on david dobrik, ezra koenig, and taking advantage of your public reputation

on david dobrik, ezra koenig, and taking advantage of your public reputation

This piece of writing discusses sexual assault and describes a situation which may be triggering to some. Be kind to yourself.

I am, unfortunately, big into Youtuber drama— the valid, the stupid, the Much Too Serious To Call It Drama, all of it. I watch lots of channels that could be termed commentary or “drama” dedicated. Whenever I talk about Youtube I always try to give it the most context as I can because I think it’s important to understand the social ecosystem going on. I also think, generally speaking, people older than me don’t think it matters or isn’t worth critically talking about unless something incredibly heinous goes on that is worth putting in the New York Times. Or Insider, in this case.

Youtube is really interesting because it really does exist in its own bubble to a degree. There’s crossover with the biggest TikTok celebrity teenagers, but for the most part . There’s a culture all its own and its own cultural critics.

Vloggers are some of our most critiqued Youtube celebrities. The connotation that comes with vlogging is a certain type of rich, Los Angeles based Youtube creator who films their day to day life. The content has come to be defined by lots of staged antics and how it’s targeted at kids and teenagers. Vlogging, specifically daily vlogging, has for a long time been defined by two wildly successful camps. There’s the Paul brothers, Jake and Logan. Then there’s David Dobrik and the Vlog Squad. Neither Paul brother uploads everyday anymore, though the idea is forever preserved by hit track “It’s Everyday Bro” (which has an absurd 280 MILLION views). David Dobrik also doesn’t upload everyday anymore, but that everyday frequency with which all of them uploaded is directly related not only to their growth on Youtube, but I think it has a huge part in why these creators end up doing horrible things and uploading videos of those horrible things on their channels.

With Jake and Logan, the antics and scandals aren’t surprising. Their personal brands have been obnoxious since they were living in Ohio and making Vines. Their content is aimed at actual children, despite frequent sexually charged clickbait. The “Family Friendly” designation and reputation for scandal seem incongruent, but on Youtube “Family Friendly” always just meant people with mostly child audiences who are advertising directly to kids and got higher paying ads. Well, until they got hit with that fine for illegally advertising directly to children. All kinds of “Family Friendly” content has a weird sexual overtone. Lele Pons and people in her realm come to mind immediately.

What’s interesting is that the Paul brothers were, and are still, critiqued heavily. I can’t stress enough that there are entire Youtube careers made on the back of talking about and critiquing every level of drama and scandal perpetrated by other Youtubers. Being able to get Logan Paul’s name in your title and tags was guaranteed to rake in views. Talking about big names brings people in. Tons of huge Youtubers get talked about constantly. For a long time that had a big exception in David Dobrik.

David Dobrik and his friends have been all but untouchable until recently. Not that nobody would talk about him, there is some criticism of him, but it’s nothing like most creators of his size. The Vlog Squad mostly had a reputation for being more or less wholesome and sort of for people older than what most of the big vloggers were pulling in. They also, as a matter of policy it seemed, would never address any drama or rumors. It was always a wall of silence from all of them until now.

There’s two main levels to what’s been happening with the Vlog Squad and David Dobrik. The first being ex-Vlog Squad members Seth Francois and Nik ‘BigNik’ Keswani coming out and outright calling the environment David Dobrik has created is toxic. Seth in particular came forward about being assaulted by another member, Jason Nash, in a vlog where he was told one of the girls in the group was going to come in and kiss him, but as a “prank” they’d sent in Jason. At the time, Jason Nash would have been comfortably into his mid-40s. Seth was in his early 20s.

The bigger allegation that catapulted this to mainstream reporting was a girl alleging the Vlog Squad got her drunk and she was sexually assaulted by Durte Dom (whose real name is Dominykas Zeglaitis), an ex-member of the Vlog Squad who played a sort of character that was a sex addict. The premise of the vlog was that girls were going to come over and have group sex with Dom. What happened was, allegedly, other members of the Vlog Squad provided the girls with alcohol and convinced two of the girls to go through with a threesome. The girl was so drunk she couldn’t consent and this video was uploaded and received over 5 million views before it was deleted at her request.

It seems insane that this night was uploaded to the internet for anyone and everyone to see and it took three years before this conversation was started. How is that possible?

Well, I think the answer lies in two places. First, and importantly, vlogs are notoriously scripted. We all know this stuff is planned. It has to be or else, well, the vlogs would be boring. In 2018 when this happened, David Dobrik was still daily vlogging. His videos were shorter than most other vloggers, but still it was everyday. Obviously most of it was fake. I think if you watch something and can assume it’s all fake and scripted it’s easy to assume the behavior is innocent.

But the second, and far more insidious answer, is in the obvious reputation dichotomy of “good” Youtubers vs “bad” Youtubers. It’s easy to call out Jake Paul and other divisive creators. There’s not much to gain from calling out David Dobrik. Even now, he has legions of teenage supporters in the comment sections of videos about the situations.

Trisha Paytas, who is a controversial figure known for all kinds of outlandish things including previously dating Jason Nash, has called out David Dobrik before.

The thing about Trisha is that she’s always been easy to cast aside. She gets called crazy and a clout chaser and has her own controversies so she wasn’t ever really taken seriously. Compared to David Dobrik’s reputation as the Youtube Good Guy, you couldn’t have picked a less trusted person to lead a charge than Trisha Paytas. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair, but the way specifically sexual assault allegations are taken online depends so heavily on how the call out is presented. It depends on who backs it and who responds. By making it Trisha it was easy for people to push it away as just her reacting poorly to the messy end of her very public relationship with Jason Nash.

What pushed this situation to a reckoning is that it got taken outside Youtube. The Insider article matters because it’s influenced Youtube and advertisers to pull out of supporting those involved which in turn means the Vlog Squad has had to address it.

It’s easy to imagine this entire situation being swept away because it would be easy to scapegoat Dom or invalidate the experiences of former members. David Dobrik and fellow vlogger Scotty Sire both tried and it probably would have worked had Insider not written about it.

When it comes to any kind of publicizing of harm done, the way it’s brought to light matters so much. As I’ve thought about this situation over the last few weeks I’ve found it more and more frustrating to consider who gets believed and how consequences come about. Or rather, situations where consequences won’t come about.

I’ve thought a lot about Ezra Koenig and Michael Milosh from Rhye.

Nobody with any brain cells thinks “cancel culture” actually creates consequences for people, but it is sort of shocking to see what gets a discussion and what doesn’t. People with power don’t have to say anything because we’ve created a world where it’s the responsibility of fans to make ethical support choices. Everyone knew for years Marilyn Manson abused women. It was an open fact. Loma Vista didn’t take action until this last year. Mike Milosh has abuse allegations against him, including grooming and virtual sexual conduct with a minor, but Loma Vista hasn’t done anything.

Then there’s Ezra Koenig— a person who built this whole pseudo-intellectual, nice, artsy guy persona that feels like it was designed in a lab to make teenage girls love him. Everyone knows Tavi Gevinson was talking about him when she spoke about dating an older guy at 18 and how damaging that was for her. You can choose to look at that and say she wasn’t intending to call him out or allege abuse and that’s why she didn’t use his name. It was never a super public thing to begin with so you could pretend to just not know that she was talking about Ezra.

The reality is that the conversation was happening in circles of young women who feel uncomfortable supporting men that use their status and reputation to take advantage of young women. But the greater conversation online about ethics and morals starts and stops with whether someone was called out directly for sexual assault then deciding whether people care. It’s exhausting that conversations about abuse only happen in one dimensional ways.

Vampire Weekend is a band that has always meant a lot to me and Ezra Koenig was always a huge part of their appeal. The change in rock music frontmen being portrayed as soft, intellectual dudes mirrors the relatability economy in influencers perfectly. As the internet has grown, it only pays to be someone people can relate to and view as a good dude backed hard. Being seen as sympathetic and someone people want to be friends with insulates these people from criticism.

Conversation matters if we want to change anything in the way young women especially are treated and it can’t just be between people who can see themselves in the victim. I know it viscerally hurts me more to think about an 18 year old being preyed on by a 30 year old because I was an 18 year old girl who was made uncomfortable by men in their 30s. I know it viscerally hurts me more to think about a young woman being raped after a group of men got her drunk. But it’s frustrating to feel like all of the pressure of critical conversation falls on people who need to qualify their criticism with being because they have some closer, more personal connection to the harm done.

This is more of a processing of a lot of thoughts I have than anything, but I wanted to talk about it. Thanks for listening, thanks for understanding.

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Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, and law student based in Philadelphia. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other things like when there’s new episodes of the Endless Scroll Podcast: @mirandareinert. I also have a paid tier of this newsletter which for $5 a month (or $40 a year! what a deal!) you’ll get free zines as I make them and one upon sign up! Wow! Click the button below to get in on that! But as always, thanks for reading!