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The shout that awakened nations

Martin Luther, the Reformation – and the birth of the modern world.

There is still the odd parish church in England with a notice on its south door that begins: “There are those who will tell you that at the time of the Reformation the Church of England ceased to be Catholic and became Protestant. Do not believe them.” It is a bemusing argument, hinting at the divisions within Anglicanism that stemmed from Henry VIII’s decision to establish a state church in 1534 and reject the authority of the pope in Rome.

Many Anglican clergy long for the Western Church to be reunited, but important practical and doctrinal differences obstruct this – not least the celibacy of clergy and the ordination of women as priests. Henry VIII’s decision had little to do with religion, though a theological earthquake in continental Europe had made it possible. Not the least of the secular consequences of that earthquake was that the king of England could, in order to marry his mistress, set up his own Christian Church, and in doing so change the course of English, and British, history. It is not least why we have a queen of German descent, and why for centuries Britain and Ireland had such bad relations.

By 1534 the course of European history had already been changed; large tracts of the world would in the ensuing centuries have their destinies changed as a result. On 31 October it will be 500 years since Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk from Saxony, sent his bishop, Albrecht of Mainz, his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. And Luther may, as the mythology states, have nailed the document – also known as the 95 Theses – to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, where he was a theologian at the university.

In England it occasioned the most significant moment in history between the Battle of Hastings and the Great War: significant because of all that flowed from it, not in a theological sense, but in its secular effect. In Europe it caused an upheaval not seen since the establishment of the Holy Roman empire in 800, and it was the beginning of the end of that empire. The history of the West changed in that moment. Despite the efforts of the Spanish and Portuguese to establish Catholic empires around the world, the most extensive empire of all would be the Protestant, British one. Its creation was directly attributable to the religious, economic and cultural consequences of the Reformation, and it would be imported into North America, Africa and Australasia.

Luther, who was 33 when he picked this argument with his Church, had become a monk after a bolt of lightning hit the ground near him and thus spared him. Later, he was ordained as a priest. He was a gifted and disputatious academic theologian. The cause of his affront was that the then pope, Leo X – a Medici from Florence – had granted the sale of indulgences to raise money to complete St Peter’s at Rome, and had sent Johann Tetzel, his commissioner for indulgences, to Germany to raise funds in this way. Purchase of an indulgence supposedly guaranteed less time in purgatory. Luther was outraged: he had developed a system of belief in which simple faith, not the execution of good works or donations of money to various forms of charity, was the way to salvation. In this way, he was also indirectly the father of the welfare state.

Luther’s 86th thesis asked why, given the pope’s wealth, he did not use his own money to pay for St Peter’s rather than that of “poor believers”. Bishop Albrecht did not respond to his complaint, but sent the document to Rome. Early in 1518, using the relatively new medium of the printing press, the 95 Theses, in the universal language of Latin, were distributed around Germany and, with remarkable speed, much of Europe, too. Thomas Carlyle, for whom Luther was one of history’s heroes, called this expression of outrage a “shout”, and wrote: “The Pope should not have provoked that ‘shout’! It was the shout of the awakening of nations.”




Carlyle got to the root of the significance of the Reformation, and why it shapes our world so profoundly. There had been challenges to the Christian religious orthodoxy before – remember King John’s, not to mention other outbursts of insolence around Catholic Europe – but Luther’s came at a time to trigger the perfect storm. The Reformation provoked a challenge to spiritual authority for which not merely the masses, but many of their rulers, felt ready; the invention of the printing press also allowed their view to be broadcast with an ease hitherto impossible. In the same manner as Henry VIII and his successors would establish a principle of absolute sovereignty – eventually, parliamentary sovereignty – in England and then in Great Britain, other polities in northern Europe gradually ended the influence of the pope and the Catholic Church in their affairs.

The Church hierarchy tried to talk Luther out of his views, but failed. In April 1521 he was summoned to the Diet of Worms, providing the moment Carlyle described as “the greatest scene in Modern European History; the point, indeed, from which the whole subsequent history of civilisation takes its rise”. This was where secular authority under Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor, tried to persuade Luther to recant. He refused: the mythology has it that this was when he pronounced: “Here I stand. I can do no other.” He was outlawed and excommunicated: but Frederick the Wise, the sympathetic elector of Saxony, shielded him in his castle at Wartburg and, once the heat was off, Luther set about organising his own Church on his own principles.

The secular effects of this attack on authority were soon apparent. A peasants’ revolt in parts of Germany in 1525, which for strategic reasons Luther declined to support, showed the mood, and helped explain why in the northern German lands, in the Low Countries and elsewhere in Europe, people flocked to the new brand of Christianity. Lutheranism was the anti-establishment populism of its day and a means whereby, in an age before democracy, the unfranchised could make their voices heard.

Luther’s ideas inspired, and were developed by, John Calvin, a Frenchman who expounded his own theology from Geneva, where he had gone into exile. If we owe ­Luther (among other things) the intellectual right to question and reject authority, especially when it can be proved wrong or corrupt, we owe Calvin the Protestant work ethic, as well as the flourishing of capitalism and enterprise that stems from it. The left should be well aware of this point, as it was the basis of R H Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, published in 1926; the right should know it through the ­political economist Max Weber. Calvin saw work as a duty that the individual owed God and fellow citizens out of gratitude for redemption through Jesus Christ: no one had the right not to work if able to do so. Those who shared his belief that the industrious would prosper in the afterlife developed a culture that not only created capitalism, but encouraged the buccaneers, pioneers and adventurers who would seek to build empires.

Thus, as Carlyle said, the Reformation marked the moment when society stopped caring about the moral and spiritual health of people and started to worry about their economic and practical condition. Other historians have put it more bluntly: it was the moment when the Middle Ages ended and the modern world began. It brought with it ideas and attitudes such as social mobility, an inevitable by-product of a society where work and enterprise are promoted. Luther was in some senses highly enlightened, and his enlightenment spread: he set an example of freedom of thought, opening up new inquiries into science and philosophy. This establishment of the right to individual conscience leads to the contention that our modern idea of liberty stems from the Reformation.

Some who pursued liberty of thought and conscience in rigidly Catholic societies, such as Galileo a century later, still struggled; yet by the time Galileo was put under house arrest for claiming that the sun was the centre of the solar system many were belatedly accepting Copernicus’s theory of heliocentricity, advanced around the time of the 95 Theses. The Reformation signalled the moment when the Church lost control of science, though even Protestants retained a prejudice, born of fear, against radical inquiry. It was the 19th century before geology became an accepted subject of study at English universities, for fear it would contradict what the Bible said about the chronology of the Creation.

Luther’s sense of enlightenment also led him to oppose the subjugation of women, believing they should be able to divorce an unsatisfactory husband. Excommunicated, he himself married a former nun, unilaterally ending the notion that a clergyman had to be celibate. He was also deeply opposed to slavery, an abomination whose international abolition was eventually driven by British and American Quakers. However, there was one marked respect in which his doctrine was anything but enlightened, and its poisonous legacy would resonate down the centuries.

Luther had argued initially for Christians to treat Jews kindly, in the hope of converting them; but by the 1530s he had abandoned any idea of mass conversion and saw persecution as the only alternative. He became unequivocally anti-Semitic and called explicitly for Jews to be removed from all German territories, their houses and synagogues burned, and their chattels and religious texts confiscated; they were also to be denied safe passage as they travelled. Jews fled to eastern Europe to avoid the privations Lutherans forced on them, congregating particularly in Catholic Poland, and in Habsburg lands to the south and east.

Luther now condemned those Christians who helped the Jews; indeed, one Lutheran pastor in the Alsatian town of Hochfelden ordered his congregation to go out and murder them. A substantial Jewish community lived in Hochfelden until 1940, when the Nazis began to deport them. Then in December 1941, six weeks before the Wannsee Conference, seven confederations of Protestant churches in Germany announced their support for the Nazi policy of forcing Jews to wear the Star of David. From time to time the Nazis used Luther to justify their persecution.

Nor would this be the only form of Protestant racism. In South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church was explicit in its endorsement of apartheid, and Hendrik Verwoerd, its architect, was educated by Lutherans. But racism was not inextricable from the Reformation: in 1982 the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which took its main inspiration from Calvin rather than Luther, expelled the Dutch Reformed Church and declared apartheid a sin.

Luther soon had followers among secular rulers other than Frederick the Wise, who in 1531 formed a defensive alliance called the Schmalkaldic League. In 1555 it forced Charles V to conclude the Peace of Augsburg, allowing Lutheran rulers to exist within the Holy Roman empire: this sundered Protestant Germany from Catholic Germany, a divide that persisted until the declaration of the Second Reich in 1871. It then took until the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 and the Peace of Westphalia to allow Calvinist rule, too, within the empire. In that war, 40 per cent of the population of what is now Germany was killed, partly through plague. Eight million people died altogether, in a series of wars that began over the determination of Emperor Ferdinand II to renege on the Treaty of Augsburg and impose Catholicism throughout the empire. In time, however, the war became a conflict between the leading powers – notably the French and the Habsburgs – squabbling over territory and influence, with Catholic France finding it desirable for reasons of ­security to support the Protestants, and with powers as far-flung as Spain and Sweden joining in.

The other consequences of Luther’s Reformation were less horrific. His translation of the Bible into the German vernacular helped standardise that language and had a profound effect on German literacy and culture: it founded a literary tradition that would flower after the Thirty Years War with the Baroque period, and then produce Kant, Goethe and Schiller. Luther was also a prolific hymn-writer. A German musical tradition that passed down from Bach and influenced composers around Europe was greatly stimulated by the Church he founded. The growth of literacy further fed debate and discourse. Luther’s translation of the Bible was emulated in England, Scotland and other Protestant countries, and had a similarly galvanising effect on culture in those lands. It was not just that, greatly helped by printing, translation made religion more accessible and comprehensible to the masses: greater literacy propelled freedom of speech and thought. The Reformation provoked the greatest explosion of information, knowledge and ideas until the arrival of the internet.

Despite his strictures against ideas promulgated by the Jews, Luther advocated inquiry as a means of stimulating freedom of thought. Even though he saw it as a tool of the devil, he also wanted the Quran to be freely available so that it could be subject to scrutiny. Ironically, this spirit of inquiry and debate did not always exist in Luther’s own denomination. The Pilgrim Fathers went to America, founding the nation as we know it and providing perhaps one of the greatest consequences of the Reformation, only because of the mutual intolerance of factions within Protestantism. The emigration on the Mayflower can be traced back to the departure from the East Midlands of early Nonconformists, who fled to Holland in 1606-07 to escape rising persecution in the Church of England. Perhaps predictably, when they arrived in New Plymouth they radiated loathing of other religions, notably Catholicism, setting in place an institutional prejudice in America. It took the United States until 1960, and the election of John F Kennedy, to choose a Catholic president.




In continental Europe, the political, constitutional and economic effects of the Reformation have been profound. In Britain, it is why Queen Elizabeth II sits on the throne and not Franz, Duke of Bavaria, the premier descendant of Charles I of England, who would otherwise be King Francis II. Charles I’s failure to accept the religious consequences of the Reformation helped cause the English Civil War. The refusal of his son James II to do so brought about the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the Act of Settlement, preventing the Catholic children of James and their descendants from inheriting the throne and offering it to the distantly related House of Hanover. Thanks to this, the monarch was taken out of British politics, with the office of prime minister developing after 1721 to manage affairs on behalf of George I and the role of the sovereign being steadily eroded over the next two centuries into what we now call a constitutional monarchy.

The hostility with France from the late 17th century until 1815 was fed by English outrage at the revocation in 1685 by Louis XIV of the Edict of Nantes, by which Protestants had had their rights protected in France. An estimated 50,000 of the most accomplished people in France – ­Calvinist Huguenots – migrated across the Channel, forming one of the biggest waves of immigration in English history of one group relative to the existing population. For generations they and their descendants made a valuable contribution to British life, setting up enclaves of weavers in Canterbury and Spitalfields and lacemakers in Worcestershire, and also settling in Ireland, where they became prominent both in business and in local government.

The transfer of power from religious to secular authority in central Europe after the Peace of Westphalia paved the way for a continent dominated in the late 19th century by Germany, with all that would entail. It was a grotesque perversion of history that Adolf Hitler, a lapsed Catholic, should reunite those who were culturally German into a heathen form of the Holy Roman empire on the Anschluss with Austria of 1938.

France passed a loi de laïcité in 1905 formally separating the state from the power of the Roman Catholic Church; but in that country’s affairs what is still called the haute société protestante has an influence far exceeding the proportion of Protestants in society, whether in politics, officialdom or business. Protestants had been allowed back into France after 1789 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and they applied their Calvinist work ethic to French business. Peugeot and Hermès were founded and run by Protestants. So, too, were some of the biggest French firms, such as the Schlumberger industrial group, whose origins were in Alsace. Protestants are disproportionately represented in finance and utility companies. The relatively great wealth of northern (Protestant) Europe compared to the Catholic south is still a matter of tension in the European Union.

A secular society such as ours naturally regards politics as driving the course of history, but at this 500th anniversary it is right to recall what has driven the course of politics. Martin Luther did not only change the world: the consequences of this quarrelsome but brave monk’s actions continue to affect the world to this day. If you seek his monument, look around you.

Simon Heffer is a columnist for the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 26 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The eclipse of the West

Mike Lombardo via @moreMiLo
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“I was almost brainwashed by him”: How male YouTubers get away with preying on young fans

A multitude of YouTube stars have been accused of taking advantage of young fans, but little is being done to tackle the problem.

In June, a 24-year-old YouTuber named Austin Jones was charged with two counts of producing images of child abuse. Court documents allege that the internet personality – who has more than half a million subscribers to his YouTube channel – solicited explicit videos from two of his young female fans. According to the criminal complaint, Jones asked one of the teenage girls – known only as Victim B – to dance for him, and said: “Bounce again and smile at the camera while you bounce. And while you bounce, say ‘I’m only 14’ 3 times throughout the video.” Jones has been released on bail and is awaiting trial. Jones’ attorney Gerardo Solon Gutierrez points out that the singer is “innocent until proven guilty”.

A few weeks later, a YouTuber known as Durte Dom was accused of filming a 15-year-old girl from behind while she danced at a party, without her consent. “He filmed my ass dancing,” the girl wrote anonymously on Twitter. Dom responded to the allegations via the social network, writing: “the party was 18+, the girl snuck in. don't fool yourself.” He says he will now “start having people sign release forms” before he films them.

These allegations are not isolated. In 2014, a Tumblr user called Olga accused the YouTuber Tom Milsom of coercing her into sexual activities when she was 15 and he was 21. Milsom did not comment publicly on the accusations and was never charged. Only a month earlier, a YouTube musician, Mike Lombardo, was jailed for five years on child pornography charges after soliciting explicit photographs and videos from 11 of his underage fans. 

These events set off a series of other allegations. Vlogger Alex Day admitted to having “manipulative relationships with women” after 14 women and teenage girls accused him of manipulation and abuse. One anonymous 15-year-old wrote on Tumblr that Day had sex with her knowing she was underage and “didn’t listen to me when I asked to stop”. Day denied any sexual relations with underage girls, and none of his alleged victims pressed charges. Another YouTuber, Ed Blann, admitted in a now-deleted Tumblr post that he “manipulated” an of-age fan into sex even after he was “repeatedly told to stop”. Like Day, Blann never faced any charges, but, also like Day, he apologised for his actions.  

 In September 2014, a 19-year-old woman accused the YouTube prankster Sam Pepper of raping her, and another woman filed a police report accusing him of rape. Pepper denied the accusations, was never arrested and charges were never filed. He did, however, apologise for YouTube pranks that included pinching women’s behinds while wearing a fake hand.

A Tumblr post set up to track emotional and sexual abuse in the YouTube community to date features allegations against 43 YouTubers.


Social media revolutionised the concept of celebrity – and celebrity-fan interactions. YouTubers are both incredibly adored and incredibly accessible. Products they design sell out overnight and their live events fill arenas. At the same time, fans are often just a few clicks away from engaging in private, one-on-one conversations with their heroes.

“I feel like I was kind of blinded to the whole situation, like I was almost brainwashed by him,” says Ashley LaPrade, a 16-year-old who claims that when she was 15, Austin Jones coerced her into creating sexualised videos on the messaging app Kik. She posted screenshots of their conversations on social media after the news of Jones’s arrest broke.

“It was kind of casual at first and he asked me to model his merchandise for him... so I did. I took a couple pictures and I’m a gymnast so I was trying to like impress him and I did like splits and stuff,” she says. She alleges that Jones asked her to film herself from behind while bending down or dancing. “I didn't want to upset him and make him not like me,” she says.

LaPrade explains that as a young 15-year-old fan she “looked up” to Jones and was initially excited by his interest in her. After she began to feel uncomfortable with his requests, they stopped talking, but she continued to listen to his music and go to his concerts. She says that she only realised the severity of his actions after his arrest.

Many young fans like Ashley are initially unable to comprehend that anything wrong – legally or morally – has happened to them. Neesey Pathan is a 20-year-old student and YouTuber who claims she was sexually harassed by Sam Pepper when she was 15. In 2014, she posted a YouTube video of her allegations, showing screenshots of alleged conversations with Pepper in which he asks her to “do a naked a dance” and show him her cleavage.

“As a young naïve 15-year old girl, I just wanted to keep talking to him because I was a huge fan,” Neesey tells me. “When he started to get inappropriate with me, at the time that made me feel uncomfortable but I didn’t understand how serious that was, because of how young I was.

“I wanted him to stop being inappropriate with me but I didn't want him to stop speaking to me.”


Since the concept of celebrity was invented, nefarious individuals have used their fame to manipulate and take sexual advantage of young fans. In the 1970s, Lori Mattix was a “baby groupie” to musicians – alleging in a Thrillist article that she lost her virginity to David Bowie aged just 14. When the guitarist Ted Nugent couldn’t legally marry 17-year-old Pele Massa, he became her guardian instead. Anna Garcia met Prince aged 15 and began a relationship with him aged 17. “I guess it’s kind of a dream to a young girl of 17,” she said in the Nineties. “You can be influenced very easily and stuff like that because he’s 12-13 years older than me.”

It now seems as though a slew of YouTubers have taken advantage of this imbalanced fan-creator relationship, and have deliberately exploited the naivety of their young fans. Ashley and Neesey both claim they were emotionally manipulated.

“I think I put him on this pedestal, which put him in a position to very easily manipulate me and get what he wanted,” says Neesey. “I was just so excited to get to speak to someone who I had looked up to for a long time.”

Ashley claims that when she wouldn’t film increasingly explicit videos for Jones, he treated her coldly. “He went on about how he was in a bad mood now and he didn’t want to talk any more,” she says. “If I did something wrong to him, like if I didn’t blow a kiss or something, then he would make me redo [the video].”

In 2015, Jones was first accused of asking his underage fans to film themselves twerking. In a video entitled “Setting The Record Straight”, he admitted to asking for the twerking videos and said he became suicidal after this news became public. “I’m a pretty insecure person... I began researching different suicide methods. I started planning my suicide. It’s something I was very, very serious about,” he says in the video. 

“A lot of times when we were talking he was talking about how he was going to therapy so I kind of felt bad for him and that’s why I didn't really say anything [to the authorities],” says Ashley.

The American National Domestic Violence Hotline outlines on its website that threatening suicide can be a form of emotional abuse. “If your partner regularly threatens suicide, particularly whenever you’re not doing something he or she wants you to do, or when you’re trying to leave the relationship... this is a form of emotional abuse.”

According to Neesey’s screenshots, Pepper flippantly mentioned he was “suicidal” when she refused to show him her breasts. In Olga’s blogpost about Tom Milsom, she alleges: “he’d like sob and cut himself in front of me he threatened weird suicidal shit a lot”.

“Obviously, if someone is saying to you that they're suicidal, you want to help them, because obviously they don't mean it but as a young person you think they do,” explains Neesey. “And you don't want to be held responsible for them hurting themselves and you maybe care about this person because you’ve been watching them for so long. So you’re manipulated into carrying on contact with them because if you don’t, what will happen...” 


To date, Lombardo is the only YouTuber who has ever been jailed for sexually abusing his fans. There are a multitude of reasons for this. Some victims are too afraid to press charges, fearing backlash from a YouTuber’s fandom. Many victims are unable to see the severity of their abuse until they are older. More still are manipulated into silence. Parents can’t comprehend YouTube stardom, and fail to understand what is happening in their children’s lives. Some victims simply don’t know which authorities to turn to.

“I'm kind of steaming about this whole issue,” says Michelle LaPrade, Ashley’s mother. “I can’t even look at a picture of the guy. It makes me want to punch him.”

At the time, Ashley never told her mother about Jones’s behaviour, but Michelle overheard conversations about it between her daughter and her friends. “I feel like a bad mother. I never even really investigated it. Because I know girls and their drama and you know, [they] overreact sometimes.”

After Jones’s arrest, Michelle wanted to report his interactions with Ashley to the authorities, but she found her local police department unhelpful. “I don't know who to turn to,” she says.

Many more victims are unaware that a crime has even occurred. “When I was 15 I didn't see how problematic it was,” says Neesey. “I knew it was a bit strange, and I did feel uncomfortable, but I didn't realise that he was actually sort of committing a crime in terms of asking a minor, as an adult, to do these things...

“It wouldn't even have crossed my mind to go to the police.”

While the UK has the large-scale Operation Yewtree into sexual abuse by celebrities, there is no equivalent for YouTube. Despite the multitude of allegations spanning half a decade, there is no single helpline or dedicated investigation into YouTube abuse. When questioned on this, a Home Office spokesperson said:

“We cannot allow social media platforms to be looked upon as a safe space for predators to target our children and share indecent images. It is vital that communication service providers have easily identifiable reporting systems for people to flag inappropriate or illegal content – and that they are clear about what is and isn’t allowed on their sites.”

A YouTube spokesperson said: “We have clear policies against harassment and we enforce these policies by removing both flagged content and comments that break our rules as well as terminating the accounts of repeat offenders.”

Sam Pepper is still on YouTube, where his channel has over two million subscribers. Alex Day returned to YouTube in December 2015, and now has over 80,000 subscribers. Austin Jones’s YouTube channel remains live, though he is not allowed to use social media before his trial.


“I feel like it is really hard to be taken seriously,” says Ashley. On social media, people are prone to victim-blaming Ashley and other alleged victims, saying that they should have stopped replying to the YouTubers harassing them. “Yeah, we did send stuff back but it was... we were being pressured into it and we didn't want to upset him or anything like that,” Ashley says. Her mother tells me she is glad Ashley “took the high ground” in not sending overtly sexual videos to Jones.

Unsure which authorities to speak to, many victims turn to social media to discuss their abuse. Accusations play out on Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube itself. Ashley tweeted screenshots of her interactions with Jones, while Neesey created two videos about her conversations with Pepper. Although this is an effective, and unprecedented, way for victims to get their voices heard, many online are distrustful of complaints that didn’t go through the authorities. Many more leave misogynistic and hateful comments.

“People will just be absolutely horrible to you and call you demeaning things... I got called a flirt, I got told it was all my fault because I continued speaking to him...” says Neesey, of the reaction to her videos. “I think that's a lot of the reason why people sometimes don’t come forward, because they don't want to go through all that stress again. They’ve already dealt with the situation; why would they want to deal with the stress of people being horrible to them about it?”

Some commenters criticise Neesey and other victims who have made YouTube videos and claim they were doing so for attention. “No one in their right mind would do it for attention because the attention you get is negative,” Neesey says. “I honestly don’t believe that someone would sit down and accuse someone of doing something if they didn’t mean it. So I really think it should be taken seriously.”

Whether it makes sense to those outside of the community or not, many victims' first recourse is social media, not the police or authorities. The accusations about Durte Dom – the YouTuber who allegedly filmed a 15-year-old dancing – were publicised by another YouTuber, Elijah Daniel, on his Twitter page.

Damon Fizzy is a YouTuber who called out Austin Jones after the initial accusations in 2015, and continues to do so on Twitter now. Although he agreed to speak with me, he was unable to find time to do so over a series of weeks.

For many YouTubers and their victims, social media is more important that the traditional media. Perhaps this makes sense – when the Mail Online covered the arrest of Lombardo, the YouTuber who solicited child abuse images from 11 underage fans, they added inverted commas around the word “star” in their headline. If the media and the authorities can’t take YouTube seriously, how seriously will they take accusations of YouTuber abuse?


In the past, YouTubers have often been good at self-policing. Hank and John Green are American brothers who run the YouTube channel Vlogbrothers, which has over three million subscribers. They own a record label, DFTBA, and run the annual YouTube convention VidCon. Lombardo and Day were DFTBA artists, and were dropped from the label after the accusations emerged. The Green brothers also banned Pepper from VidCon.

After the storm of accusations in 2014, an enormous number of popular YouTubers made videos in response. Hank Green explained consent to his audience, while the comedy YouTuber TomSka created a guide to YouTube gatherings. The popular YouTube duo Jack and Dean even made a music video about consent. The community came together to exile those who weren’t being punished in other ways. The subscriber numbers on the accused’s channels dropped dramatically.

Yet within a few months, many disgraced YouTubers can return to the platform to harness a new generation of fans, many of whom might not be aware of the accusations.

“YouTube still allows them to create content and make money off it, and that to me is just communicating that the behaviour is just not that bad. It’s sort of equivalent to a slap on the wrist and it doesn't convey the extremity of the situation of what they’ve done,” says Neesey. “I think they should be completely ostracised from the community, and have their status stripped from them, and I think YouTube should support that. Because they’re criminals.”

On Twitter, YouTuber Damon Fizzy claims he received backlash from Jones’s fans when trying to speak out years ago. “It’s crazy the backlash I received versus now. I was literally treated worse than the person who uses his underage fans for sexual gain,” he wrote.

And it’s true that YouTubers’ leagues of adoring fans can make it difficult to speak out about abuse. It is hard for many adults to understand how consuming being a young fan can be, particularly when manipulation is involved. When I ask both Ashley and Neesey what they would say to young female fans who start talking to YouTubers, they both say this is fine. Neesey warns that when a youngster becomes uncomfortable, they should end communication, but both she and Ashley feel that safe, normal fan-creator interaction is fine, indeed desirable.  

Sapphire Putt is a 20-year-old who claims a YouTuber coerced her into filming videos of herself dancing when she was 16. When I ask if she thinks it would be OK for the YouTuber to return to YouTube, she says she would be “cautious” but “wouldn’t throw the possibility of maybe giving him a chance again”.

“If he actually shows that he’s learned, you know, I would give it a chance and if he would mess it up again then that’s it, you know.”

When I ask Ashley what she would say to people who remain fans of Austin Jones she says: “I’d say that I probably understand... but they also need to understand that what he’s doing isn’t right and no one should be treated the way he is treating people.”


The NSPCC is currently calling for an independent regulator to scrutinise internet companies and fine them if they fail to keep children safe.

“We want the government to draw up a list of minimum standards that internet companies must observe to protect children, and children should be automatically offered safer accounts that protect them from grooming and harmful content,” an NSPCC spokesperson says.

“We know from our Childline service that online sexual exploitation is increasing so it’s vital that more is done to protect young people from abusers who use social media to target and manipulate them.”

For now, Ashley is simply glad things didn’t go further. “It's scary not knowing what could've happened, knowing that I was brainwashed like to believe it was OK, and I'm just happy he's not able to message other girls at this point,” she says.

Neesey hopes that schools will get better at teaching consent. “As a young person, I knew I felt a bit uncomfortable but I just thought that I was being dramatic... so I think people need to be educated, for sure.”  She says education needs to be improved not just in schools, but in the media.

“Unfortunately, people are sort of used to it now, after quite a few YouTubers, so it’s sort of like, ‘Oh another one.' People aren’t talking about it as much – not that it’s old news, but it’s not as shocking. People aren’t giving it as much attention as it needs.”

The NSPCC advises that if a child is worried about an online situation they should talk to a trusted adult or contact Childline on 0800 1111. Parents can find out more about talking to their child about staying safe online by searching Share Aware or visiting

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The eclipse of the West