YouTube has been around since 2005 and you better believe with millions upon millions of hours of content available, it’s had a few controversies to overcome in its done. Some of them were funny, some tragic, and some unbelievable.
Here are the 25 Biggest YouTube Controversies of All Time, and take a look back at the platform’s biggest controversies that sparked endless debates and discussions.
ImJayStation Faked His Girlfriend’s Death
Faking someone’s death and pretending it’s for real is probably never a good idea but that didn’t stop ImJayStation from doing it. The YouTuber, who’d already had a history of small crimes and controversies, made a video claiming his girlfriend has been killed by a drunk driver. He milked this story for a while and even pretended to contact her with a Ouija board before coming clean. She ended up leaving him and he was later arrested for an assault and finally YouTube had enough and banned him.
Fantastic Adventures Abuse
With over 200 million views and 700k subscribers, Fantastic Adventures was hugely popular until the channel, which showcased a woman and her kids being goofy was revealed to hide a terrible secret. Machelle Hackney, the adopted mother of the kids, was horribly abusing them off camera and making them perform to reap the rewards of viral fame. Kids who messed up were pepper sprayed, starved, denied use of bathrooms, and much worse. Hackney was eventually arrested.
Nicole Arbour’s Bad Joke
Stand up comedian Nicole Arbour posted a rant against fat people back in 2015. Her intention was that it would be considered acerbic and funny which is definitely a style of comedy some people excel at. Unfortunately for Arbour, most people didn’t take it that way. It came off as cruel and petty and essentially bigoted against overweight people.
The backlash was so strong that Arbour, who was slowly becoming more well known at the time, ended up losing out on a choreography gig for a film before trying to defend herself on The View.
Between 2007 and 2017, Austin Jones had amassed a large following on YouTube thanks to his videos in which he sang a capella covers of popular songs. In 2015, allegations of him acting inappropriately with underage female fans began to surface. Nothing came of it until 2017 when Jones was finally arrested for receipt of child pornography. He also confessed to encouraging numerous underage teen fans to make sexually explicit videos for him.
If this wasn’t bad enough, YouTube initially refused to remove his videos because, in their words, they weren’t closely related to his crimes. However, after the backlash they received for keeping them up, his channel was deleted a short time later.
The React Scandal
Reaction videos have been big on YouTube for years and the Fine Brothers channel was arguably the biggest producer of these with their series of “Kids React” and “Elders React” and so on. The idea was very simple – show a group of people a thing they were unfamiliar with and film the reaction. It’s good, clean fun. But the Fine Brothers got a little greedy.
They decided they’d try to trademark the word “react” and license reaction videos, as a content format, to other content creators in a way that would allow them to receive a portion of profits. Essentially, they want anyone making reaction videos to pay them. This went over terribly and in the end cost them hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Myka Stauffer’s Adopted Son
There’s a lot of concern these days around YouTubers who seem to be exploiting their kids for clicks and this list includes a few of the worst cases. Myka Stauffer took things to a whole new level after adopting a son from China and including him in her YouTube content which focused on her life as a mother and her family in general.
After two years, things got super weird when the boy was no longer featured in any videos and Stauffer admitted that he’d been “re-homed,” using the word most people would use for a dog. The backlash was harsh, costing her followers and partnerships.
Viacom vs YouTube
In 2007, Viacom sued YouTube for $1 billion because YouTube was hosting so much copyrighted content. YouTube argued it wasn’t their fault, they only host the content and can’t be responsible for users. In the end, the suit was settled out of court in 2014.
The Stokes Twins Robberies
As we’ll see, a lot of YouTube prank ideas ended badly for the YouTubers involved, and that was true of the Stokes twins. They’re still huge today but the ride to fame was bumpy. In 2020 they faced a series of charges from a pair of fake robbery pranks including false imprisonment. In the end they reached a plea deal and performed 160 hours of community service.
One of the biggest YouTubers of all time, Shane Dawson has had more than his share of controversy. He’s been criticized for being racist including the use of blackface in the past, jokes about pedophilia and other disturbing cats, and sexualizing Willow Smith when she was still a child. YouTube ended up suspending monetization of his channels in 2020 and he ended up taking over a year off from the site.
Arguably one of YouTube’s strangest controversies dates back to 2016 and involved a French YouTuber and several other international accounts that he’d simply been stealing from. Turns out the French creator was less a creator and more a plagiarist. He would reproduce videos from American YouTubers, and those in other countries, translating their work into French word for word, and even staging the videos the same way.
Sam Pepper’s Fake Kidnapping and Murder
Pranking on YouTube can go very wrong and in the case of Sam Pepper it can blow up in your face. Having already been the subject of previously controversial videos, Pepper uploaded one called “Killing Best Friend Prank” in 2015. In this video, a disguised Pepper kidnaps two men and makes one watch as he shoots the other. It was all fake and later revealed that all three were in on it, not just the fake victim and Pepper, but it didn’t matter. The disturbing video made people call for Pepper’s removal and his response, setting up a GoFundMe to demand $1.5 million in exchange for quitting YouTube, only made it worse.
Like so many other YouTubers, Jeffree Star built a huge following and then couldn’t seem to resist being racist on a regular basis. Unlike some, it hasn’t really hurt Star’s brand all that much. He’s made millions as a beauty blogger and has his own cosmetics line despite a history of racist statements.
Dobrik was one of the biggest stars on YouTube with over 20 million followers and a fortune at his fingertips. Then the house of cards he built fell down under him when people started coming forward with what sort of guy he was in real life. Here’s a hint – it ain’t good. Multiple allegations arose accusing him of bullying and also sexual assault. He lost numerous subscribers and partnerships but his channel survived and he eventually began posting again, only to later be sued by fellow Vlog Squad member Jeff Wittek who was badly injured in a stunt he blamed Dobrik for taking too far.
One of the oldest and most well known YouTubers, Jenna Marbles was basically YouTube royalty, an OG from back in the day. Until 2020 when everything blew up. Old videos surfaced showing Jenna engaging in some racist behavior which is a weirdly common thing for a lot of YouTubers, isn’t it? Anyway, she made the anticipated apology video for what she’d done but then surprised everyone by also quitting YouTube entirely.
The Pregnancy Reversal
People love a heartwarming video whether it’s a soldier coming home to their excited dog or a pregnancy reveal. When a Texas couple flipped the script with a video in which the husband secretly used his wife’s pee on a pregnancy test to reveal to her she was pregnant, people loved it. Millions of views rolled in but some people, especially doctors, raised a few red flags. Using pee in a toilet is not a super accurate way to test for pregnancy. It seemed like maybe the couple were just clout chasers, and no one likes a clout chaser. Further proof? They titled a video “We’re Going Viral!”
Fast forward a few days and then the couple reveal they had a miscarriage. Super sad news, except to the people who thought the whole story was fake to begin with. The couple never admitted they faked anything, but they did admit to spending years trying to become virally famous. Take from that what you will.
The Toothpaste Oreo
YouTube and prank videos have a long history and many people today may not remember that, in the race to the top, a lot of pranksters got really dark. Pranks made innocent people the butt of jokes and that came back to bite some of them in the butt, like in the case of YouTuber ReSet who pranked a homeless man with an Oreo filled with toothpaste.
The mean-spirited joke got him charged with a crime. He was found guilty of violating the moral integrity of his victim and sentenced to 15 months in prison plus a $22,300 fine.
The Keemstar Mob
Back in 2016, Keemstar thought he’d discovered the identity of sex offender and outed the would-be miscreant to his millions of followers. The problem was that Keemstar outed the wrong guy. He posted “proof” which was a photo which kind of looked like a man named Tony, who was a Twitch streamer in his 60s who had apparently never hurt anyone ever. Didn’t matter, though, and the harassment began.
Other sleuths soon discovered that Tony was not the guy they wanted and the real sex offender was actually in prison at that time. Within a day Keemstar was losing tons of followers and the subject of plenty of scorn for acting so harshly with no real evidence.
Were we ever so innocent? LonelyGirl15’s scandal is tame by today’s standards but back in 2006 it blew people’s minds when they discovered the series of vlogs that had been posted by a teenager going by the name LonelyGirl15 that escalated in drama and mystery were actually fictional.
Today no one would care and we’d probably celebrate the creativity, but this was early YouTube and most viewers hadn’t even considered that someone might stand a multi-part story for dramatic effect. People felt duped, and it made international headlines when the drama turned out to be totally made up.
Toy Freaks appeared on YouTube in 2012 and featured a man and his two young children and was presented, at first, as a channel suitable for children. Thus began something known as Elsagate – a term used to describe the emergence of YouTube channels that looked family friendly but were actually creepy and weird. The videos included the children vomiting, screaming, going to the bathroom and more that many people considered abusive and exploitative until they were finally removed.
Amos Yee rose to prominence when he criticized the Singaporean government and then fled to the US seeking asylum, which he was granted. He became a popular YouTuber and then began to reveal his true colors as he started to speak out on subjects like pedophilia, which he supported. Yee was eventually arrested on child pornography charges and his content was all removed from YouTube for violating community guidelines.
The Tide Pod Challenge
YouTube has been the breeding ground for countless “challenge” videos over the years from the stupid like the Cinnamon Challenge to the well-intentioned like the Ice Bucket Challenge. But somewhere north of the Cinnamon Challenge was the Tide Pod Challenge.
There’s not a lot to unpack here – YouTubers, typically teens, were challenging each other to eat Tide Pods. Several dozen people were hospitalized and there were cases of young children actually dying though they weren’t necessarily related to the YouTube challenges. Either way, it was a bad idea and YouTube ended up age restricting videos depicting it.
Logan Paul in the Suicide Forest
You could make a whole list of the controversies that have sprung up around brothers Logan and Jake Paul over the years, but if you had to pick just one, it’d have to be Logan Paul’s trip to Aokigahara, Japan’s so-called Suicide Forest.
In a given year, over 100 may take their lives in the forest and when Paul visited in 2018 wearing a goofy hat, he filmed an actual corpse and laughed about it with friends. As you can imagine, no one else thought it was funny.
There was a huge backlash and even Paul’s apology rang completely insincere. He was even sued for it later by a production company that claimed it ended up costing them business because of their association with him.
You never want to be the villain on the internet, but that’s what happened with Michael and Heather Martin who, across a few YouTube channels but most notably FamilyOFive, posted a series of videos which seemed to be designed to abuse and humiliate their own children. Many of their videos featured the parents encouraging the children to hurt one another.
The parents claimed they were all staged, but it was too little too late for most people. They even ended up losing custody of two kids to their biological mother.
PewDiePie Gets Accused of AntiSemitism
PewDiePie will go down in history as one of the biggest YouTubers of all time. His success has been pretty much unparalleled and, maybe because of his status, the controversies he’s faced still haven’t ended him when they likely would have wiped smaller YouTubers off the map.
The year 2017 saw PewDiePie get embroiled in a pair of racially charged scandals. First, he was discovered to have included Nazi imagery in a number of different videos and also to have made anti-Semitic jokes, which he later apologized for claiming it was all just a joke.
Things heated up again when he called someone the n-word on a live stream just a few months later. The repercussions were pretty quick and while he lost followers and partnerships; he persevered and the damage to his career was minimal.
MonaLisa Perez Kills Her Boyfriend In a Viral Stunt Gone Wrong
The nature of YouTube is such that people feel the need to push limits all the time. The tragic result of that was the case of Mona Lisa Perez and Pedro Ruiz III. They wanted to make a viral video and, like so many other bad ideas for viral videos, they didn’t think of the potential repercussions.
The plan was simple. Ruiz would hold a thick book in front of himself and Perez would shoot it with a gun. It was dumb from the get-go but the plan was for the book to stop the bullet. It did not. The bullet passed through and killed Ruiz. Perez was charged with second-degree manslaughter.
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