn’t hear back.

Of course, the focus of the allegations should be on Zeglaitis. But it’s Dobrik’s part that has taken over media and online communities over the last week.

After the story came out, major brands began cutting ties with him. Companies like DoorDash, HelloFresh, and EA Sports made public statements condemning the allegations. SeatGeek said it was “reviewing” its relationship with him. Then, Dobrik made a statement saying he would be stepping down from the board of Dispo, a photo-sharing app he helped create. People online celebrated the fast domino effect of financial and business consequences he was facing.

It even prompted the YouTuber to post a second, oh-so-familiar genre of YouTube apology the next day. He looks somber, he’s facing the camera directly, he’s seated on the ground, and the video is given a vague title: “03/22/21.” (He first addressed the allegations against Zeglaitis and him on his podcast channel the day the Business Insider report came out. He said then he doesn’t “stand for any kind of misconduct.”) In his second apology, Dobrik seemed to be confronting the issues and his part in them more directly. He said that he is aware of an “unfair power dynamic” he’s created between him and other content creators in the Vlog Squad and that he generally “fucked up” and is sorry.

“Even though I got the consent to post that video, I should have never posted it,” he says in the second apology, which has over 8 million views. “I want to apologize to her and her friends for ever putting them in an environment — that I enabled — that made them feel like their safety and values were compromised.”

Whether or not Dobrik’s apology is sincere and should be accepted is ultimately up to the person who made the accusation. But the news cycles and familiar habits we’ve created around watching an influencer scramble to atone for questionable or concerning behavior is becoming so tiresome.

Influencers, specifically YouTubers, who get called out for current and past bad behavior usually try to evade addressing it publicly or directly at first. I’ve reached out to a number of YouTubers in my career when scandals have unfolded, and rarely do they or their publicists provide responses. The PR strategy seems to be that if they don’t speak on it, their problem might go away. Sometimes, this works, especially if the alleged victim or questioner gets tired enough of demanding accountability.

When a YouTuber does address something publicly, usually in the form of an apology video that will garner millions of views for their channel, it will almost always come after brands start pulling out of their deals. This has happened with a variety of scandals, from the less serious, like Jaclyn Hill’s lipstick shitshow, to the very harmful, like PewDiePie’s antisemitic comments and the infamous Aokigahara video and all the frustrating actions and inactions from Logan Paul. The consequences of their actions, though, were ultimately small. All these YouTubers still have platforms and fandoms, and their careers have sustained.

For Dobrik, this is not even his first cycle this year with a public accusation of wrongdoing. Last month, I reported on sexual assault allegations from another Vlog Squad member named Seth against Dobrik for a viral “prank” video from 2017. In the video, Seth is asked to kiss a woman but discovers that he’s actually kissing a man, fellow YouTuber Jason Nash. Seth told me Dobrik intentionally duped him in the name of a “prank,” and he only recently began unpacking how violating that was for him. Dobrik and his team did not respond to my multiple requests for comment, and neither did Nash.

YouTube / David Dobrik

Those allegations only seemed to have an effect on Dobrik and his empire for a few weeks. He was more or less able to avoid addressing them; he continued to post content, engage with fans, and record his podcast as if these realities didn’t exist.

Now, coupled with the more recent allegations, there is some level of confrontation and “change” happening within the industry. Sure, Dobrik has said something publicly and companies are “taking a stand” against him. But because we’ve been here so many times before with YouTubers, it is hard not to feel demoralized about whether these changes and stances are genuine and long-standing. Will these major corporations re-sign deals with Dobrik in a few months when this stain on him recedes into the background? Will these companies just reallocate their money to another YouTuber with a questionable past? Has Dobrik sincerely learned from this, or has he been coached to say the right things in the name of damage control for his bottom line? Will he reassess how he manages his own power and influence on his team and the kind of content he posts, or will he fall back to old ways when people and media stop paying attention as closely?

I am not asking these questions facetiously. I truly don’t know. Only Dobrik and the people within these institutions know what they truly feel and what they will do about these issues in the long term. But I am not holding my breath for a transformative outcome. I am dejectedly just waiting to see what happens in a few months, or in a few years. I hope to be surprised in good ways, but I’m prepared to be disappointed again.

Before you throw the CaNceL CuLTuRe gripes my way, I am not asking — and I don’t think a majority of people are asking — for him and other YouTubers to be “canceled” indefinitely. The cancel culture discourse is also so exhausting and I don’t wish to get into that here. Dobrik losing his money and career, albeit symbolically satisfying for people he’s hurt, does nothing great for society overall. It can further isolate and victimize him, which he can then use to weaponize more sympathy and support. He, and other YouTubers, should face consequences that cause him to wake up to the realities of his actions — whatever that may be.

And when he is really conscious of himself, and how he’s hurt people in his pursuit for fame, may he then choose to do things differently. And set a better precedent for YouTubers and anyone else who multibillion-dollar companies are endorsing every day.

Maybe then we will see a believable change. But today I am downtrodden. And I will leave you and this newsletter with a phrase I am beginning to hate: Only time will tell.

Until next time,

Tanya

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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