Among the likes of Lilly Singh and Liza Koshy, David Dobrik is one of the biggest YouTubers to make it to Hollywood. A prominent figure on Vine – the short-form video app that created a generation of digital talent before TikTok even existed – Dobrik eventually sought further success on YouTube where he became known for his large-scale stunts and boisterous pranks. Yet, despite being referred to as “Gen-Z’s Jimmy Fallon” by The Wall Street Journal and co-founding the rapidly growing photo-sharing app Dispo that many hailed as Instagram’s new rival, Dobrik has been entangled in one of the biggest influencer controversies to come out this year – and it’s only March.
Earlier this month, Business Insider reporter Kat Tenbarge broke the internet when she published her investigation alleging a woman featured in one of the Dobrik’s vlogs was raped by Vlog Squad member Dom Zeglaitis the night they filmed a 2018 video about group sex. In February, it was also revealed that former Vlog Squad member Joseth Francois – better known as Seth – had been sexually assaulted in one of Dobrik’s prank videos, in which the YouTuber tricked him into making out with another Vlog Squad member, Jason Nash, by telling him Nash was a woman wearing a disguise. With many left in disgust as they began to re-evaluate the digital star’s character as a whole, Dobrik lost over 200K subscribers in the space of a week. And following the creator’s heavily criticised first response video, many high-profile brands – including Hello Fresh, HBO Max and Chipotle – began to part ways with the YouTuber. Dispo investors Seven Seven Six and Spark Capital, who together raised a total of $24 million for the company, severed all ties and the app’s rating dropped below two stars in Apple’s App Store as many banded together to show their disapproval of him in the form of reviews.
Since then, Dobrik has announced he will be stepping down from the board and leaving Dispo altogether to “not distract from the company’s growth”. And on the following day, the fallen star blessed us with another apology video where he addressed the allegations more explicitly, adding that he plans to “take a short break from all this social media stuff”. For many of us, the events that have occurred in the last few weeks were expected – the standard procedure of cancel culture at its finest. Loss of sponsorships deals, a teary-eyed performative apology video and a brief hiatus from the internet before re-emerging as a “changed person” a couple of months later. However, what stands out in all of these cases is the shifting culture of collectively holding both influencers and their digital publishers to account.
When the former Viner launched his YouTube channel in 2014, the video-sharing platform was still in its prime. It didn’t hold the moral responsibility it does now, which is why creators had the freedom to do and post anything they wanted to without getting flagged or demonetised. But now, like its digital peer Twitter, YouTube is beginning to sweat under a microscopic lens as more and more viewers look back at old content uploaded by these OG content creators to question their character as well as their intentions. It’s why many old YouTubers have followed the trend of unlisting their past content, why some have completely moved to other social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok and launched new ventures for a complete fresh start, and why Dobrik’s YouTube view count dropped by more than 66 million this month, indicating that the YouTuber has since removed some of his videos following the mounting criticism of his old work.
And as David Dobrik and other members of the Vlog Squad rightfully continue to face the wrath of the internet for their actions, the part YouTube has played in many of these recurring instances shouldn’t be overlooked. As one of the biggest platforms in the digital sphere holding cultural capital, YouTube is rooted in clickbait where the most shocking, ignorant and divisive videos – similar to that of Dobrik’s – drive high engagement and views. And, as long as this remains a core part of YouTube’s existence, there will always be a place – granted much smaller – for the David Dobriks, PewDiePies and Logan Pauls of the world to thrive and make harmful content.
By Jennifer Adetoro, culture editor of CORQ. Picture by David Dobrik via Instagram.