I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching recently to try to figure out how I — a fairly thoughtful and reasonable person, if I do say so myself — once could have watched a person’s sexual assault in a YouTube video and laughed.
There’s a lot to admire when it comes to 24-year-old David Dobrik, or at least that’s what it felt like when I first discovered his YouTube channel. In high school, I liked Dobrik for his disarming personality and insane work ethic — a “go hard or go home” approach to life — that were featured throughout his vlogs.
It seemed as if Dobrik always knew how to encapsulate the most exciting moments in life, whether it was a montage of a huge party or an elaborate prank on his friends. I completely bought into what he offered, and nearly 19 million other subscribers have done the same.
But just because someone is likeable doesn’t mean they can’t be toxic.
Some of Dobrik’s ex-friends have publicly come forward about his abusive tendencies, and it’s not too late to listen. It seems like, for the first time in his career, Dobrik’s fans are finally questioning whether to continue supporting him.
Last month, Seth Francois, who used to be a friend of Dobrik’s, publicly described a sexual assault he endured. In an old video, Dobrik tricked Francois into kissing a man twice his age. Francois reflected on the years of confusion and trauma that followed during an interview with Insider.
I remember this skit, and I remember smiling when I saw it. I probably watched it more than once, given how many times I’d rewatch Dobrik’s old videos.
There were more vulgar parts of the vlog that — although at one time I found charming in their own way — I now can’t fathom rationalizing. Highlights of his vlogs included mocking his friend Nik Keswani for his dwarfism and encouraging other friends to binge drink for content. He once bribed someone to drink his own urine in front of the camera.
I recognize how obvious these red flags are, but some of that is hindsight bias. In truth, it was easy to look past something horrible hidden in plain sight, behind smiles and popularity. I’m sure many of his past fans have come to the same conclusion.
But Dobrik caters to a younger audience — surprising, given his choice of explicit subjects — which means there are even more impressionable viewers out there who absorb what he posts and normalize it further.
Dobrik knows this. Francois said Dobrik refused to take down the multiple videos making light of his assault, and Dobrik and his publicist have been radio silent in light of Francois’ story coming out. Instead, he’d rather pretend nothing happened.
Meanwhile, he just moved into a $9 million mansion. On Instagram, he showed off an exciting installment of his new house: a water fountain that spews fruit punch instead of water.
As long as Dobrik refuses to hold himself accountable for his harmful actions, not only to his friends but also to his fanbase, we should not be engaging with any of his content, including his merchandise, phone apps, videos, podcasts and other business ventures.
To be clear, this would mean more than a half-hearted mention in a podcast or Instagram. I would hope he would address the situation with a call to action regarding the future of his comedy business, because it is clear that his current dynamic cannot continue.
Colleges have paid Dobrik obscene money to visit campus as a guest in the past, such as the University of Pittsburgh, The College of New Jersey and the University of Florida. This also cannot be allowed to continue — having an abuser as a speaker benefits no one.
There needs to be consequences for his actions, and he won’t feel those consequences unless he has stopped profiting off his abusive behavior.
It’s time to make it clear to Dobrik that his popularity does not justify emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
My hope is Dobrik’s current and former fans can stand with Francois and Keswani.
Beyond the world of Dobrik and his Vlog Squad, we need to learn that abusers aren’t always what we stereotype — shady characters who wear a trench coat or live as social outcasts.
Abusers can be funny, popular or even kind.
They can present as charismatic, but live a completely different life behind the scenes. Francois also spoke out about Dobrik’s racism in his videos, which took place at the same time Dobrik was donating $50,000 to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The notion that nice people can’t be abusive is how Dobrik has thrived. As long as he can convince his audience of his innocent image, he is untouchable.
There are more Dobriks out there in the world, all with their own victims such as Francois and Keswani. By understanding how this YouTuber hides in plain sight, we are better equipped to notice red flags in our own lives.