Sam Pepper and Jason Viohni are only the latest in a long line of accused content creators.
While a spate of accusations of sexual abuse and emotional manipulation by prominent male YouTube stars came to light in 2014, the toxic environment between some YouTube celebrities and their fans and fellow creators has deeper roots.
Some such controversies have been generated from on-YouTube conduct, such as inflammatory statements made in videos or comments supporting abuse; some have surfaced completely independently as victims began speaking out on Tumblr about their offline interactions with YouTube stars; and still others were uncovered by users searching for proof of sexual misconduct after watching offensive videos. While the community continues to react to these issues and call for change, the Daily Dot has compiled an outline of some of the major sexual abuse allegations that have rocked the YouTube community since 2012.
Onision: January 2012
Gregory J, also known as Onision, runs a set of YouTube channels pegged as comedy that have often devolved into smear campaigns against his exes. After many such videos, one caught the attention of the wider YouTube community in January 2012. In a video about a particular ex, Onision stated that since she had slept with more than 20 people before him, she was a “slut” who cannot be raped. Viewers reacted with vlogs labeling him a rape apologist and slut-shamer and calling for YouTube to revoke his partnership rights. Onision did post videos trying to clarify his statement, but they did little to quell community anger.
The outcry had him banned from VidCon, but more than two years later, Onision is still making videos for his 1.3 million subscribers on multiple channels, including a recent video discussing blackface on YouTube.
Mike Lombardo: July 2012
Formerly signed to DFTBA Records, Mike Lombardo is a musician with more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube. He was arrested in July 2012, after a prolonged federal investigation resulted in charges of encouraging minors to send him explicit photos and videos of themselves masturbating. According to popular vlogger Savannah Brown, who later wrote a Tumblr post and made a video about it, the FBI found “thousands upon thousands of inappropriate pictures and videos of minors” on his phone and computer, and “they were working on getting as many counts against him as they could before they could arrest him.”
It marked perhaps the first time that Vlogbrothers and DFTBA founders John and Hank Green spoke out against a creator who sexually abused fans; they removed his music from DFTBA Records, and thanked the their fans, the Nerdfighter community, for having thoughtful discussions on the matter.
Lombardo eventually pled guilty to receiving child pornography and was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of five years in prison earlier this year. Once he’s released, he’ll have to register as a convicted sex offender and serve five years’ probation.
Ed Blann (Eddplant): August 2013
Last August, Hannah Thompson wrote a cryptic post warning her followers not to idolize people and accused Blann of sexual and emotional abuse. Blann later admitted to infidelity and pressuring her to do things even after she told him to stop in a now-deleted blog post, and Thompson received support from Blann’s ex-girlfriend and much of the community. Blann got kicked out of Chameleon Circuit, and his solo music was removed from DFTBA Records.
Blann disappeared from social media almost entirely until releasing his first video in almost a year back in June. It’s a song called “Inhuman Nature,” in which he sings about flaws and regret, but many of his former fans feel that he shouldn’t be allowed back in the community or to make money off his past abuse of victims.
Josh Macedo: September 2013
Josh Macedo was a minor Tumblr celebrity from Canada known for being a feminist, and his insightful writing inspired his own fandom even before he caught the attention of the Welcome to Night Vale fandom last July. But after he’d gained further fame on the platform, a number of people started coming out with allegations of Macedo sending unsolicited nude photos, including one to a 15-year-old girl.
Back in February, Tumblr user sweet-bitsy alleged that Macedo sent her photos of himself masturbating even after she revealed her age. Other Tumblr users came out with similar, vague allegations—since deleted—of Macedo being sexual toward these girls no matter how uncomfortable they appeared, and someone who claimed to be a former girlfriend of Macedo’s wrote that he pressured her into the relationship and listed many things he did that made her uncomfortable. She claimed to have later found photos of naked and semi-naked girls from Tumblr on his computer that he previously solicited from girls.
Many fans turned against Macedo, and he’s since deleted his Tumblr.
Kelly Montoya: January 2014
Kelly Montoya was another YouTube musician and Tumblr-famous personality who gained a small but loyal following online with their (Montoya’s preferred pronoun) covers and original songs. In early 2014, Jackie Farrell wrote a Tumblr post labeling Montoya as “a rapist and sexual abuser” after talking to many of Montoya’s former romantic and sexual partners. These partners spoke of being made or pressured to do things that they weren’t comfortable doing, and whenever these former partners tried to stand up for themselves, Montoya reportedly threatened self-harm or suicide. One of Montoya’s former partners later explained her side of the story in greater detail in a now-private Tumblr post.
Some of Montoya’s fans spoke out against them, but they also had their supporters. Tom Milsom wrote a now-deleted post standing up for Montoya, in which he said the Tumblr posts going around set a “reeeally bad precedent for people just slinging the word rape around in situations where it really isn’t appropriate” and noted that the situation “needs to be reigned [sic] in before other kids start to think this sort of thing’s an acceptable use of public shaming.”
In a video that’s since been deleted, Montoya admitted that “I can now see the things I did would be called emotional abuse” and blamed everything on mental illness. They deleted their Tumblr and haven’t uploaded a YouTube video in eight months; while their Bandcamp page is still up, nothing has been updated there either. A Tumblr post from May showed Montoya performing at a show.
Tom Milsom: March 2014
Like Lombardo and Blann, Milsom was a solo musician with Hank Green’s popular DFTBA label, which features many of YouTube’s most prominent musicians. Then, in March of this year, a young woman named Olga made a Tumblr post (now deleted) alleging that Milsom had sexually coerced her and abused her when she was 15 and he was 22. Green himself confirmed her allegations, noting that Olga had been a fangirl who was invited into life behind the scenes of YouTube celebrity culture, and that he was “horrified and extremely disappointed in myself that I was not able to realize that this was happening and put a stop to it … maybe even before it started.” Just as with Lombardo and Blann, Milsom was swiftly dropped from the DFTBA Record label and uninvited from VidCon. He subsequently abandoned his primary social media accounts.
While the previous allegations directed at other YouTube artists seemed like isolated incidents, the revelations about Milsom sparked a wave of exploration and speculation into the relationships of other artists in the music industry. Perhaps this was because the substantiation of the accusations against him came directly from Hank Green, or perhaps it was because of the social circles in which Milsom ran, which included his Chameleon Circuit bandmates, previously outed abuser Blann and the uber-popular Alex Day. The abuse claims created a ripple effect, prompting more and more fans to come forward to describe their experiences with other YouTube celebrities.
Alex Day and Danny Hooper: March 2014
British vlogger Alex Day created his YouTube channel, nerimon, in 2007 at the age of 18. A year later, he founded Chameleon Circuit, a Doctor Who–centric band that gave rise to the term “Time Lord Rock.”
But shortly after two of his fellow Chameleon Circuit bandmates, Blann and Milsom, came under fire for sexual assault, two Tumblr users made separate allegations against Day and his cousin, fellow musician Danny Hooper. The girls, who were 17 and 15 at the time, had both attended a sleepover where Day and Hooper were present, and each corroborated the other’s claims of inappropriate conduct and spoke of feeling emotionally manipulated and sexually coerced by the men.
Their claims opened the floodgates for fans with troubling stories to share about Day’s behavior: To date, no fewer than 14 people, including Day’s former girlfriend, have come forward to allege Day behaved inappropriately and in some cases allegedly committed sexual assault. (Not all of these allegations have been substantiated, and some are anonymous.) At least one person has come forward to allege that Hooper was inappropriately sexual with her as well.
Day’s albums and other media were promptly pulled from the DFTBA website, and a forthcoming release for what would have been Day’s first book was canceled. On his Tumblr, Day issued a now-deleted confession in which he acknowledged that he had engaged in unknowingly inappropriate behavior. “I created situations that put people under enormous pressure,” he wrote. “I’m deeply, deeply ashamed of this.”
After a few months’ hiatus, Hooper reactivated his Twitter. Meanwhile, while Day has yet to make any new videos, in August he left multiple comments on the video that marked Blann’s controversial return to performance, defending Blann’s right to make videos and stating that fans should “ignore” the allegations made against Blann. He followed this up with multiple comments on Reddit in which he denied everything. “I wrote a thing saying I’ve never done anything with anyone without being 100% sure the other person then wanted it. And then a million other people chimed in and refused to accept that,” he wrote.
Alex Carpenter: March 2014
It’s a testament to how tightly interwoven the communities of the Harry Potter fandom, Wizard Rock, Nerdfighters, and YouTube vlogger culture are that the allegations against Carpenter originated with someone with close ties to the Green brothers, the two men who link all these different social spheres together.
Rosianna Halse Rojas is better known to fans as John Green’s personal assistant. But in a post on her personal blog in March, Rojas described the painful and harrowing experience of spending years being manipulated, coerced, led on, pressured, and lied to by the elder Carpenter—beginning when she was 16 and Carpenter was 25. “At this point it’s hard to express how manipulative he is,” she wrote. The same day, YouTuber sarasnitch shared a story of years spent experiencing similar behavior from Carpenter, and within days numerous other community members echoed them, including musician Sunny Williams.
Like most of the others who had faced accusations before him, Carpenter had his media pulled from DFTBA Records, and he left social media.
Sam Pepper: September 2014
Former Big Brother houseguest and YouTube prankster, Sam Pepper faced controversy when he posted a prank video that showed him pinching the behinds of unsuspecting women. YouTubers and fans banded together to call for an apology, to which Pepper responded by claiming his video was part of a series meant to bring attention to domestic abuse, in particular female-on-male abuse. In the wake of this controversy, several young women began accusing him of sexual misconduct ranging from YouTuber Dottie Martin claiming Pepper tried force inappropriate contact during a date to an anonymous woman who claimed Pepper had nonconsensual sex with her during an encounter. YouTuber Laci Green, who organized an open letter against Pepper and spoke out about women coming to her with stories of abuse by Pepper, says she received threatening emails from the YouTuber as well. Pepper was dropped from his multichannel network Collective Digital Studio in the wake of the allegations.
A new report by BBC Newsbeat revealed that Pepper was questioned by the Los Angeles Police Department back in July after a detective filed a formal complaint on behalf of a 19-year-old who said that Pepper raped her, but Pepper was never arrested and charges were never filed because she “was not willing to testify.” Another woman, who says Pepper raped her last month, filed a police report with the LAPD on Thursday.
Jason Viohni: September 2014
Jason Viohni works as a Warped Tour pit reporter, covering the annual musical festival and engaging with his more than 400,000 YouTube subscribers on the VeeOneEye channel. On Sept. 27, YouTuber Ania Magliano-Wright alleged in a video that Viohni got her drunk and slept with her when they met up in London when she was 15.
After Magliano-Wright encouraged others who’ve had encounters with Viohni to come forward, reports began pouring in. Viohni addressed the allegations in a video in which he does not deny his actions, but blames his Mormon upbringing and alcohol dependency on his behavior.
While YouTube is far from the only community embroiled in sexual abuse scandals at any given moment, it’s a platform that values its ability to blur the lines between fans and creators; unlike traditional Hollywood celebrities, YouTube stars have become idols to many for simply being themselves, and fans demonstrably appreciate that sincerity and approachability. But when that trust is shattered, as it was in each of these cases, it reignites an age-old debate about celebrity culture: Is it the stars’ responsibility to draw boundaries around themselves and their work, is it up to fans to stop idolizing everyday people, or is it the duty of YouTube networks and labels to educate both groups about how to be safe and respectful?
Ultimately, none of the above might be entirely realistic. But as long as the current crop of YouTube and Vine fans continues to skew ever younger, it’s up to all of us to remain vigilant and informed.
Update 7:15am CT, Jan. 4, 2016: A now-private link to one of Kelly Montoya’s former partners has been removed.
Illustration by Jason Reed