YouTube community takes on sexual harassment and abuse

Katie Wade, [email protected], is a sophomore mass media and history major

If you have used YouTube lately, you’ve likely seen links to videos of commentary on the recent discussion of sexual harassment and abuse.

While this is not a new discussion by any means, it has reached new heights of awareness due to the recent upload of a video titled “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank.”  The video was posted by British YouTube celebrity Sam Pepper who is internet-famous for his “prank” videos.

However, prank is loosely defined in terms of YouTube video categories.

Sam Pepper’s videos are not of witty, clever and harmless jokes. Instead, they portray serious social badgering and sexual harassing of innocent individuals without their consent.

Laci Green, a YouTube feminist and sex-education advocate, uploaded a video, “Sam Pepper Exposed” with her response to the Sam Pepper scandal.

“At the end of the day, regardless of what you call it-a prank, an experiment, awareness raising-when you touch someone without consent, when you force them to be sexual with you, when you pressure them on camera like that, that is harassment, violation, assault. Which is not only wrong, but illegal,” she said.

“Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank” earned him some well-deserved heat from viewers. Enraged viewers have taken to the comments section of YouTube and other social media platforms to explain why videos like this are simply unacceptable–some are even pushing for judicial action against Pepper.

The problem is that as YouTube celebrity culture has grown, internet-famous personalities have gained power over their viewers. Now we’re beginning to see the abuse of that power.

Washburn student, Colleen Kelly, English and secondary-education major, is an active member of the YouTube community.

“I know how easy it is to elevate someone to celebrity status, and that can be very destructive behavior,” said Kelly. “As viewers, we need to remember that these are regular people, behind their content, [and are] just as flawed as the rest of us. But more so, YouTubers need to take personal responsibility for how they treat their fans and…not abuse their celebrity status.”

A multitude of people have come forward with stories of how Pepper and other similar YouTubers have made them feel uncomfortable or have pressured them into violating situations. “I think that for myself and many other YouTubers, we’ve decided that this can’t go on anymore,” Green said. “We need to say something. Not only is he violating people in these videos, but he’s also sending the message out to millions of young, unquestioning fans that this is a normal way to interact with women. It’s not.”

Even more discomforting is that YouTubers can monetize their video viewership.

“Don’t watch these people’s videos. Don’t support their content. And don’t subscribe,” said Green.

What is interesting about this scandal is it takes a real world problems and drops it directly into our online world.

Because the platform is so broad, YouTube as a company cannot minutely control its users. It’s important for users to take responsibility for their content and to critique the content of others.