Feminism / Internet

What’s Behind YouTube’s Sexual Assault Problem?

No, I have never heard of Tom Milsom. I’m not particularly fond of watching a blue-haired ninny sing weepy music into the Internet.

tom milsom blue haired ninny

Tom Milsom, blue-haired ninny PhD

But considering that this is, so far, the third or fourth case of sexual abuse from a YouTube celebrity associated with DFTBA Records, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing his name in a lot of places lately. DFTBA stands for Don’t Forget To Be Awesome, a sentence the Vlogbrothers, co-founders of DFTBA Records, used to say when they signed off at the end of videos to each other. In case you need catching up, here’s a simple timeline.

It’s weird. Each time it happens, the Vlogbrothers respond quickly, appropriately, and sensitively to those involved. Sadly, this is leaps and bounds ahead of what we’ve seen from other online communities, who are quick to defend friends who are “good guys, really” and condemn fans who are “looking for attention.” One cannot forget the shitstorm that occurred during the outing of Violentacrez (moderator of Reddit’s most charming sub-communities: r/jailbait, r/creepshots, and r/beatingwomen) that revealed loyalties among admin, moderators, and users across the website. But instead of defending Milsom, Hank Green writes:

I met Olga in 2010 at VidCon. She was a very smart, very clever, very cool young woman. I thought it was weird (but kinda cool) that Tom Milsom had found a cool fan who could hold her own with a bunch of the top-tier VidCon folks and let her behind the curtain a little bit. It never occurred to me that it would become more than that. And though I knew Olga remained part of that social sphere, I had no inkling that they had become a couple. I am horrified and extremely disappointed in myself that I was not able to realize that this was happening and put a stop to it…maybe even before it started.

Green also goes on to say that this scandal tested more than his business at DFTBA records. “Tom was my friend,” He says. “I looked up to him…I trusted him. I am furious…that’s all I can feel right now.” So, on the one hand, it’s good to know the company’s official stance on what to do when sexual assault happens to another non-celebrity member of their community. It’s appropriate, it’s no-nonsense, it’s exactly what most online communities should be doing. On the other hand, why the hell does it keep happening? Hank goes on to write:

My only consolation is that I honestly believe these issues are coming to light in this community not because they are more common, but because we are more empowered to speak out and not hide from or cover them up.

I don’t know if I can feel the same sort of consolation. There is the obvious pattern of the abusers being white, “sensitive-guy” musicians (possibly even some who at one point identified as feminists) soliciting, manipulating, and abusing young teenage girls who are fans of their work. But there is the less obvious fact that women account for less than 10% of artists featured on DFTBA Records. Some noted that very few women associated with DFTBA spoke out about the scandal, leaving Maureen Johnson and Melissa Anelli as the only women who commented. And while Hank Green has put up a video about sexual abuse, consent, and culture in response to the scandal, it is yet another good response, but it’s not as good as it could be. It’s an ally who leads and dominates the conversation over someone who would or could definitely have far more insight and personal experience.


Further, DFTBA is run by men, and most of their featured artists are men. The men who run it are sensitive to these issues, but these issues are not vitally important to them. They want to foster a happy, healthy, YouTube community that does good things for the world. DFTBA represents a great and respected community of artists and Internet personalities. Artists will abide by its politics and adjust, but it does not mean they actively practice them. What’s more important is that they get to be a part of a community of awesome people and get exposure. They may believe in feminism, or they may not, but there’s no real guarantee. In the end, they find themselves on one side of a power imbalance and end up abusing it, and abusing the person on the other end.

This is what happens when young men join a community that emphasizes the importance of feminism, but they have no clue what feminism means. They self-identify as feminists without actively participating in feminism, or feminist thought. This is what happens when you have allies running the show. An ally is someone for whom the struggle isn’t real, and can’t empathize with those who are abused. No matter how sensitive you are, or how much you care, or how much anger you feel when a friend ultimately turns out to be a despicable person, even the most well meaning ally has a blind spot. The response is good, but it does nothing to stop abuse.


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