Recently, many social media influencers and celebrities have found themselves involved in controversies involving inappropriate interactions with fans. This is nothing new. However, the alarming amount of allegations that have come to light in recent years is cause for conversation around celebrities’ relationships with fans.
With such a significant power imbalance between celebrities and their impressionable — and often underage — audiences, boundaries are extremely important. Despite this, celebrities and influencers continue to use their power and privilege to take advantage of their fans.
Popular YouTuber David Dobrik is currently facing backlash for sexual assault allegations made against his influencer friend group known as the Vlog Squad. In an article published by Insider, a woman said she was sexually assaulted by Vlog Squad member Dom Zeglaitis while the influencer group was filming content for one of Dobrik’s YouTube videos.
She said she was also supplied alcohol by Vlog Squad members while she was only 20 at the time of the 2018 incident. The woman, who is referred to with the pseudonym “Hannah” by Insider, explained she felt pressured by the group to provide them with content for Dobrik’s video.
“It was very much an environment where it felt like saying ‘no’ was not OK,” she said in the Insider article. “It felt like from the moment we came there was an expectation that they were doing us a favor and we had to give them content. They were verbally like, ‘Why aren’t you guys being fun? Do something sort of sexy.’”
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Much of the Vlog Squad’s YouTube content seemingly prioritizes shock factor over consent.
This is a prime example of the many ways celebrities use their power to manipulate and control their audiences. Dobrik and his influencer friends used this group of women for content by any means they deemed necessary, with absolutely no regard for their safety — or at bare minimum — their consent.
The interaction between the Vlog Squad and these women was completely inappropriate on the influencers’ end. They disregarded the boundaries that should exist between celebrities and their audiences.
Another disturbing allegation resulted in a lawsuit against 21-year-old TikTok star Tony Lopez. According to People, a lawsuit was filed against Lopez in which two teenage girls claim the influencer attempted to coerce them and solicit sexually explicit photos.
“This case arises out of injuries suffered by minor Plantiffs after they were lured, persuaded, coerced and groomed to either engage in physical sexual acts and/or send illicit and obscene child pornographic images of themselves, to Defendants, as a result of Defendants’ illegal acts,” alleges the lawsuit according to People.
The lawsuit also claims Lopez was aware the alleged victims were minors.
It seems as though social media stars like Lopez think they are above the law. Of course it is unsettling that Lopez would even have any interest in inappropriate relationships with his underage fans, but it is also disturbing that he uses his influencer status to exert power over an already vulnerable teenage audience.
The allegations against Lopez, Dobrik and the Vlog Squad have garnered more attention than others in the past.
In 2020, YouTuber Colleen Ballinger faced backlash following allegations that she mailed lingerie to an underage fan. Adam McIntyre, who was only 13 years old at the time, detailed the incident in a YouTube video. He also claimed Ballinger maintained a friendship with him for years while he was a minor.
The YouTuber uploaded her own video addressing the situation. She admitted to mailing the lingerie, but defended her actions by saying she often mails random items to fans.
“In my mind at the time, this was no different than the other stuff I send to my fans as a joke,” Ballinger said. “Now in hindsight, I realize how completely stupid of me. I should have realized and recognized how dumb that was and never sent it to him.”
Regardless of her intentions, Ballinger ignored not only the power imbalance of her being an influencer, but also an adult.
Certainly, she knew better than to mail lingerie to an underage fan. I believe her actions were inexcusable. However, most of the internet deemed her excuses valid and seemingly let the incident fade into oblivion given Ballinger never faced any real consequences.
This is typically how these situations play out. Influencers and celebrities take advantage of fans and both the public and our legal system fails to hold them accountable. Their privilege comes with a certain level of immunity. They know this and continue to repeat these actions because there are little to no consequences.
This pattern will continue as long as we fail to evaluate celebrities’ relationships with their fans. It is time to make sure the necessary boundaries are in place during these interactions. Furthermore, any inappropriate behavior should be met with actual consequences.