By: Elina Rojas, Member-Candidate, J.D. Candidate, May 2019, St. Thomas University School of Law.

With the ever growing expansion of YouTube celebrities and influencers comes a dark side: sexual misconduct.  Sexual misconduct is an umbrella term for actions that are sexual in nature and are conducted without consent. Typically, sexual misconduct involves situations where power dynamics in the relationship are challenged. YouTube is an online video community that allows users to publicly post, share, and view original videos, with a forum for user comments and a platform for creating individual channels. YouTube allows the opportunity for users to create platforms revolving around content and amass followings of thousands and sometimes millions of fans. The content created is based on hobbies and interests such as makeup, gaming, video blogs (vlogging), music, and even pranking. Becoming a YouTube star not only comes with the opportunity to receive a paycheck from Youtube and have access to a massive audience, but also attending conventions such as VidCon, setting up meet and greets with fans, and even receiving endorsement deals.   As these users rise in the ranks of popularity among their fans, it can also open the door to sexual misconduct between the YouTube celebrity and their fans.

Such the case occurred with YouTuber LionMaker aka Marcus Wilton whose YouTube Channel focuses on the popular game Minecraft. LionMaker has been accused of engaging in a sexual relationship with one of his fans, Paige the Panda, whom was underage. LionMaker seemly confirmed this sexual relationship after tweeting nude photos of Paige. He is also accused of requesting nude photos from other YouTube fans including a 12 year old Chantelle Wiseman and a 16 year old Stephen Cheenks. Lionmaker has even had a “Booty in Your Face” contest in which fans, including underage fans, sent videos to the YouTube star shaking their “booties” in a provocative manner. LionMaker is only one of many cases in which YouTube stars have been accused of sexual misconduct. Other cases include YouTuber Yamimash aka Aaron Ash who sent nude and obscene photos to a 14 year old fan.

YouTube has community guidelines in place to protect users from videos that contain nudity or sexual content, violent or graphic content, harmful or dangerous content, hateful content, threats, spam, misleading metadata, or scams. YouTube sometimes removes content for reasons outside their community guidelines scope, including the safety of the person who posted a video, a first-party privacy complaint, court order, or other non-malicious issue. Their community guidelines involve a strike policy. A strike is issued if a video is flagged to YouTube administrators for a violation of the community guidelines. In that case, YouTube administrators remove the content and issue the video creator an email indicating the reasons why it was removed along with possible restrictions on YouTube features. Although there is no clear indication on what offenses lead to what restrictions.  If a second strike is issued within a three-month period then the YouTuber cannot post any content for two weeks. If a third strike is issued within a three-month period than the YouTuber’s account is terminated. However, strikes only last on the YouTuber’s account for a three-month period and even if their account is terminated there are few ways to prevent the user from opening a new account.

YouTube’s administrators attempt to regulate content and user behavior through community guidelines that are accepted by users once an account is created. However, these are just guidelines and users deserve more protection. Although these inappropriate interactions between YouTube stars and fans sometimes occur off the YouTube site, it should not limit YouTube’s duty to protect its users when it is the very platform that gives these individuals their rise to power and access to their audience. Currently, there is no legislation that forces social media giants like YouTube to report to law enforcement sexual misconduct committed by their users. Nonetheless, legislation should be developed to hold these companies accountable and deter sexual misconduct on online platforms. In an era where #TimesUp for sexual misconduct in the workplace, shouldn’t that also extend to  social media platforms such as YouTube where users spend so much of their lives?