The biggest scandals to ever hit YouTube

These days, YouTube personalities now make up a huge part of the entertainment space, as Hollywood has proven that it's bigger than just movie and television stars. The best YouTubers have gone on to earn millions of fans (and dollars) — but like Hollywood, the YouTube community has dealt with its fair share of shady behavior. These are some of the biggest scandals to ever hit YouTube.

Logan Paul's suicide forest video

Logan Paul kicked off 2018 by uploading a video of him touring Aokigahara, a forest in Japan known for its high rate of suicides. In the now-deleted video, Paul allegedly filmed the body of a person who hanged themselves in the forest, calling out to the body and describing its lifeless appearance. According to New York Magazine, Paul then looks at the camera and says, "Suicide is not a joke. Depression and mental illness are not a joke. We came here with an intent to focus on the 'haunted' aspect of the forest. This obviously just became very real, and obviously a lotta people are going through a lotta s*** in their lives." 

Despite Paul's apparent thought process that filming a dead body is a form of suicide awareness, unsurprisingly, pretty much everyone freaked out. Paul fans, the general public, and even celebrities tweeted their ill feelings toward the YouTuber. Paul eventually took to Twitter to apologize, writing, "I didn't do it for views…I did it because I thought I could make a positive ripple on the Internet." He then posted a video apology saying he "never should have posted the video," and asked his fans not to defend his actions. A couple days after uploading the insensitive video, Paul tweeted that he was taking a break from vlogging to "reflect." Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that YouTube has canceled its business relationship with Paul in the wake of the scandal.

Austin Jones sentenced to prison time for exploiting underage fans

In May 2019, the Austin Jones scandal, in which the YouTuber was accused of soliciting inappropriate videos from minors, finally came to a close. The 26-year-old, who found celebrity with a cappella pop song covers, was sentenced to ten years in prison after he admitted to persuading underage girls to send him sexually explicit videos of themselves. "Production and receipt of child pornography are extraordinarily serious offenses that threaten the safety of our children and communities," Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Neff Welsh said (per CNN). "Jones' actions took something from his victims and their families that they will never be able to get back."

Reports that Jones was soliciting said videos first began to emerge in 2015, when he was accused of asking underage girls to send him twerking videos. The singer confirmed that these twerking video rumors were true, but he denied ever asking for more than that. Evidence continued to mount, however, and, in 2017, the singer was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare Airport after returning from a concert in Poland. He was charged with two counts of production of child pornography, charges he later went down for.

Court documents obtained by The Verge confirm that Jones asked over 30 girls to "prove" that they were real fans by getting naked or performing sexually explicit acts. At first it looked as though YouTube wasn't going to act, but, a few days after Jones' guilty plea, his channel was terminated. 

Sam & Nia miscarriage

In August 2015, Christian vloggers Sam and Nia uploaded a video of Sam surprising his wife Nia with her own positive pregnancy test. The heartwarming video quickly went viral, earning the pair a ton of buzz and new subscribers. However, just a few days later, the duo uploaded another since-deleted video in which they revealed that Nia had a miscarriage. Viewers were quick to call the couple out, believing they had seemingly faked the pregnancy in the first place.

BuzzFeed News even had doctors weigh in on the viability of carrying out a pregnancy test in the way that Sam did — using leftover pee that had been diluted in a toilet. "I would not recommend this method," Mayo Clinic perinatologist Wendy White explained to BuzzFeed News. "It would lead to false negatives, and theoretically could lead to false positives as well." 

Soon after, the couple uploaded another video addressing the "Haterade" from people accusing them of staging the pregnancy. "It was staged," Sam said, adding, "It was all orchestrated by God above and nothing less."

Sam Rader exposed for cheating on Nia

Not long after the pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage videos went viral, Daily Mail reported that Sam was a member of the notorious member of the cheating website Ashley Madison. In August 2015, hackers exposed the names and email addresses of thousands of paying Ashley Madison members, including Sam, who allegedly used the service in 2013.

After the fallout from the hack, Sam and Nia released a since-deleted video addressing Sam's alleged infidelity. "She has forgiven me for this mistake that I made in opening the account," Sam said about his wife (via Washington Post). "This is in our past, and this has already been completely resolved within my family and within my church."

Adam Saleh kicked off plane

In December 2016, YouTube prankster Adam Saleh uploaded a video to Twitter appearing to show him being kicked off a plane for speaking in Arabic while on a phone call (via Vox). At first, the airline received some backlash for the seemingly racist act. However, soon the internet began questioning the truthfulness behind Saleh's video. One person who claimed to be a passenger on the flight took to Reddit (reposted via Twitter) to tell a different side of the story. 

"Neither of them was on any phone call," the user wrote, claiming Saleh made his friend shout in Arabic across the plain, which unsurprisingly upset fellow passengers. According to Vox, the airline soon released a statement of their own after consulting with crew and passengers. "Based on the information collected to date, it appears the customers who were removed sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behavior, including shouting," the rep wrote. 

In light of Saleh's many social experiment YouTube videos and the reports from other passengers on the same flight, it's easy to see why so many were quick to question Saleh's claims.

Sam Pepper uploaded fake videos and pretended they were real

YouTube videos being passed off as the real deal is a disturbing trend, one that also wrapped YouTube prankster Sam Pepper up in controversy. The online personality and Big Brother UK alum took things too far when he uploaded a now-deleted video that showed his attempt to prank Vine star Sam Golbach — the video appeared to show a masked man killing Golbach's friend right in front of him. The video received tons of backlash for its insensitivity. 

Soon after, Pepper virtually removed himself from the internet by deleting basically his entire internet presence, including all of his YouTube videos. He then uploaded an apology video in which he confessed that basically all of his videos were faked, meaning Golbach was in on the whole thing from the outset.

"I was one of the first prank channels then all these other prank channels started coming out," he said. So, instead of trying to think of more creative ways to attract viewers, he decided to fake things. "I wanted to keep it current, I wanted to get views, I wanted to get money. It's my job," he said. The scandal didn't deter Pepper from making new videos. In October 2017, he came back with his first video in ten months — and yes, it was another prank.

PewDiePie's controversial videos

With over 59 million subscribers, PewDiePie's channel is one of the most — if not the most — popular YouTube channels to date. PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, became popular for uploading videos of him playing various games and then for his rants and comedy vlogs. But even the biggest YouTubers aren't safe from scandal. 

In 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that PewDiePie had released nine now-deleted videos featuring anti-Semitic content since the previous August. The backlash was so severe that his digital network, the Disney-owned Maker Studio, released the YouTube star from their roster. "Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case," a Maker Studio spokesperson said. Despite PewDiePie being one of YouTube's biggest stars, the company reportedly removed him from their Google Preferred advertising program after his controversial videos made headlines. 

Following the backlash, PewDiePie released a statement on Tumblr. "I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes…Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive," he wrote. "As laughable as it is to believe that I might actually endorse these people, to anyone unsure on my standpoint regarding hate-based groups: No, I don't support these people in any way." 

However, it seems the star didn't totally learn his lesson. A few months later, in September 2017, the YouTuber faced backlash yet again for saying the N-word during a livestream. He took to YouTube to apologize for his actions. "It was something I said in the heat of the moment. I said the worst word I could possibly think of," he explained. "There are no excuses for it. I'm just an idiot." 

Marina Joyce kidnapping conspiracy theory

In July 2017, popular YouTuber Marina Joyce uploaded a video advertising a clothing company. It wasn't long before commenters began calling Joyce out for her rather odd behavior, claiming the video seemed forced and even alleging that she whispered "help me" at one point. The issue got so out of hand that U.K. police even went to the YouTuber's house to check on her after claims that she was kidnapped by ISIS began circulating. Things came to a head when Joyce tweeted about a rave meet-up a couple days after uploading the video. Her followers began claiming the rave was really a trap, and, according to The Guardian, several fellow YouTubers begged fans not to attend. 

A few days after posting the video, Joyce interviewed with The Sun, denying that anything was really wrong. "I just woke up one morning and and the hashtag #SaveMarinaJoyce was happening everywhere," she said. "I now know that if I'm ever really in trouble or in danger then my YouTube viewers will be there for me." 

Unsurprisingly, her mother Cheryl, who'd filmed that particular video, was taken aback by the YouTube comments. "I read the comments, I saw what was going on. I got frightened," she told The Guardian, explaining that viewers were overthinking much of what was happening in the video — and also that it was definitely not some sort of ploy to gain Joyce views or followers (though her channel did blow up after that). "It was no stunt — we're not capable of that. It's just not true," Joyce's mom told The Guardian.

Calum McSwiggan arrested

In June 2016, YouTuber McSwiggan uploaded a photo of him in the hospital to Instagram. The openly gay YouTuber's caption claimed that after leaving a gay club in West Hollywood, three men attacked him and he was afterwards treated poorly by police. "I've never felt so terrified to be a gay man in the public eye," he wrote. 

In a surprising turn of events, the L.A. Times reported that after the alleged attack, police placed McSwiggan under arrest for vandalism. While in his jail cell, McSwiggan allegedly began hurting himself with a payphone. McSwiggan took to Facebook to explain his side of the story, writing that, after leaving the club, he went to a parking lot with someone he met at the club. When they reached a car, McSwiggan claims the unnamed man and two others began beating him. "In a moment of devastation, anger and blind rage I kicked the wing mirror of the attacker's car until it broke and then ripped it off with my hands," McSwiggan wrote. "I also scratched the front of the car with the broken wing mirror before returning back to The Abbey for help." 

Despite the YouTuber's claims that he was attacked, his arrest booking photo shows no signs of injury. On why he hit himself with the payphone, McSwiggan claims he believed it was "the only solution" he could think of to get himself out of jail and into the hospital. In November 2016, CBS News reported that McSwiggan had pleaded guilty to vandalism for which he received three years of supervised probation as well as anger management sessions.

Nicole Arbour domestic abuse claims

YouTuber Nicole Arbour, known for her off-color rants, went viral in September 2015 for her controversial video "Dear Fat People." It seems her anger may not just be reserved for her videos, though. 

In September 2015, claims that Arbour was abusive towards her ex-boyfriend, another YouTuber named Matthew Santoro, began circulating around the internet. Santoro's friend Rob Dyke appeared on a DramaAlert YouTube show substantiating claims that Arbour was abusive. 

"She had been mentally abusing him for the duration of their time together," Dyke claimed. She was also allegedly very jealous of Santoro's platonic and business relationships with other women and eventually escalated to being physically abusive. 

In January 2016, Daily Dot reported that Santoro accidentally published a video about an abusive unnamed ex with claims that matched up with those Dyke revealed months earlier. Though Santoro never named her, Arbour shot back in a comment on one of her videos calling her ex a "little b***h" and eventually uploaded her own now-deleted video calling Santoro's claims "a whole bunch of lies."

'First Amendment auditor' shot by synagogue security guard

If you haven't heard the term First Amendment audit, all you need to do is type it into the YouTube search bar and you'll find countless examples of this controversial style of vlogging. Also known as "copwatching," these videos involve creators filming their confrontations with law enforcement as a way of "holding the government accountable and educating Americans about their rights," as The Verge puts it. What happens when these confrontations escalate? Just ask First Amendment auditor Zhoie Perez, aka Furry Potato.

In February 2019, the transgender YouTuber was shot in the leg by a security guard while filming a video near a high school and synagogue. Perez was standing on a public sidewalk at the time. Edduin Zelayagrunfeld, 44, was arrested, but prosecutors decided not to file any criminal charges after concluding that he acted reasonably under the circumstances. "Perez went to a Jewish school, and place of worship, dressed in all black and with a backpack secured to her body by a harness," a memo filed by the district attorney's office read (via Los Angeles Times). "As Zelaya told detectives, Perez's backpack could have contained a bomb, and her attire could have concealed a firearm or other deadly weapon."

This wasn't Perez's first scandal; the Army vet was arrested in 2018 after verbally abusing soldiers at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in California. According to The Signal, Perez pleaded no contest to an infraction count of disturbing the peace.

Vegan guru accidentally exposed as fraud

YouTube can be an invaluable resource if you're looking for tips on how to shift to a plant-based diet. The platform's vegan community has grown in size considerably over the past few years, and there are more vegan food videos than you can shake a celery stick at. Some vegan creators have managed to build substantial followings by promoting the lifestyle — Yovana Mendoza Ayres (aka Rawvana) among them. Her empire came tumbling down in March 2019, however, when she was filmed eating fish in Bali, a place she herself described as a "plant-based paradise" (via New York Post).

Ayres was actually caught in the act by a fellow YouTuber, who filmed the mortified Ayres with her non-vegan meal. She tried to cover her plate, but she was too late. Ayres came out with an apology video, but the goodwill she'd built up was already shattered. She was dubbed "Fishvana" by trolls, who began to spam her social media with endless fish emojis. "I felt like someone had died," the shamed YouTuber told The Daily Beast. "It was one of the worst days of my life."

Ayres isn't the only YouTuber to abandon the raw vegan way. The Atlantic argues that vegans on YouTube are held to impossibly high standards by viewers, who will turn on them the instant they sway. But in the case of Ayres (who sells her own vegan meal plans for $49 each), it's easy to see why fans were furious.

YouTube's big problem

In February 2019, creator Matt Watson shone a light on the dark underbelly of the YouTube comments section. In his video (which quickly went viral), Watson explained how pedophiles were taking advantage of seemingly innocent uploads — and how YouTube's algorithms were actually "facilitating" this. "I have discovered a wormhole, as I would call it, into a softcore pedophile ring on YouTube," he said. As an example, Watson searched for "bikini haul" and started clicking on YouTube's recommended videos, quickly coming across examples of predatory behavior.

Offenders reportedly use timestamps to direct others to certain points in a video, moments where children are captured in compromising positions. According to Watson, these people use YouTube to trade contact details and to share links to illegal content on other websites. The YouTuber was barely able to contain his anger, which was heightened by the fact that this isn't a new discovery; numerous big brands started pulling ads from YouTube in 2017 when the British media highlighted this issue (via New York Post). A YouTube spokesperson said that it was "working urgently to fix this," but the problem apparently never went away.

The hashtag "#YouTubeWakeUp" spread like wildfire following Watson's video, which drew a response from the company. YouTube disabled comments on tens of millions of videos and terminated over 400 channels in 48 hours, but the damage was already done. "Disney, AT&T, Nestle, and Fortnite are jumping ship and halting all YouTube advertising in its wake," Mashable reported.