Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault and may be triggering to some readers.
We use many different words to describe sexual assault and harassment: criminal, violating, non-consensual. Here’s a word we rarely use in this context: cringey. That’s the word mega-creator David Dobrik might use; in fact, he would go for a tasteful “SUPER CRINGEY.” Dobrik rose to fame on the late video platform Vine (RIP), and later in 2015 through his four-minute-long vlog-style videos featuring a group of boisterous friends, later dubbed The Vlog Squad. In 2019, Dobrik was the fifth-most viewed creator on YouTube, and dubbed “Gen Z’s Jimmy Fallon” by The Wall Street Journal. Beyond the YouTube platform, Dobrik went on to voice animated roles in commercial films and host television programs for Nickelodeon and the Discovery Channel. In the social media world, David Dobrik is a bonafide A-lister.
Dobrik has come under fire in the last month for allegations of sexual assault in his vlogs, but his is not the first YouTube channel to hide assault in plain sight. The prank culture which has flooded the platform in the last 10 years has created a breeding ground for unwanted sexual advances, the only real consequence being demonetization of videos and loss of the mighty ad dollar.
Last month, former Vlog Squad member Seth Francois came forward to discuss a now-deleted video from 2017 in which he was sexually assaulted. Before planning and filming Francois’ assault, Dobrik used him as a prop in a number of racist and antiquated bits (think watermelon jokes and gorilla masks). To summarize the video in question, it follows the formula of many of Dobrik’s vlogs, turning Vlog Squad member Jason Nash into a dancing puppet to surprise unsuspecting friends. Hilarious. In the video, we see Francois agree to a consensual kissing bit with a female member of the group, but to his surprise, Jason Nash enters the room in a rubber mask and proceeds to make out with Francois—without his consent. The Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient,” defining consent as “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” Simply put, any sexual contact without consent is considered sexual assault in the eyes of the law, and YouTubers are no exception.
In a recent appearance on the H3 Podcast, Francois detailed the events leading up to and following the public “bit.” Echoing the sentiments of so many male victims of sexual assault, what followed was a three-year battle of confusion and emasculation for Francois. Dobrik’s removal of the video has not stopped clips from resurfacing in the past two weeks, and while he has yet to make a statement, the internet is abuzz. On February 16th, Jack Link’s Jerky, a product which appeared in the original video, tweeted to clear its name of any connection to Dobrik, ensuring that the brand ” not tolerate or condone any non-consensual conduct such as what happened in this video.” For those taking the video’s removal as a sign of growth, not so fast. Dobrik once reflected on the clip on his own podcast, referring to the bit in question as “the perfect setup,” Nash following up with, “it’s good for Seth, it gets him some air time.”
David Dobrik may be taking the hot seat this month, but assault shrouded in prank is basically a building block of YouTube’s foundation. Just days ago, three YouTubers in Mumbai were arrested for sexual assault and “creating obscene and vulgar prank videos in public places.” Through more than 300 public videos, the accused creators would approach young women, offer them money to act in their videos, and proceed to touch and harass them as a “prank.” The consequences of these types of prank videos are far from consistent, and it’s impossible to ignore the divide in response between male and female victims.
Enter defamed YouTuber, Sam Pepper. Before his “Killing Best Friend Prank” video and public rebranding, Pepper was a huge creator on YouTube with millions of views. In those earlier years on the platform, a video hitting one million views was a big deal. Pepper’s content was viral and almost entirely prank-based, but in September of 2014, he incited his own reckoning. Pepper uploaded the now-infamous “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank” video, in which Pepper would approach women in public, ask for directions, and grab their butts with a fake hand. The internet almost immediately snapped on Pepper, with #ReportSamPepper trending on Twitter. Users called for his removal from the platform. Female creators were quick to speak out against him; one creator publishing an open letter calling on him to “stop violating women and making them uncomfortable on the street for views.” The letter would go on to collect more than 110,000 signatures.
That was the reaction in 2014. Just three years later, Dobrik would post the video, “HE THOUGHT HE WAS KISSING HER!! (SUPER CRINGEY)” — yes, that’s the title — presenting the sexual assault of Seth Francois as comedy. Where were the open letters for Seth? Where was his 100,000-person army, and why weren’t creators urging Dobrik to stop making his friends uncomfortable for views? Are we trying to protect Gen Z’s future King of Late Night, or is this just another example of the world turning a blind eye to male sexual assault?
According to a statistic of the same phrasing, at least one in six men have been sexually abused or assaulted, and the stigmas that weigh on male victims are short-sighted and dismissive. Men can’t be forced into sexual acts against their will, men are less affected by assault, women cannot rape men. For male victims, mass public support is like shoddy cell service—spotty, inconsistent, and laden with fine print. That said, whether the victim is male or female, the world’s message is clear. We’ll support you if your abusers aren’t primary revenue sources. We’ll speak out if we’ve already unsubscribed.
For Francois, the aftermath of his assault mirrored the fallout of so many survivors before him, male and female. He struggled with identity and masculinity and fought hard to accept that he wasn’t at fault. He fielded overwrought questions like, “why has it taken years for you to speak up?” His response is simple. “When he pulled the mask off, it was a split decision,” says Francois, “I could either give in to my natural instincts and be the angry Black guy in the room, or I can just go along with it, and I made that decision.”
In his appearance on the H3 Podcast, Francois speaks on the situation in the simplest terms he can: “I was touched by someone I did not consent to.”
In the last few years, we’ve made serious strides in the recognition of unjust behavior and created space for victims to speak out, but the conversations surrounding male sexual assault need to catch up.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit their website to receive confidential support.
Images: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com
A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article explaining WTF TikTok is, and exploring whether or not it’s an app you need to download. A lot of you seemed to share my confusion about the biggest social network for Gen-Z, but we’re all in this learning process together. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time on the app, and I’ve gotten a little bit addicted. There’s honestly so much creative content out there, from people making cool art to hilarious teenagers that I feel uncomfortable following.
TikTok is the kind of app where you can just scroll down the featured page and see some good stuff, but it’s more fun to follow people you really like. It can be a little tough to figure out who you should follow, so I spotlighted some accounts that are definitely worth the follow. Oh, and all of these people are at least 18 years old, because I don’t need to be talking about literal children on the internet.
Even if you still don’t understand how TikTok works, you’ve definitely seen Brittany Broski. She went insanely viral for her video of her trying kombucha for the first time, which has been memed approximately a billion times. For example:
View this post on Instagram
“People ask me almost every day to explain TikTok to them. TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular apps among Gen-Z, but it’s still a mystery to most of us in the post-college crowd. Lucky for you, I’m venturing into the depths of the youths to figure out wtf TikTok is, so STOP ASKING ME.” Hit the link in bio to have all your questions answered, and to feel old af. @brittany.and.the.jets @dietstartstomorrow
But all her videos are great, and she’s definitely worth a follow. Her Love Island impressions are scary good, and she also makes hilarious observations about TikTok culture as a whole. My favorite thing about Brittany is that she seems like an actual adult, rather than most of the 16-year-olds on this app filming videos in their parents’ kitchen. She might be kind of a mess, but that’s the most relatable thing about her.
Hope Schwing is hilarious, and she’s not afraid to poke fun at herself. She’s in college, which makes me feel old, but at least she’s not a minor. Actually, her story time videos about stuff that happens at college make me kind of nostalgic, and she hops on a lot of TikTok trends, but in a more relatable way that’s not obnoxious. Recently, she bought a grey wig online thinking it would be cute, and it ended up being a Gandalf wigs, so that has led to a lot of amazing #content.
Scott Hoying is best known as one of the members of Pentatonix, which is honestly kind of turn-off to me. But he recently started making TikTok videos, and they’re actually really funny. He knows that he’s too old to be here, but like same. One of my favorite things about TikTok is when relatively older people make fun of the younger people on TikTok, and Scott does it well. It remains to be seen if he keeps up the level of content, but right now I’m really enjoying it.
Tayler is so f*cking funny, and the way he makes fun of all the stereotypes of TikTok (which I aim to get into in a later article) is perfect. This video of him parodying Kim and Kourtney’s epic fight from last year on Keeping Up With The Kardashians is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while. Tayler was one of the first people I followed on TikTok, and I definitely haven’t regretted it.
David Dobrik is absolutely huge on YouTube, where he’s the de facto leader of a group called the Vlog Squad. But if you’re still a little too scared to dip your toes into the cesspool that is YouTube culture (I don’t blame you), following David is a good way to get just a sneak peek. He posts funny, off the cuff videos with his friends, who all just happen to have a ton of money.
Remember when Facebook was half videos of people drawing? This is like that, but better. James does amazing paintings of logos and other cool graphic things, all set to music. I have never been more mesmerized looking at the Pringles logo.
Cassie from The Bachelor recently made a TikTok account, and while her posts so far are nothing revolutionary, she’s probably worth a follow if you’re a member of Bachelor Nation. Colton hasn’t made any appearances yet, and honestly, I hope it stays that way. You guys, Cassie has a personality!!
It can be tough to find the right mix of people to follow on TikTok, so compilation accounts like this are a good place to start. peopleareawesome has a lot of people being flexible, doing cool stuff like hooping, and just general dumb-yet-fun stuff that makes TikTok a great way to waste time.
And because TikTok is the future (maybe), of course we had to make our own account. Follow us for pathetic attempts at viral challenges, funny original vids, and behind the scenes moments at Betches HQ. We’re all on this journey together.
If you’re already all over TikTok, let me know in the comments some of your favorite people to follow, because I’m always looking for more.
Images: Shutterstock; brittany_broski, hope_schwing, scotthoying, taylerlockwood, daviddobrik, jamesllewis1, cassierandolph3, peopleareawesome / TikTok