Your Favourite Youtuber is Not Your Best Friend: Sexual Harassment on Youtube

Sexual danger in the Youtube community has been a hot topic ever since Sam Pepper’s infamous ‘social experiment’ in 2014 brought to light the sexual assault and harassment of dozens of fans from a number of male Youtubers: Sam Pepper, Alex Day, Tom Milsom, Ed Blann, Mike Lombardo, the list (unfortunately) goes on and on and on.

The Youtube community banded together to crack down on the exploitation of their platform, and to make fans – particularly young girls – aware of the dangers of interacting with their male idols. There was a huge emphasis put on the power dynamic between Youtuber and subscriber; Youtubers have a certain amount of influence over their fans, whether or not they’re aware of it, and it could make sexual relationships with fans a bit of a minefield. How far is a fan’s consent coerced by the awe-inspiring presence of their obsession? But there’s a flipside to this relationship; Shannon Harris, or Shaaanxo on Youtube, recently addressed this in several of her vlogs. The most recent is titled, very clearly, “STOP TOUCHING MY BOOBS”.

Shannon, a beauty Youtuber with over 2 million subscribers to her main channel, first brought up the topic of sexual harassment in her 98th vlog. She never refers to the behaviour as sexual harassment, and shows obvious discomfort in even discussing it. Skip to 2:41 to hear her story.

So this is the problem. Young fans have a sense of entitlement to their idols’ lives. It’s no surprise, when many Youtubers (including Shaaanxo) post daily vlogs in which you can follow their everyday activities, but that doesn’t make it even remotely okay. Fans can develop a false sense of friendship with their favourite Youtubers; on the one hand, this can make them vulnerable to abuse, but on the other hand, this might make them feel justified in grabbing and groping someone they don’t know, as has been the case for Shannon. A few searches on Youtube don’t yield many results on this topic. While there has (rightfully) been a lot of discussion about the responsibility of Youtubers, there isn’t nearly so much about the responsibility of fans. And perhaps this is partly because of the strange position Youtubers find themselves in – they aren’t exactly celebrities (and most seem very uncomfortable with calling themselves so) but they still have thousands, if not millions, of loyal viewers. It might be time to consider that the fans of Youtubers can be as inappropriate and fanatical as the fans of the biggest boyband of the moment.

It’s hard to imagine that Shaaanxo wants to be the face of this campaign. It’s an uncomfortable topic, and many people will argue that invasions of privacy come with the territory of being famous. Which is why this needs to be discussed, not just in terms of a few particular incidents in a nightclub in Wellington, but in terms of the threat any fan could pose to their favourite Youtuber, especially if that Youtuber is a woman. Male Youtubers face their own brand of bizarre behaviour from fans, but it is female Youtubers who seem to get the brunt of sexual harassment from viewers.

This is a message to anyone that feels this is unfair: if you meet a Youtuber you love, remember that to them, you’re a stranger. Grabbing someone’s boobs, or butt, or anywhere else, without their permission is 100% inappropriate. It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen their friends do it in their videos, or if they talk openly about their body (Shaaanxo cited her breast enhancement vlog series as the reason fans feel so comfortable groping her boobs in public). It’s unacceptable. Your favourite Youtuber isn’t your best friend, and even your best friend has to give permission before you grab at bits of their body.

The Youtube community has proven itself capable of affecting cultural change, and sparking productive conversations across social media. Hopefully Shaaanxo’s openness will make other Youtubers sit up and think: it’s time to change the conversation about sexual harassment.

Words by Sophie Jackson