Editor’s note: This article contains mention of sexual assault, racism, abuse, manipulation, and severe injury. Some of the articles and clips linked feature evidence or descriptions of injury and/or sexual harassment/assault.
I was a David Dobrik fan. I was enthralled by all of the grandeur, all of the crazy, unbelievable moments he showed in his vlogs. His snappy editing and constant go-big-or-go-home energy kept me watching on and off for the better part of high school. Like many of my peers, I wanted to see what Dobrik would do next.
If you have not heard of the many allegations against Dobrik that have surfaced over the past few weeks, the situation is a lot to digest. First, there was the Insider article in which a woman claimed that Dominykas “Durte Dom” Zeglaitis, one of Dobrik’s friends and member of his “Vlog Squad,” raped her while she was blackout drunk. To make matters worse, Dobrik filmed the party at which she was raped and knew that she was too drunk to consent but egged Dom on anyways (even going so far as to joke about rape in the video). Then, it came out that Dobrik nearly killed his friend Jeff Wittek in an excavator accident while filming a vlog. After that, the torrent of criticisms came spilling out across social media.
I have always known that Dobrik tiptoed the line between edgy and unacceptable. I remember watching Cody Ko and the Ovalle brothers discuss Dobrik’s mistreatment of Seth Francois (Dobrik’s “friend” who he and his team pranked by tricking Francois into kissing another man without his consent) way back in 2018. I remember seeing Jason Nash, Dobrik’s partner in crime, play his character Carmelita, in which he put on an exaggerated Hispanic accent while pretending to be a “prostitute who smokes meth and sucks d*ck all day.” I remember David’s endless slut-shaming of Corinna Kopf and the constant fat-shaming of Nick “Jonah” Antonyan. I even remember watching and laughing at the vlog in which a girl was allegedly raped by Dom Zeglaitis, thinking it was all some silly joke. It was not. None of it was.
It is easy to see now how damaging his presence on the internet was. It is easy to denounce him and unsubscribe and pretend he never meant as much to the YouTube community as he did. But it is important, first, to hold his supporters — myself included — accountable for looking past so much.
The thing about Dobrik is that most people liked him. He was YouTube’s golden child, raking in big bucks from sponsors like Chipotle and SeatGeek. He was, as many people called him, the “Jimmy Fallon of YouTube,” universally seen as the provider of safe, unproblematic entertainment. He had no big scandals, no real drama to haunt him. Everything he did was out in the open, posted in bite-size vlogs for the world to see. I knew, or at least I thought I knew, the worst of him. Frankly, with the way Dobrik portrayed himself to the world as if he was an open book. I felt like I really knew him.
YouTube is a landscape that thrives on perceived authenticity. The more “real” you are, the more viewers feel connected to the content. Unlike in traditional entertainment media, on YouTube, the value lies in the people behind the content much more than the content itself. It is a website built around cult followings, and Dobrik was the perfect cult of personality. His content felt personal because it was his real life on screen. He filmed with his real friends in his real house. The cars he gave away were real cars given to real people. Everything was “real,” and Dobrik was giving it to us, his viewers, all the time. When you watch someone so regularly for so long, twice a week or more for years, it is hard not to feel attached.
Not only that, but Dobrik knew how to make people want to like him. While researching this article, I watched clip after clip of Dobrik, and, you know what? I could not help but smile when he laughed even though I knew what he has done. Even though I am writing an article about the ways he taunted and tortured his friends for content, how he covered up sexual assault allegations against his friends and shut down his critics, he knows how to make himself likable. He has intoxicating, almost disgusting charisma. He knows how to act like the little, small-town kid who just got lucky in life and ended up in some Hollywood mansion. He knows how to seem humble even while showing off his wealth. Dobrik is like the manipulative boyfriend of YouTube — he makes you sick, but you keep coming back because he always knows just what to say.
I think so many people, including myself, wanted to like Dobrik because he gave us hope. He was a DACA recipient, just a normal kid who moved to LA with some friends from high school, and he made it big. Dobrik was, in essence, the American dream. Of course, there are other reasons that he was such a compelling character, but that idea of the small-town boy who gets a big break is simply appealing.
Regardless of why, it is undeniable that Dobrik’s fans — once again, including myself — let him get away with far too much. We wanted to like him, and we wanted to imagine that he would like us, too. Dobrik’s particular brand of coolness made it hard to disagree with him. He was just so charming. Who would want to be the person to bring him down? Who would be the killjoy in the comments section to condemn his fun? It was just so easy, so entertaining to laugh it all off.
So what happens now? If we admit to ourselves that we ignored the red flags for years, what does that say about us?
It says we are human, that we made mistakes. And what happens now is increased accountability, not just for creators but for viewers. We need to think critically about the content we consume. We must ask ourselves “Is this really okay?” It is not a fun question, I know, but it is necessary to ask. If we truly want to stop the misconduct on YouTube, we have to stop watching it. The change has to happen at the top and at the bottom.