[Content Warning: links contain occasionally graphic descriptions of emotionally and sexually abusive relationships. Names have been removed]
Over the last few days, allegations of sexual abuse and emotional manipulation have surfaced in the YouTube community. Specifically, the concerns have arisen in the various fandoms connected by DFTBA Records, a music label and merchandise manufacturer for YouTube-based entertainers co-founded by Hank Green and Alan Lastufka in 2008. (Green is also one half of the vlogbrothers YouTube project, along with his brother, young adult novelist John Green.)
While the allegations are not yet a legal matter, a user
came forward this week with her account
of a six-month relationship with YouTuber and musician Tom Milsom, who is associated with DFTBA Records. In her posts about the relationship, she explains that she met Milsom at Vidcon
2010 when she was 14 and he was 21. According to the user
, their emotionally manipulative relationship began when she was 15 and the sexual abuse was added when she was 16. (The legal age of consent in Missouri, where she lives and where the relationship took place, is 17.)
DFTBA Records co-founder Alan Lastufka responded to the Milsom allegations by removing Milsom’s products from the site and by donating the profits he had earned by collaborating with Milsom to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). John and Hank Green also spoke out in support of her.
After the Milsom allegations were made public, several former fans of fellow DFTBA musician and British YouTuber Alex Day came forward with accusations ranging from outright sexual abuse to general emotional manipulation and lack of respect for boundaries. Alex Day’s initial response read:
At no point in my life have I ever had a sexual relationship with someone under the age of consent. (For full disclosure, I’ve said publicly that I lost my virginity at age fourteen, but the girl in question was sixteen – the UK age of consent – so this point stands.)
At no point in my life have I ever undertaken any romantic activity, sexual or otherwise, without being sure the other person wanted it.
But later on, Day posted a follow-up
in which he admitted wrongdoing:
Until yesterday, I thought that I had had only appropriate, though occasionally manipulative relationships with women. However, the model of consent that I followed, not that I specifically thought about it at the time – was that only ‘no’ meant ‘no.’ That is not what consent is.
The result of that belief that ‘only no means no’, is that I spent a long part of my life doing shitty things to good people and barely ever realising or acknowledging that I was doing the shitty things
Day also asked DFTBA Records to remove his merchandise from their site, which they did. Alan Lastufka wrote
These are people I know on a human level, not just through a computer screen. And those are the people that it is the most difficult to be disappointed by. But as I stated in my post earlier this week about Tom, this kind of activity is not okay, and we need to help other people in positions of influence or power understand that.
Reactions to Day’s mea culpa have been mixed. YouTuber Lindsey Williams
I’m angry that when someone is called out for emotional manipulation, that person gives their point of view in a post on the internet that was obviously crafted to portray that person in the very best light they could be portrayed, and people believe that like it’s not just confirming what has already been said: this person is good at manipulating you until you agree with him.
This is not the first time DFTBA Records’ artists have been exposed for abusing their relationship with their fans. Last year, YouTuber and musician Mike Lombardo pled guilty
to receipt of child pornography from his fans, and he was sentenced
to five years in prison just two weeks ago. He was removed from the DFTBA Records label. After the revelations of the past few days, YouTubers Hayley Hoover
and Morgan Paige
have written about their experiences of manipulation at Lombardo’s hands.
Another YouTuber and musician, Ed Blann (also known by his YouTube name, “Eddplant”), also admitted publicly
to sexual abuse and emotional manipulation last year and was too dropped from the label.
The four established allegations — the criminal ones against Lombardo, as well as the others against Blann, Milsom, and Day — allegedly inspired fake accusations of other YouTubers. Hank Green was quick to call out
these “trolls,” but confusion about the past few days persists.
The events of the past few days have sparked a conversation about consent
, healthy fan-creator relationships, and online safety in the YouTube community. Online microcelebrity is hard to monitor: it involves relatively tight-knit and virtual communities that connect individuals to one another with very little outside intervention. YouTube is an intimate, informal format that fosters close personal relationships between creator and fan. This can be a good thing, as exemplified by the online charity collaboration Project for Awesome
. But it may also make for an abusive atmosphere.
Excising offenders from the business is a good first step, but this conversation is much bigger than a small independent music label. After all, YouTube stardom is a strange beast. Combining the enthusiasm of traditional celebrity with the interpersonal accessibility of the Internet is a powerful, but dangerous, combination. How DFTBA Records, and the community around them, handles this may create a precedent for other online communities to follow.