YouTube influencer backlash


(From left) YouTube stars Jeffree Star, Manny Gutierrez and James Charles are among the world’s top-ranked beauty and make-up influencers. Photo: Getty Images

Ben Labadia, Associate Producer, Quinnipiac Tonight

YouTube has been buzzing lately with a recent vocal pandemic that has spread throughout a small community of large-platformed YouTube celebrities. These influencers are mainly those considered to be “Beauty Gurus.” The affected have been receiving backlash in the form of cancellations to their brands after a surge of information from both their pasts and presents have come to light, as well as engaging in the defamation of character of their opponents. 

According to the Search Engine Journal, YouTube is the second most used global search engine aside from its parent company, Google, and has livened up the world for 15 years.

The website has been the hub of videos relating from entertainment content, vlogs, cooking shows, and comedy, to sports and news interests. The activity and traffic on YouTube has been reaching 2 billion viewers every month, a truly astonishing statistic, according to YouTube. 

However, many of its leading names are not supporting the open-minded, safe space YouTube intends to offer.

Over one year ago, on May 10, 2019, Tati Westbrook, a beauty YouTuber of almost a decade, released a video titled “Bye Sister,” in which she revealed details that 19-year-old James Charles was behaving in a predatory manner.

The 43-minute video took a hard hit on Charles’ YouTube channel and personal and business brands, reducing his subscriber count from 16.5 million to 14.5 million. To this day, Charles revealed his thoughts of suicide over the backlash he received.

Come June 30, 2020, Westbrook releases another video, titled “Breaking My Silence…” in which she reveals her video the year prior had been the cause of false information being fed to her by Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star, YouTubers whose channels have 22 million and 17.6 million subscribers, respectively.


Both very powerful people on the platform, Westbrook explains that she was coerced into making her video out of fear for Charles’ reputation, after Star sent her an unconfirmed recording of one of Charles’ alleged assault victims. Throughout the video, she reads from an official statement that she wrote and was approved by her legal team. 

Shane Dawson, a personality known for both his old style of crude, racy comedy, and more recent style of being somewhat of a documentarian, has been hit heavily by this wave of toxicity. Dawson’s past humor has also resurfaced, which include instances of him being openly racist, homophobic, and predatorial. On one occasion, Dawson made an offensive remark regarding the recent death of Trayvon Martin, the black boy killed by a white police officer who was acquitted. The Black Lives Matter movement, which was coined after Martin’s death, has risen to great heights this year after George Floyd, another black man, was killed at the hands of another white police officer, who also had not received punishment. With the resurgence of the movement, many former fans of Dawson have been searching more into his past to further resurface offensive content produced by Dawson, some of which involved black face. The unacceptable nature of this “humor” in the state of our world today has led to a downfall of Dawson’s personal and business images. 

In addition, a predatorial video of Dawson insinuating masturbation over a poster of 11-year-old Willow Smith was uncovered, and the Smith family had something to say about it on Twitter.

Jaden Smith stated he was “disgusted” by these actions towards his sister, and Jada Pinkett Smith said she was “done with [Dawson’s] excuses.”

Dawson released an eye shadow palette, The Conspiracy Palette, with partner Jeffree Star, in 2019, along with a YouTube series, The Beautiful World of Jeffree Star, about the process of making his brand. However, Morphe, the makeup corporation through which Dawson and Star collaborated with on their palette, pulled all of Dawson’s line from stores both on ground and online, according to the official Morphe Twitter account. 

Dawson’s 20-minute apology video was posted June 26, 2020, and, to prevent him from making a profit from it, YouTube chose to demonetize his channel.

Now, Dawson is not the only one affected by these conflicts. Star, Dawson’s partner on the Conspiracy palette and YouTube series, is the owner of Jeffree Star Cosmetics, a multi-million-dollar company which had its latest palette release, Cremated, in May, 2020. Star also works in collaboration with Morphe. As Star’s racist past continually resurfaced and the details regarding the drama between Westbrook and Charles were laid out, Morphe chose to cut ties with Star’s brand as well, releasing a statement on Twitter. Star has made a statement regarding this removal of ties with Morphe, speaking in a positive light of all they have accomplished and the further achievements Star plans to work towards.

Despite the backlash, Charles’ YouTube account has recovered, and his subscriber count on YouTube has reached 20.1 million. He has chosen to move on from the past drama. The same might not be possible, however, for those who have attacked him.

With all this being said, YouTube needs to take accountability for the people they allow to be the ambassadors of their platform. Through monetization, many YouTubers find themselves to be employees of this company, making content to drive ad revenue. Therefore, the claims regarding Charles’ sexual assault, Shane’s predatorial advances, and many other illegal accusations, should be thoroughly investigated.

Not only do they represent a company, but many of their millions of followers are children who look up to them as role models. Getting away with potential crimes, defamation of character, and the morally wrong instances of racism and prejudices toward marginalized groups, should not be allowed. YouTube should take charge of their influencers, hold them accountable, as they have by demonetizing Dawson’s channel, and push towards a more tolerant and image-conscious future.