A video prankster, who was transformed into a global star by YouTube, faced accusations of sexual assault after posting a clip in which he is shown grabbing women’s bottoms from behind.
Sam Pepper, 25, a former Big Brother contestant who specialises in comic monologues and pranks, is one of a new generation of stars created by the video-sharing website.
He regularly posts provocative clips on his YouTube account, which has 2.4m subscribers, the majority of whom are girls.
But Pepper, from Folkestone, Kent, prompted a furious backlash after posting a clip in when he pinches numerous women’s bottoms whilst pretending to ask for directions.
Influential members of the YouTube community, despite Pepper’s claim that the video was a “prank”, scripted and with the consent of all participants, signed an open letter, telling to Pepper to remove the video, which they claim violated YouTube policy on sexual content.
He was banned from attending Playlist Live, a YouTube convention and other gatherings for video stars.
The video was removed but Pepper uploaded a second clip of women pinching men’s bottoms, which one viewer called “as uncomfortable and inappropriate” as the first film. “Good to know he's an equal opportunity creep,” tweeted on critic.
The clips were designed as a “social experiment” to shed light on society’s flippant attitude to sexual abuse, which affects men and women equally, Pepper claimed.
The YouTube star, who has built a lucrative career as a web personality, faces further accusations that he has exploited his instant celebrity status.
Mark Ludford, a blogger who claims he has distanced himself from Pepper, a former friend, wrote: “His behaviour is fucking unacceptable and I’m glad this entire thing has blown up in his face, and I’m also glad YouTubers and viewers are standing by what’s morally right here.”
Mazzi Maz, a YouTube collaborator with Pepper, said he had gone “too far”. Maz added: “We are meant to push the boundaries but you need to know what's right and what's wrong. YouTube is a place where you can get ripped to shreds. A sexual predator isn’t a good look.”
In a third YouTube message, Pepper said he had uploaded both of the “Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank” clips on Facebook so that “everyone can see the videos and fully understand the message, remember that these videos are staged, scripted and I had full permission before filming from each of the people involved.”
He said: “It goes without saying you can’t go round touching people’s bums without asking.” Pepper said he wanted to showcase a violent relationship a male friend of his had suffered. “I chose to use sexual harassment as the focal point of the experiment. That way I could pass it off as prank, pretend it’s harmless and watch all you guys go crazy in the comments. I just wanted to show, in many cases people would be outraged by an act like this on a woman but then laugh it off when it's a man.”
His explanation did not appease Twitter. “Dear @sampepper. Please understand that assaulting men does not magically justify sexually assaulting or objectifying women. Please stop,” wrote one respondent.
Another YouTube vlogger, who posts under the name BradTheLadLong, defended Pepper. Long said: “What Sam did was wrong but we've all made mistakes and completely blacklisting him from the YouTube community is very harsh. The reason that this whole situation has turned into a hate campaign is because YouTubers are trying to further their own careers by hating on Sam.”
Digital media has spawned a number of clean-cut, “millionaire” YouTube stars who have replaced pop stars in the affections of their teenage fanbase.
Alfie Deyes, a 21 year-old Brighton vlogger, has more than 3 million subsribers to his Pointless blog, where he posts videos about everyday issues. Police were forced to call off a recent book-signing session after 8,000 fans descended upon the venue.