CW: The following article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
David Dobrik and his “Vlog Squad” are amongst the internet’s biggest and most popular social media stars and influencers of our generation, whom are currently under fire amid the recent sexual assault allegations against them. Dobrik’s claim to fame started on Vine, but he quickly rose to YouTube back in 2017 and has now accumulated 18,9 million subscribers on the platform. However, he’s since lost nearly 400 000 of those followers amidst the allegations, of rape and sexual misconduct, against his former Vlog Squad member, Dom Zeglaitis. While these allegations surrounding such a prominent member in the YouTube community might be shocking, they also evidently play into the vicious cycle of patriarchal dominance and the abuse of power.
These allegations come at a time where the issue of gender-based violence is at its worst. South Africa has faced one of the worst cases of femicide since the pandemic started, as well as the tragic death of Sarah Everard who was kidnapped and murdered in the United Kingdom, and the overwhelming number of GBV cases world-wide. This goes beyond “cancel culture” as Dobrik and his Squad are prime examples of the problems of having too much fame, money and power and how this is being used as a tool to silence and abuse women.
A woman, under the alias “Hannah”, recently came forward with the allegations and explained that in 2018, she and her friends were invited to hang out with the Vlog squad, in which Dobrik filmed, and later posted, a video of the events that day. In the video titled “SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE PLAYED WITH FIRE”, which has since been deleted, Hannah and her friends are shown being talked into having a threesome with Zeglaitis (also known as ‘Durte Dom’) by members of the Vlog Squad. According to Hannah, the nature of this conversation seemed playful and assumed it to be a joke. But later, she found herself traumatised by the events that followed. In the video itself it is also clear that Dobrik and the rest of his squad had to “convince” these girls to “agree” to have the threesome with Zeglaitis, which was portrayed as consensual but later proved otherwise. In the video Dobrik says “but by some stroke of luck and master negotiating, Dom made progress”, after which he films the girls entering what looks to be Zeglaitis’ bedroom.
In an article published by Business Insider, a phone interview with survivor – Hannah, is described in which she accuses Zeglaitis of rape and performing sexual activities with her while she was incapacitated. The interview also explains how Hannah and her friends were not of legal drinking age at the time the video was filmed, yet members of the Vlog Squad provided them with the alcohol. This was later the result of Hannah being so intoxicated that she could not give consent that night.
In light of these allegations, Dobrik initially released an “apology” video addressing the backlash he’d been facing, which did not directly address the allegations against former Vlog Squad member – Zeglaitis, while he also tried to distance himself from the entire situation. After the publication of this video, more backlash followed as fans and other viewers nation-wide felt Dobrik did not take accountability on the part he played in allowing these kinds of environments to exist. Many brands have also started to distance themselves from Dobrik, resulting in him losing almost all his sponsorship deals. This includes him having to step down from the app Dispo, which he co-founded and is currently valued at 100 million dollars, according to a statement the company released through The Information. Dobrik then released a second apology video in which he acknowledged the role he played. Zeglaitis has also released an “apology” video titled “addressing the drama” - no legal actions have been taken against the former vlog squad member as of yet.
While many internet users are conflicted about the situation in terms of Dobrik’s involvement, the consensus is clear that Zeglaitis should face the full weight of the legal implications regarding his actions. Dobrik’s involvement however, speaks to another problem of abuse in power, and enabling problematic behaviour on his youtube channel. This creates the kind of space for sexual abuse to exist and thrive behind differnt kinds of comedic content that is being produced on Youtube channels.
The recent allegations against Dobrik and Zeglaitis is not something new as many women who were involved in other similar videos surrounding the same nature and circumstances of Hannah’s story, have surfaced. Many of these women are now sharing the similarities in their experiences. Another user on TikTok, named @Aubryanrae, describes a similar situation where Dobrik tells her and her friend that in order for them to be featured in the vlog they would need to drink alcohol and kiss Zeglaitis. She also recalls how the squad would provide a lot of alcohol for them to the point where they would get drunk, and only after would Dobrik then encourage them to engage in sexual activities (like in this specific women’s case – a threesome).
In another TikTok video, @Aubryanrae described how Dobrik himself would provoke these kinds of situations to happen, even though Zeglaitis was the guilty party for his sexual advances on the women. These kinds of actions on the part of Dobrik has allowed and created a space for Zeglaitis to prey on women when in their most vulnerable state. More so, the problem also lies in the fact that Dobrik would assert his power over these women who appeared on his YouTube channel, by encouraging them to do certain things, so that they’d be featured on his vlog.
This kind of behaviour is not only problematic but also dangerous, as their actions put others at risk of harm. Both Dobrik and Zeglaitis took advantage of their fame and influence and should be held accountable. How society and internet users who follow these influencers respond will say a lot about how these kinds of accusations are dealt with, in the face of those who are rich and famous. Just because someone is a “good guy”, as Dobrik is so often described, should not take away from the part he played in allowing these events to unfold. Further, allowing the endangerment of the women he used, and allowed to be abused, all in the name of “creating content”.