Respected YouTubers Who Are Actually Terrible People

YouTube is a wonderful place, where someone might get a history lesson on an obscure topic on their lunch break, find some brilliant workout videos to follow along with before dinner, and then practice along with tutorials for every hobby ever imagined. But, like everything else the human race gets its grubby little hands on, there's also the potential to give some truly terrible people a platform for their awfulness and the opportunity to find fame for nefarious end goals.

Here's some numbers that are both shocking and not surprising (via The New York Times): Over the course of a three-month period in 2023, more than 10.5 million channels and 8.1 million were flagged for questionable content and ultimately removed. That's bad enough, but let's talk about when things get even more insidious. YouTubers can amass massive followings and fans, but it turns out that what's on the screen sometimes doesn't match what goes on when the cameras turn off. Shocking, right?

While it might not come as a surprise to anyone that content creators who post consistently horrible content really are terrible people, what about those who are highly respected? Those who post wholesome, innocent, or even thoughtful content? It turns out that even some of the most respected YouTubers have been accused, convicted, and even jailed over some stomach-turning behavior. Whether that's mommy vloggers hiding child abuse, the rich and famous exploiting — and sometimes assaulting — their fans, or power trips gone wrong, there's a lot to unpack here.

Ruby Franke

Mommy bloggers and parenting lifestyle vlogs are a surefire way to either get some great advice or some serious insecurities, but the case of popular YouTube creator Ruby Franke turned into a horror show. In 2024, the Utah-based Franke and her former business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, were convicted of child abuse. The image of a happy home life started to unravel when her 12-year-old son fled his home: He was looking for something to eat and drink and was found to have been restrained with ropes and duct tape. He was hospitalized for malnourishment. 

What unfolded was a torrent of horrors. Threats had escalated into beatings and bizarre punishments, including forcing their children to work outside — with no protection — until they were sunburned, losing the privilege of sleeping in a bed for months at a time, regularly going without food, and in one case, one of her daughters was forced (by Hildebrandt) to jump into a cactus. Even more bizarrely, some of the scenarios made it into their YouTube videos, leading to petitions asking authorities to investigate. No arrests were made until her son went for help.

After her conviction, Franke said (via the BBC), "I was so disoriented that I believed dark was light and right was wrong. I was led to believe that this world was an evil place, filled with cops who control, hospitals that injure, government agencies that brainwash, church leaders who lie and lust, husbands who refuse to protect, and children who need abuse." They were sentenced to up to 30 years. 

Trey Sesler/Mr. Anime

As Mr. Anime, Trey Sesler accumulated somewhere around a million views on his 300+ videos, which started out as mostly being about, predictably, anime. The tone changed from lighthearted fun to much darker content, though, as Sesler started showing off rifles and pistols, editing shootings into his videos, and titling one the ominous, "Mr. Anime is Planning Something." Just what that was, it wasn't clear, but what happened afterwards was nothing short of shocking. 

In 2012, Sesler was arrested for the shooting deaths of his parents and brother in a SWAT raid on his Texas home. The 22-year old Sesler was reportedly connected to the killings pretty instantly, with Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith telling the Houston Chronicle, "This was a scene that had a lot of violence. The house was ransacked."

The killings seemed to come out of nowhere, as there was no history of violence or even suspicious activities. That wasn't the end of the story, either, and after his arrest, Sesler confessed to that being just the beginning of his plans. He claimed that he had planned to carry out a school shooting at his former high school. He later pleaded guilty to capital murder, was convicted, and sentenced to life without parole.

Colleen Ballinger

While there's nothing wrong with adult YouTubers making content for kids, that's a thing that comes with boundaries and responsibilities. In 2023, Rolling Stone reported that four fans had come forward to say that the ridiculously popular Colleen Ballinger hadn't just skirted those barriers, but burned them to the ground and danced on the ashes. Among the first was Adam McIntyre, who started following Ballinger when he was 10, and who by 14 had struck up a friendship with her that he said turned manipulative, abusive, and downright weird.

McIntyre has since shared screenshots of private chat logs where Ballinger had asked the then-underage teen questions like, "Are you a virgin?" and requested sexually suggestive photos. There was also the incident where she sent him lingerie, and after he went public with his story, he faced a backlash from other fans as brutal as it was swift. However, three years later, more people were coming forward with stories like McIntyre's and were providing screenshots to back up the claims.

And those stories weren't just about Ballinger, they were about members of her team, too — including her ex-husband, her brother, and her best friend. Inappropriate texts and messages were just the beginning, with accusations of harassment, bullying, fat-shaming, and — as more people came forward — instances of racism (including her regular use of racially insensitive jokes and refusing to cast people of color in any skits). Her so-called apology — which heavily featured a ukulele — didn't go over well, either.

Toy Freaks

So here's some depressing food for thought. YouTube Kids got started in 2015, and since then, concerns have been raised about videos like one from the Freak Family channel, which had the title "Bad Baby with Tantrum and Crying for Lollipops Little Babies Learn Colors..." Why? It was a video of a little girl appearing to bleed as someone shaved her face.

Freak Family Vlogs is actually the sister channel of Greg Chism's Toy Freaks, which had somewhere around 13 million combined subscribers with individual videos being watched upwards of 600 million times. Was it a single dad having some wholesome fun with his daughters? Not quite, as many of the videos featured the girls in terrifying situations and being pranked by their father. About the time YouTube pulled the channel, Chism told Variety that his daughters "have had the opportunity to develop their creativity and self-confidence over the past few years ...[and] I could not be happier with having had this remarkable experience."

Toy Freaks — which was in YouTube's top 100 when it was pulled — wasn't exactly harmless fun. That's according to clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg, who told NBC News, "It's a very concerning thing. It's abusive any way you look at it. I think, my guess, my thought is these are very likely parents who view their kids not as people but as possessions." Greenberg also spoke to the lasting scars of psychological trauma, saying that when kids can't trust their own parents, "the world becomes a frightening place."

Trevor Martin and Tom Cassell

For many gamers, loot crates were kind of the beginning of the end. For the uninitiated, here's a brief explanation: Gamers could buy a chance to open a crate (or participate in another game-specific mechanic) for the chance to win something awesome ... or, win nothing much at all. That's where popular Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) YouTubers Trevor Martin (pictured) and Tom Cassell come in. They started promoting a site called CSGO Lotto, where people could buy tickets to (perhaps) win in-game things like gun skins,  which is essentially a modification that users can buy. Those things could sell for a shocking amount of real-world money, and they promoted the site in part by talking about the awesome things they won. 

The problem? They didn't just randomly find the site as they claimed, they owned it — and definitely didn't disclose that when they very conveniently started winning some big prizes. They were called out by HonorThe Call — another YouTuber — and ended up going before the FTC in what was officially the first time they'd reached a settlement with "social media influencers." 

Shortly after the settlement, screenshots of a conversation between Martin and HonorTheCall went public, with Martin insisting that he had nothing to do with rigging the winnings, and that the accusations were slanderous. While it's unclear just how much Martin and Cassell made from the now-defunct site — which was also flagged for underage gambling — he did write (via HuffPost), "You are directly negatively affecting [a] million dollar business ... so I would tread carefully."

Austin Jones

After kicking off his YouTube channel in 2007, Austin Jones quickly amassed a massive audience for his acapella covers of popular songs. In addition to half a million YouTube subscribers, more than 5 million views, and substantial followings on other social media platforms, he even set off on a massive, multi-nation tour. Until, that is, he was arrested and charged with solicitation of minors. 

The details that started to emerge were pretty grim, and Jones would ultimately be handed a 10-year jail sentence for his actions. Those actions included approaching girls as young as 14 and asking them to prove what big fans they were by sending him explicit photos and videos. Jones was found to have coached them on everything — including what to say and do in the videos they sent — and dozens of materials changed hands. 

Jones was sentenced in 2019, and just as disturbing as the charges themselves is that allegations had been made as far back as 2015. That's when another YouTube personality, Damon Frizzy, accused Jones of questionable behavior, and what he was told when he continued to campaign for others to share their stories was nothing short of awful. He wrote of the backlash he faced, saying (via People), "I was told I'd receive jail time, I'd be responsible if he killed [himself] ... I was literally treated worse than the person who uses his underage fans for sexual gain."

German Loera

It's no secret that the world needs more positivity in it, and positivity was the message behind many of YouTuber German Loera's videos. He was also a participant in the World Congress of Young Leaders for Peace, which made his arrest for his involvement in a 2018 kidnapping of a lawyer all the more bizarre. Loera and four others were accused of kidnapping Thania Denisse and then holding her hostage as they issued demands for a ransom that was requested in Bitcoin.

El Pais reported that Chihuahua's security spokesperson alleged that Loera wasn't just a part of the plot, but the ringleader: "The investigations point to him being the intellectual author, the head behind the kidnapping," Eduardo Espaeza explained. It was further claimed that Loera was the one who arranged for the rented home used to hold Denisse, as well as being responsible for making the ransom demands. He was found guilty and given a 50-year jail sentence, and does it get stranger? Of course it does.

Denisse was held for two days, and while those accused of the kidnapping were arrested, it was another headline that was arguably even more shocking. Also in February of that year, Loera's father was brutally murdered by decapitation, and although there was no immediate connection made between the crimes, it was described as "an apparent score-settling between organized crime groups."

Machelle Hobson

What sounds more wholesome than a YouTube channel called Fantastic Adventures? Kids going on quests like the "cookie capture mission"? Adorable, right? Around 800,000 subscribers thought so, watching videos hundreds of millions of times ... until, that is, the channel's showrunner was arrested on charges of child abuse and molestation. 

Machelle Hobson's list of charges is tough reading and includes accusations of forced ice baths, being locked in closets, holding them underwater, assaults handed out with pepper spray, and beating her seven adopted children until they bled. When a welfare check visited Hobson's home, they found children starving but refusing food in fear of the repercussions, and drinking water with desperate thirst. The children reported being punished for mistakes made during the filming of the ridiculously popular videos, which they had been taken out of school to make more frequently. When investigators interviewed one of the children, he said (via NBC News) that he "was in the green screen room most of his life," and several hadn't been to school in years.

Eerily, two of Hobson's adult children (pictured with her) were also arrested, testifying that they knew about the abuse but didn't report it. News of the arrests broke in March 2019, and in November, it was reported that she had died of natural causes without the case going to trial. The children had been returned to state custody and were assigned advocates to help them deal with the trauma.

David Dobrik and the Vlog Squad

David Dobrik rose to almost ridiculous levels of fame at the head of an ever-changing friend group of cohorts called the Vlog Squad, cashing in big with a sort of Dennis the Menace meets Richie Rich vibe. Wholesome and harmless fun? Not according to those who have come out with a slew of accusations about what happens behind the scenes, and they're accusations that have gone largely unanswered by Dobrik. 

There's a lot to unpack here, but let's take some highlights. In addition to staging a ton of dangerous stunts with seemingly little concern for the health and safety of those involved — with one member of his crew being badly injured in a heavy-machinery stunt gone wrong — there were multiple accusations of sexual harassment leveled against the crew in 2017, and in 2018, those were followed by accusations from a fan that claimed they had been pressured into drinking and sex. In 2020, one former Vlog Squad member released a scathing video that included some wildly racist clips — including Dobrik performing in Blackface — which prompted an apology that was largely found lacking.

Other Vlog Squad members have come forward with accusations of ableism and more sexual harassment, including being filmed naked without consent. There are pranks gone bad, claims that participating in the group left at least one person suffering from PTSD, and although subscribers started unsubscribing and allegations were serious enough that sponsors started to back away from him, he continued to post on various social media platforms for a surprising amount of time.

Ian Rylett

While most YouTubers tend to star in the videos they create, Ian Rylett was a creator who ran things from the sidelines. As the founder of the SevenAwesomeKids channel and their spinoffs, Rylett oversaw a massive group of hosts — mostly teenage girls between 8 and 18 years old — who were hired to do the presenting, and yes, it's going to go there. YouTube shut down his channels in 2019, following accusations of child abuse and assault, an arrest, and a guilty plea. 

The arrest came after Rylett was accused of forcing an unidentified girl to strip in front of him, as well as touching her. He initially pleaded not guilty, but when Buzzfeed News did a deep-dive into the situation and spoke with other presenters, they found a shocking pattern of abuses that included requesting full-body swimsuit photos, overstepping boundaries of parental consent, and other behaviors that performers were wildly uncomfortable with.

After watching a "Tosh.o" segment about the YouTube channels, red flags started to go up among the girls. One performer told Buzzfeed, "Some of us started to get the feeling we were being groomed for some darker audience. Things that didn't feel weird at the time — like the themes, the leotards, and the camera angles — started to feel strange. I started to get that feeling especially when you think that some of these girls are 9 years old." Another performer observed, "On trips we used to joke about him being creepy, but we never thought he'd act on it." He was given 90 days in jail and five years on probation. 

If you or anyone you know needs may be the victim of child abuse or sexual assault, contact the relevant resources below:

  • The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

  • The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).