Some nervously laugh. One blatantly says, “I don’t like that!” All of them look confused—and uncomfortable.
The Internet was quick to respond to Pepper’s video, including other popular Youtubers, most notably Laci Green and Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green. Laci Green wrote an open letter on her Tumblr, which was co-signed by other influential Youtubers. Along with the Green brothers, Youtube heavyweights Tyler Oakley, Meghan Tonjes, Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, and Hannah Hart all signed the petition.
“Please stop violating women and making them uncomfortable on the street for views,” Laci Green says. “Please stop physically restraining them and pressuring them to be sexual when they are uncomfortable.”
In response to the backlash, Pepper released a video claiming that the entire prank was a social experiment (yeah, okay). He says in his follow-up video that the entire video was to highlight female-on-male sexual assault. Although that definitely is a problem, it’s hard to see the connection between sexually harassing random women on the street and highlighting the issue of male sexual assault. Needless to say, not many people bought his explanation.
The problem extends past the fact that Pepper considers sexually assaulting women to be a prank. As of now, Pepper has 2,394,504 subscribers, a majority of that number being teenagers, in particular young girls. When these young people see someone whom they admire perpetuating this behavior, they may think that it must be okay. As Laci Green says in her letter, “While it may seem like harmless fun, a simple prank, or a ‘social experiment,’ these videos encourage millions of young men and women to see this violation as a normal way to interact with women.”
Since the video controversy, multiple women have come forward saying that Pepper either tried to solicit nude photos or sexually assaulted them. Pepper’s case is not the first instance of a Youtube star abusing their power. Within the past year, multiple Youtube celebrities have been accused of sexually inappropriate behavior with fans. In the spring, accusations against Youtubers Tom Milsom and Alex Day came to light. All these stories follow the same script: a Youtube celebrity using his position to coerce female fans.
Sexism is present in all forms of media, and Youtube is obviously no exception. But the great thing about Youtube is that it’s an interactive platform. Viewers can easily give feedback on videos through comments or messages. Also, the majority of Youtube stars have Twitter accounts, making them even more accessible. When Pepper’s video was released, viewers took to Twitter, using the hashtag #ReportSamPepper.
The Youtube community was quick to respond to Sam Pepper’s video, but there are still plenty of sexist and racist videos on the site. In an incredibly poignant video titled “Here’s Why Racism Not ‘Just Comedy’”, user Chescaleigh (another co-signer of Green’s petition) says she wants to see the same people who condemned Pepper’s sexual assault video call out racist material on Youtube.
“It’s not just about offending people or hurting their feelings. Using racism for comedy effect actually supports a culture of oppression,” she says. “It’s so important to analyze this, especially when you have an audience of millions… [of] impressionable young people that don’t understand the power of these words and don’t understand the institution of racism at all.”
Youtube can be a wonderful tool for creative and informative content – but it can also host offensive and problematic content, like Pepper’s “prank” or videos regurgitating racist stereotypes and calling it “comedy”. The responsibility for making sure that these types of videos are kept off Youtube not only relies on the creators, but on the viewer as well. Fortunately, the Youtube and Tumblr communities were quick to respond to Pepper’s video. In the future, the Internet community has to be active in keeping creators accountable for their actions in their videos and in their personal lives.
Image: Sam Pepper’s Twitter (@sampepper)
Megan Cathey is a sophomore from sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. She’s a Writing, Literature & Publishing major with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. Her interests include red lipstick, traveling to new places, and drinking copious amounts of iced tea and coffee. In 1998, she was kicked out of Sunshine Academy Preschool for throwing the time-out chair, so she’s challenged authority from the beginning.