Content warning: This piece describes instances of sexual violence and harassment and links to firsthand accounts of these instances, which can be disturbing or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.
You’ve probably heard that David Dobrik has been canceled for accusations of enabling sexual assault. You’ve probably also heard that companies left and right have cut ties or deplatformed him over the past few weeks. That might seem like the end of the story for another celebrity who’s abused his power. But don’t scroll past the controversy just yet. Dobrik’s scandal reveals a deeper problem with our fast–paced social media culture: We ignore warning signs of problematic behavior until it’s too late.
In a recent article written by Kat Tenbarge of Insider, a former Vlog Squad extra (referred to by the pseudonym Hannah in the article) accused Dominykas Zeglaitis, also known as “Durte Dom,” of sexually assaulting her during the filming of a video posted by Dobrik in 2018. Zeglaitis invited Hannah and her friends to participate in the video and “hook up” with him. Due to the dramatized nature of his character in the vlogs, these women were unsure whether or not they were actually supposed to have sex with him.
In a recent phone interview, Hannah describes the allegations in detail, stating that Zeglaitis "engag[ed] in sexual activity with her that night while she was so incapacitated by alcohol that she could not consent," according to Insider. She also recalls feeling very uncomfortable by comments made by Vlog Squad members, such as when Jason Nash said to Hannah and her friends, "Oh, you have a personality? Hot girls like you usually don't.” She also describes disturbing types of coercion used throughout the night of filming, ranging from making pressuring comments to blocking exits.
Since Insider published the article, Dobrik and the Vlog Squad have received immense backlash. Dobrik’s YouTube channel, which has 18.5 million subscribers, has been demonetized. At least 13 brands have also cut ties with Dobrik. On March 19, Angel City Football Club, a soccer team that Dobrik previously owned, dropped him after expressing that the news completely challenges the club's values. On March 22, Spark Capital, a venture capital firm that had provided funding for Dobrik’s app Dispo, announced in a tweet that it was stepping down from its position on the Dispo board. Dobrik has since stepped down from the Dispo board as well.
Before any brands cut ties with Dobrik and his business endeavors, Dobrik posted a video to his podcast channel—which notably has fewer subscribers than his main channel—on March 16 titled “Let’s talk.” In the video, he refers to “stuff with Dom” and apologizes to an unnamed Vlog Squad member who claimed that working with Dobrik’s channel made him uncomfortable at times. But the video felt more like a disingenuous and shallow attempt to clear his name than a genuine apology. About a week later, after brands began distancing themselves from the YouTuber, Dobrik posted another video to his main channel, which was nothing short of a confirmation of his flippant approach to the situation. When it takes a week of losing brand deals and a jeopardized career to apologize to someone you allowed to be harmed, it’s difficult to assume genuine intentions.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this situation is that it isn't the first time. In response to a wave of allegations in 2017 that sparked the hashtag #DurteDomIsOverParty, YouTuber Ally Hardesty published a video titled "DURTE DOM EXPOSED: My Story," outlining an incident where Zeglaitis groped and kissed her without consent. In a recent video made after the new allegations came to light, Hardesty describes the damage Dobrik did by ignoring her in 2017: "Dom's the one who assaulted me, but David didn't stand up for me. He didn't believe me." Dobrik even mentioned Hardesty in his second apology video and said he regrets not believing the women who came forward in 2017 and 2018. But this all begs the question: Why didn't people listen the first time?
The way Dobrik and the Vlog Squad have responded to this allegation is not only representative of their own tendencies to ignore harm caused by their friends, but also of how our society as a whole continues to normalize sexual violence. In his second apology video, Dobrik says, "I want to apologize to [Hannah] and her friends for ever putting them in an environment that I enabled that made them feel like their safety and values were compromised.”
He also says that he didn't know or understand the power dynamics created by his video production process, and that he stopped working with Zeglaitis in 2019. But the language he uses ignores that he and the Vlog Squad are directly to blame. Saying things like “made them feel like their safety and values were compromised” is a prime example of avoiding blame by shifting focus away from one's own actions.
Hannah and her friends don’t feel like their safety and values were compromised. They were compromised—end of story.
Such shallow apologies that shift blame to victims, accept sexual violence as a normal part of life, and refer to the existence of “false accusations” ultimately create a space where the harm and trauma caused by this type of violence are swept under the rug. Our society continuously harms people who experience sexual violence by refusing to assign full responsibility to perpetrators and enablers—and Dobrik and the Vlog Squad are no different.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only problem this situation has revealed. Since the news broke about the sexual assault allegations, stories and examples of the Vlog Squad's racism, sexism, and homophobia have also flooded the internet. Twitter threads showing anti–Asian racism from Dobrik and ex–girlfriend Liza Koshy were among some of the most disturbing examples of the Vlog Squad's harmful behaviors. Although some of these situations happened as long as four years ago, these reports are only now gaining traction on social media.
Now that people have made more 'serious' accusations against a former Vlog Squad member, other issues that could have seemed less overtly harmful, like racist comments and content that indirectly promotes sexual violence, are finally starting to gain the recognition they deserve. But none of these issues were ever minor. Treating them as such is what allowed Zeglaitis to continue causing harm. If everyone had listened to the supposedly 'less harmful' accusations of rape jokes, racism, and forms of hate speech that happened all along, perhaps Zeglaitis would have been deplatformed sooner.
It's not enough to retroactively condemn celebrities for past behaviors. It's vital to believe survivors in the present moment, give them support, and hold people who cause harm accountable—whether they’re famous or not. We need to start listening to allegations when they’re made, and stop treating sexual violence, racism, and other acts of hateful violence like minor scandals—before they happen again.
The HELP Line: 215–898–HELP: A 24–hour–a–day phone number for members of the Penn community who seek help in navigating Penn's resources for health and wellness.
WOAR Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence: 215-985-3333: A 24–hour–a–day hotline which provides support, information, referral guidance, and the coordination of therapy services for people who have experienced sexual violence.
Counseling and Psychological Services: 215–898–7021 (active 24/7): The counseling center for the University of Pennsylvania. They have a dedicated Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention (STTOP) Team to provide support specifically related to sexual violence and abuse.
Student Health Service: 215–746–3535: Student Health Service can provide medical evaluations and treatment to victims/survivors of sexual violence, regardless of whether they make an official report or seek additional resources.