David Dobrik, Durte Dom, and a Call to Deplatform Predators

One of the most well-known names in the social media sphere is 24-year-old David Dobrik, who has soared into the upper echelon of digital content creators since his debut on the now defunct Vine app in 2013. He’s enjoyed nearly a decade in the spotlight, millions of followers, and millions of dollars. He’s been instrumental in challenging the barrier between social media influencers and “real celebrities.” He’s appeared on The Tonight Show, Kelly and Ryan, and even The Drew Barrymore Show.

However, incidents of racism and sexual assault portrayed in vlogs posted by Dobrik over the course of his career may just cause his downfall.

Dobrik is best known for his YouTube channel where (pre-pandemic) he posted daily short-form—4 minutes and 20 seconds long each, to be exact—vlog style videos featuring a group of Los Angeles-based influencers and himself, together making up the ‘Vlog Squad.’ His main self-titled YouTube channel has been inactive since April 24, 2020--bar a couple recent apology videos.

Perhaps the Wall Street Journal put it best when they described his content as “half Jackass, half Ellen.” His YouTube videos originally centered around his friends—the aforementioned Vlog Squad—drinking, partying, and pulling pranks on each other (half Jackass). As Dobrik’s audience grew and money started flowing in from ads and brand sponsorships, his videos started to feature him giving his friends luxury cars as gifts, and generally flexing his wealth (half Ellen).

Whether directly or indirectly, the members of the Vlog Squad became well known via a marketing tactic common in the boyband world: each member is reduced to a single characteristic, and they are expected to play up that aspect of their personality until they’re essentially a caricature of themselves. 

While boybands like One Direction found success through basic, positive archetypes—Zayn the “bad boy;” Harry the “heartthrob”—Dobrik’s larger cast had room for unsavory and bizarre character types to slip in.

While he had a “bad boy” in Toddy Smith and a “shy guy” in Alex Ernst, he also had: “short guy” Big Nik, a 22-year-old born with a rare form of dwarfism who was ridiculed in the vlogs for his height; “old creep” Jason Nash, a 47-year-old who is mocked for being 20 years older than all of his friends; and Dominic “Durte Dom” Zeglaitis, a 26-year-old whose entire schtick is being a “sex addict,” being too forward with women, and, generally, being a creep.

“Durte Dom,” it turns out, was not playing a character at all.

A Business Insider article by Kat Tenbarge published on March 16 alleges that Zeglaitis raped a college student in 2018. The college student and her friends are referred to by pseudonyms.

“Hannah” alleges that Zeglaitis raped her when she was intoxicated to the point that she could not consent. According to her, members of the Vlog Squad procured alcohol for everyone, even though she and her friends were not of legal drinking age. She drank to the point of blacking out, and engaged in sexual activities with Zeglaitis, as well as one of her friends, in his bedroom. In the vlog, during the sexual altercation, other members of the Vlog Squad can be seen poking their heads into the room.

According to Hannah’s friend Sarah, who stayed sober that night because she was the designated driver, she found Hannah lying “limp” on the bed after Zeglaitis left the room, and walked her to the bathroom to help her throw up. Hannah didn’t know that she had been in a sexual situation at all that night until Sarah told her the next morning, and didn’t have the realization that she had been raped until nearly a month later.

The vlog featuring the alleged rape had nearly 10 million views when Hannah reached out to Zeglaitis and requested that it was taken off YouTube. The video has since been deleted.

It’s not uncommon for a brief period of time to pass after a sexual assault wherein the victim doesn’t recognize what happened as assault. Loyola University Maryland lists feelings of guilt among the most common responses to sexual assault, typically due to self-blame. This study published by National Center for Biotechnology Information, a branch of the US National Library of Medicine, found that levels of self-blame were higher in victims who were drunk when they were assaulted, and that victims who experience the highest levels of self-blame are the least likely to report their assaults.

Furnishing alcohol to minors in California is considered a serious misdemeanor, and whoever furnished the alcohol is subject to civil liability—meaning, if the minor causes serious injury to themselves or somebody else, the provider of the alcohol can be held liable. Such a crime can potentially lead to a fine of $1,000 and up to a year in prison. Under California Penal Code section 261, having sex with someone who you know is intoxicated to the point of being “prevented from resisting” is considered rape in California.

Hannah also accuses multiple members of the Vlog Squad of peeking their heads into the room, without permission, to get a look at the threesome. Jeff Wittek and Nick Antonyan are shown looking into the room in the original vlog. The legal term for this is voyeurism, and California’s “Peeping Tom Laws” make it a misdemeanor to watch or record someone who has a reasonable expectation of privacy, especially when they’re engaging in sexual activity.

The allegations are legitimate, and carry real potential consequences. There’s literal video evidence. So how does Durte Dom--and Wittek, Antonyan, Smith, and Dobrik--still have a platform on YouTube? Especially after using the platform to document abuse?

Hannah isn’t the first woman to accuse Zeglaitis of sexual assault. In a video posted on June 28, 2017, YouTuber Ally Hardesty posted a video titled “DURTE DOM EXPOSED: My Story.” In the video, Hardesty explains that during a VidCon after-party in 2017, Durte Dom intimidated her, forced himself on her, and groped her. 

At the time it was posted, the video was flooded with over 16,000 dislikes—far more dislikes than likes—and thousands of negative comments that ranged from victim blaming sentiments to full-on insults to brazen support for Durte Dom.

“Im sorry but again u knew his intentions your friends told u who he is and what he does yet u still proceeded to follow him into this other room and then when your in a situation like this u start complaining” reads one comment from 3 years ago.

“So in a room full of content creators and people, no one can back up your story?” another 3 year old comment doubts the validity of Hardesty’s story.

“Whos on Doms side ? Bc I sure am lmao” asserts a comment with 795 likes.

“Sorry gotta give you a side eye for monetizing this video :/“ a commenter complains. Many commenters shared the sentiment, believing that because Hardesty received money from the ads on the video, her allegations were somehow null and void.

“Your eyebrows are different shapes and sizes” a commenter digs, followed by three laughing emojis.

Commenters also attacked Hardesty for ‘sneaking in’ to an 18+ YouTube event at the age of 15. Somehow, sneaking in to a space she shouldn’t have technically been in made the sexual assault even more of her fault than if she’d been of-age. Despite the fact that 15-year-olds famously have worse judgment than adults, and can’t be expected to foresee the kinds of negative consequences to their actions that adults might. That being said, whether she was 15 or 50, a woman spending time in the proximity of someone who gives her a bad vibe is not an invitation nor an excuse for sexual assault.

Even more unsettling, the litany of comments that are misspelled and have poor grammar generally seem to come from a much younger audience who don’t even feel a need to defend Durte Dom. Instead, they commend him for what he did.

“Does not take a no for a answer, what a rael man”

These particular comments are alarming, if only because it reminds us that Zegaitis’—and by extension, Dobrik’s—audience is full of children as well as teenagers and young adults. This kind of content, primarily consumed by young people, is key in perpetuating rape culture.

The content Dobrik created was watched by children who were still learning right from wrong, and the Durte Dom “character” influenced their understanding of consent, and warped their understanding of sex and sexuality. Not only Zeglaitis, but the entire Vlog Squad and their obsession with pulling boundary-pushing pranks on each other, could influence young viewers to take pleasure in making others uncomfortable. This Vox article goes into more detail about the negative effects of the Vlog Squad’s constant attempts to “[stretch] the limits of consent.”

Recent comments on Hardesty’s video, in light of the Business Insider article, have been extremely positive and supportive. The like to dislike ratio has finally shifted in her favor.

Reading through those old comments brought me back to a bad situation in my own life. When it happened, the first thing my (ex) best friend said to me was, “That’s just *name,* you knew he was crazy, what did you honestly expect?” A classic psalm from the victim blaming bible.

Victim blaming allows predators to continue hurting people. You knew he was creepy, you knew he was crazy, you should have known better and it’s your fault for putting yourself in that situation. As if, as victims, we aren’t already saying these things to ourselves. As if, as victims, we don’t already feel immense guilt and shame for being in those situations in the first place. As if, as women, we have not internalized the idea that what a man does to us is our fault before it is ever his. Your skirt was short, how could he resist the temptation? You were drunk and flirtatious, don’t you think you owed him something?

1 in 5 women, and 1 in 16 men, will experience sexual assault in college. If your first instinct when someone shares with you that they were sexually assaulted is to consider what they did to put themselves in that situation, you are a part of the problem. You are a contributor to rape culture. You are a part of the reason why 63% of rapes go unreported. You are part of the culture that enables men like Zeglaitis, despite multiple allegations of sexual assault, to keep his platform and continue making content and money with zero consequence.

Thanks to Tenbarge’s reporting at Business Insider, Zeglaitis is finally being held accountable for his actions, along with Dobrik and the rest of the people complicit in Hannah’s assault. Zeglaitis released a statement about the allegations titled “Addressing the Drama,” in which he takes zero accountability, and reduces what he did to Hannah to mere ‘drama.’ Dobrik has been taking a more direct approach to responding to the allegations against Zeglaitis, himself, and the vlog squad on the whole. Both Zeglaitis’ channel and all three of Dobrik’s channels have been demonetized by YouTube.

Dobrik has released two separate apologies in the wake of the scandal. 

His first apology video was titled “Let’s talk” with a 2:32 runtime. He posted it to his third channel, where he uploads recordings of his podcast. The channel has fewer than 2 million subscribers, a number dwarfed by the 18.7 million subs on his main channel. Dobrik disabled comments and the “like to dislike” ratio. Ironic, considering the title implies that he wanted to start a dialogue with his fans. This apology was poorly received, because Dobrik essentially blames everyone but himself, claiming, “I don’t stand for any kind of misconduct and—I just—I’ve been really disappointed by some of my friends, and for that reason I’ve separated from a lot of them.”

Dobrik’s refusal to take accountability didn’t do him many favors. In the following days, he was dropped by many of his big name sponsors, including DoorDash, HelloFresh, SeatGeek and EA Sports. He also stepped down from the app “Dispo,” a disposable camera app he co-founded in 2019.

He released a second apology video after being abandoned by his sponsors. The second video seemed to get right much of what the first one got wrong: posted to his main channel with comments enabled and a transparent like-to-dislike ratio, featuring a genuine attempt to take accountability delivered in a much more sincere tone. However, he essentially just gave viewers what they wanted after receiving criticism for his first apology. His demeanor is on the border of caring and calculated. He gets emotional, but strategically cuts the video each time it seems as though he is about to cry. This way, he makes it clear he’s upset, but ensures he won’t be subject to accusations of emotional manipulation.

During the video, Dobrik directly addresses the sexual assault allegations against Durte Dom, starting off by saying he believes Hannah about what happened that night. He goes on to say, “I want to apologize to her and her friends for ever putting them in an environment, that I enabled, that made them feel like their safety and values were compromised. I am so sorry.”

Dobrik goes on to say that he will be employing an HR team because he wants to “be able to have a place of checks and balances” so that people can “communicate discomfort in a way that’s comfortable to them, where they don’t feel like their emotions, or what they’re doing, or how they’re acting is compromised.” He also mentions that he will be taking a break from social media to implement this, and although he won’t be going back to posting like normal he won’t be “going completely dark” either.

Although he’s been entrenched in drama, his channel hasn’t taken a very large hit. His subscribers have remained loyal. His reputation has been tainted and sponsors have fled, but it’s likely that he’ll financially (and publicly) recover. There will always be new sponsors.

Zeglaitis’ failure to apologize should not be overlooked. And perhaps it should be up to the social media platforms that give these people—predators like Zeglaitis—their status and power, to remove them from the platform when something like this happens. If not for YouTube, Zeglaitis wouldn’t have been in a position to sexually assault Hardesty or Hannah, so why does he still have a channel?

There comes a point when demonetization is not enough, and the only sensible option is to deplatform, and it’s time that we, as viewers, start calling on YouTube to do so. YouTube itself should be held accountable for its complacence in situations where known predators have access to their fans. Durte Dom is still on there. James Charles, who posted a video to YouTube to admit to having inappropriate contact with minors, after being accused by 16 different boys, is still on the platform.

YouTube removes videos that openly talk about or feature marijuana use, use profanity, and even videos about the coronavirus pandemic. And yet, YouTube refuses to take action against known, self-admitted, predators with multiple allegations against them. What benefit do sexual predators serve YouTube?

YouTube, it’s time to deplatform sexual predators. It’s time to take away the only thing that gives these social media influencers the power to prey on their victims: their status. Terminate their channels, eliminate their access to power and wealth, and deny them the opportunity to “bounce back” from sexually assaulting and harassing people. Otherwise, you’re complicit in the crimes they commit in the future. And without consequences, they will commit them again.