How the YouTube community can better respond to sexual assault allegations

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YouTuber Jake Paul addressing his assistant's assault on his show

Popular YouTubers dominate the social media stratosphere by creating frothy, humorous content featuring challenges, pranks, and beauty tips. But recently, the YouTube community has been consumed by a darker tone: accusations of sexual assault.

Jake Paul, a YouTuber and former Disney Channel star, recently released a video in which he alleges that his assistant, Meg Zelly, was assaulted by another popular YouTuber, Faze Banks, at a nightclub. Banks — who has responded to the allegations in his own YouTube videos, including discrepancies in Meg and Paul’s story — is pursuing legal action to uncover the security tapes from the club and clear his name.

Some fans are praising Paul, his assistant, and his talent agency, Team 10, for bringing such an important issue to a big audience. But Paul’s video falls short of social media activism in multiple ways. Firstly, the serious topic at hand is treated with little thought or respect. While the video’s title — “My assistant was assaulted” — creates the expectation that the video will focus on the assault at hand, as does a few-initial-second teaser of the serious conversation that will eventually take place, Paul then creates a jarring jump cut to a full 13 minutes of the video centering on the kind of content that normally appears in his daily, lighthearted vlog. Instead of immediately, maturely explaining the situation and attempting to raise awareness and educate about the actual problem at hand, Paul hangs out with his housemates with whom he shares several laughs.

Then, abruptly, the video turns to a table at which Paul, Meg Zelly, and two others sit; the addressing of the assault is squeezed into the vlog as if it’s an arbitrary segment (while, of course, still appropriating the topic as the video’s headline). Paul begins by addressing Zelly’s assault “by a man who is in the same community and space as us” and states that he is treating the traumatic situation with great gravity; He expresses his “deepest” concerns about assault, stating that it is a serious matter when “a human assaults another human.” Yet the following conversation barely includes Zelly at all. She gives a firsthand account of the incident, but the men at the table frequently talk over her and essentially try to sensationalize the incident.

After spending a few minutes on the topic, Paul then steers the conversation away from assault. He notes that the video “isn’t about attacking someone” and “is not about drama, it’s about the message” without actually delivering any kind of substantive message about assault. Then, he minimizes the issue by stating “there is so much bigger stuff happening out there” and proceeds to discuss the Barcelona terrorist attack that also happened at the time, and how two members of his talent agency were 20 minutes outside of the attack and were at risk.

The bottom line is that while Paul may have had good intentions in addressing this issue, it seems he still doesn’t seem to really understand the gravity of the topic. Paul’s response to the alleged assault still reinforces cultural misunderstandings about assault that create barriers for victims to receive validation. Someone else’s alleged experience with sexual assault should not be used as clickbait or a sprinkle of drama to stir into a YouTube arch-nemesis rivalry. Assault is more than a dramatic prop for views and more than a tool for social media activist validation. If he wanted to really bring light to the issue, Paul should have centered the episode on the topic alone rather than treating it as a side note, and he should have let Zelly lead the conversation, rather than frequently cutting in often to offer his two cents.

Hopefully, the situation will be resolved among those involved and not further exploited by content creators. Perhaps other YouTubers can learn from this and treat the message of condemning an assault as something important enough to stand independently from a childish vlog video.

More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, Media
More articles by Tag: Sexualized violence, Social media



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