Wide Angle

Why “Gen Z’s Jimmy Fallon” Is Facing a Reckoning

The David Dobrik controversy, explained.

A boyish young white man stares somberly at the camera in a black hat, black hoodie, and swoopy hair.
David Dobrik/YouTube

David Dobrik, a YouTuber who’s turned billions of views into millions of dollars in assets, is now rapidly losing both money and subscribers after being connected to a rape allegation involving a fellow YouTuber. The allegation, which was first reported by Insider last week, is only the latest to threaten to undermine the 24-year-old’s wholesome image, but it’s the first to provoke a genuine reckoning.

On the first episode of ICYMI, Slate’s new podcast about internet culture, hosts Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher explained how “Gen Z’s Jimmy Fallon” got so popular and why he’s finally facing consequences. The segment has been adapted into the following conversation.

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Rachelle Hampton: For the unfamiliar, Dobrik is a Viner turned YouTuber who’s been dominating the space for about eight years. He’s best known for his daily vlogs, which are all exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds long

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Madison Malone Kircher: Nice.

Hampton: His videos are a kind of hybrid of semi-scripted comedy and stunts like surprising people with Kylie Jenner or Justin Bieber. He’s the kind of guy where you’ll find no shortage of videos of him giving away Apple products or Xboxes or PS4s or literally just thousands of dollars in cash. He’s also been developing an app called Dispo that was getting popular in recent weeks.

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Kircher: Oh, I downloaded that. So he’s sort of antithetical to your Logan Paul types?

Hampton: He’s definitely built a reputation for himself being a “nice guy.” Unlike a lot of creators, he took the last year off of vlogging because he said it wouldn’t be possible to make his usual content given the, you know, pandemic. Which, well, the bar is on the floor for these guys, but he cleared it.

He’s definitely got a young fan base, but there’s more to this story than just “you should care about David Dobrik because your teenager does.” This is a person with millions of subscribers, who commands millions of dollars. There’s no difference between a “regular celebrity” and a so-called internet celebrity anymore.

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Kircher: I know you said he’s rich, but how does he fund his Oprah-style car giveaways?

Hampton: So he has about 18.8 million subscribers and recently bought a $9.5 million house, so it seems safe to say he has the money to pull these stunts. But most of them are actually underwritten by sponsors like the video game company EA, which funded the electronic giveaway, or SeatGeek, which provided the Teslas and Mercedes that he handed out. SeatGeek (which Dobrik has described as kind of like a sugar daddy, kind of like a collaborator) had a really lucrative three-year award-nominated partnership with Dobrik, but now the company says they have no plans to work with him again in the future.

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Kircher: “Award-nominated”?

Hampton: Yeah, for a Shorty Award.

Kircher: Got it. Can you explain why they’re cutting ties with him?

Hampton: So David Dobrik is the founder of this thing called the Vlog Squad, which is a whole bunch of content creators in Dobrik’s orbit who have over the years filmed videos together. And, recently, an anonymous woman, Hannah, has come forward and accused the man who goes by Durte Dom (full name Dominykas Zeglaitis), who was then a Vlog Squad member, of raping her while she was intoxicated when she appeared as an extra in a video on Dobrik’s channel in 2018. Hannah spoke with a reporter, Kat Tenbarge, at Insider, who laid out the story in excruciating detail.

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Kircher: So what happened in the video? 

Hampton: The plot of the video is that Durte Dom is going to have his very first threesome. What occurred was a threesome involving Hannah and another woman, Hannah’s friend, who the article calls Audrey, during which Hannah says she was too intoxicated to consent. According to Insider, Audrey sent Hannah a text in which she said, “I remember you were starting to close your eyes and just were obviously drunk so I finished him off just to get him away from you.” At the end of the video, Dobrik actually makes a joke about him and the rest of the Vlog Squad going to jail.

Kircher: So just to be clear: Dobrik wasn’t one of the three in the threesome?

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Hampton: No, he’s outside the room and, according to another friend of Hannah’s, was one of several Vlog Squad members who attempted to peek into the room and see what was happening.

Kircher: Is the threesome video still online?

Hampton: It was removed from Dobrik’s channel in February 2019 after Hannah asked Dom to take it down. By then it had already been viewed 5 million times. And there’s an entire genre of videos on YouTube where people sit and react while watching other videos, so in that way, the video remains on YouTube and easily accessible.

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Kircher: This isn’t the first time the Vlog Squad, Dobrik, and Durte Dom have been criticized for “bad behavior,” which is a lame catchall for such things. Dobrik previously posted a video in which he mocks a Japanese accent, and earlier this year, another former Vlog Squad member, Joseth “Seth” Francois, who is Black, said he was often used as a racist punchline in videos. He also told BuzzFeed he was allegedly sexually assaulted by another Vlog Squad member, Jason Nash. Seth says Dobrik tricked him into kissing Nash while Nash was in disguise. (Nash didn’t respond to BuzzFeed’s request for comment.) And of course they filmed it.

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Hampton: Of course. They film everything. But, since the Insider article, another woman on TikTok has since come forward with a story that’s very similar to Hannah’s, where she says that Dobrik was “provoking the situation.” The situation being Dom being an absolute piece of shit. She says she and her friend were 19. In a later TikTok, she describes what happened after the kiss, and, again, her allegations sound incredibly similar to Hannah’s.

Kircher: So they’ve faced controversy before. What’s different about the outcome this time?

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Hampton: What’s different about these new allegations is that his sponsors have finally stepped in. SeatGeek isn’t alone in reviewing its partnership with Dobrik. EA Sports confirmed in a statement that they “haven’t worked with David since April 2020 and can confirm we are not currently working with him nor do we have any plans to in future.” Dollar Shave Club has ended its partnership with Dobrik and the Vlog Squad, as have companies like DoorDash and HelloFresh.

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Kircher: OK, so every company that has ever paid for a podcast ad won’t work with David Dobrik anymore. What is this costing Dobrik?

Hampton: Honestly, it’s not entirely clear, since the details of brand partnerships with influencers are rarely made public. But according to the latest numbers on SocialBlade on Tuesday morning, he’s lost about 200,000 subscribers since the Insider report came out.

Kircher: Has David Dobrik said anything publicly since the Insider report came out?

Hampton: He released a pseudo-apology video talking about consent where he apologizes to Seth and disavows people he’s previously collaborated with. He doesn’t mention Dom by name, though that’s definitely the subtext considering (1) Dom hasn’t appeared in Vlog Squad video since 2019 and (2) Dobrik’s “apology” was released the same day as the Insider report.

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Kircher: I saw people tweeting that he turned off the comments on the video?

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Hampton: Yes, he did. He was fully getting flamed by his fans, who were like, “This is in no way addressing what is happening.” But clearly he heard the criticism, or his communications person did, because a few days later, he uploaded a second, tearful video. Dobrik says he’s never given a “respectful” apology before. He says he supports Hannah and understands now that when she agreed to allow Dobrik to post the video that wasn’t real consent. He doesn’t believe he’s a victim of cancel culture, but instead says he’s being given an opportunity to hold himself accountable and “this won’t happen again.” He’s taking a break from social media and says he’ll be reaching out to people he’s hurt for further conversations.

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Kircher: What about Dom?

Hampton: Radio silence. Outlets including the Los Angeles Times and Insider have reached out to him, but as of this recording, he’s declined to comment.

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Kircher: As I mentioned earlier, we were talking about David Dobrik pretty recently. I was trying to convince you to try this new camera app called Dispo, which lets you take photos but doesn’t “develop” them for 24 hours.

Hampton: Yeah, Dobrik is stepping away from Dispo after two VC funds who had invested in the app basically severed all ties with him and promised to donate any profit they made from the app. A couple hundred thousand subscribers lost for somebody with a following like Dobrik’s isn’t really a huge deal, but the brands pulling out absolutely is.

Kircher: Right, canceling those deals is also these companies tacitly acknowledging that by funding somebody like Dobrik, they were endorsing his content. And while he crafted this image of being a harmless “nice guy,” his content wasn’t actually harmless. People have literally come forward and said they were harmed. And now that’s on them too. It’s the business version of retweets absolutely being endorsements.

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Hampton: It really feels like brands and companies are finally, very slowly coming to the realization that supporting creators isn’t, and never has been, a value-neutral statement.

Kircher: Right, retweets are endorsements.

Hampton: They are. And more than retweets, putting your money into something is an endorsement. Brands have realized this. Who hasn’t are the actual platforms. YouTube has not deplatformed Dobrik. It’s entirely unclear if they will, or if they should—I’m not even advocating for that. But YouTube doesn’t seem to deplatform anybody. And keeping that content on that site is 100 percent an endorsement of that content.

Kircher: If I can use an annoying tech journalist cliché: That’s a feature, not a bug.

Subscribe and listen to the full episode—which also examines why the latest outrage over Kylie Jenner is only the latest in a full year of celebrities failing to read the room.

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