- YouTubers have some of the most fiercely loyal fans in the world, but also some of the most passionate critics.
- Many creators recover from scandals, but others become hate figures on the platform, and spiral down and down until they are universally vilified.
- Onision, for example, is YouTube’s supervillain, with his trolling, disturbing content, and problems with the law.
- Insider spoke to experts about whether becoming a YouTube villain is inevitable, and whether there’s a point of no return after being “cancelled.”
- In the end, it might come down to the fact we always need someone to dislike, and unlikable people will always exist.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The internet didn’t always hate Onision. He started his YouTube channel back in 2006, and was a popular creator for a while, collaborating with Shane Dawson, attending VidCon, and going viral with the now-infamous “Banana Song.”
But over the next 14 years, Onision, whose real name is James “Greg” Jackson, had an unprecedented fall from grace and descended into the role of YouTube’s most notorious supervillain. He started making more disturbing content, accused his former friend Dawson of pedophilia, and got in trouble with the law.
Soon, the name Onision became synonymous with his inappropriate comments about underage girls, messy public breakups, and even allegations of grooming that are currently being investigated by the FBI (as well as vigilante predator hunterChris Hansen.)
It all starts with a desire to get noticed
There are several characters on YouTube who are a regular topic of criticism. They feature prominently on commentary, drama, and tea channels, with their lives recycled time and time again as a surefire way to gain viewers and clicks. But were they destined to be this way?
Psychologist Perpetua Neo told Insider that creators may become cemented in a negative persona they built because of a constant need for attention – good or bad.
“People’s attentions are short-lived online,” she said. “They need something fun, something sensational, or something provocative.”
It can easily go too far so that creators fall so deep into the trap of playing a part online that it consumes them. Neo said this desire to be noticed, whether it’s for money, fame, or views, overwhelms everything else.
“If your persona is so successful, whether it’s a good success or a bad success, then you are motivated to make that bigger,” she said. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
A person has to be really strong to be able to compartmentalise the part they are playing online from their real life, Neo said, or reality and fiction can start to bleed together.
“Are you able to switch that off and become your real self? Or do you even know your real self?” she said. “When you’re in that role it’s very easy to want to take on that sort of persona, so you spiral down that trap pretty easily.”
Jackson’s persona and personal life certainly blurred over the years he was on YouTube, and he was often criticised for over-sharing. In just one example, he uploaded a disturbing video in 2011 where, instead of calling an ambulance, he appeared to film his girlfriend having a seizure-like episode where she couldn’t remember who he was.
Among the many accusations against Jackson is the grooming of a girl called Sarah, whom he and his spouse Kai Avaroe befriended when she was just 14. Another woman called Billie also told her story of disturbing punishments, such as being chained in a basement for a week, and being commanded to get a tattoo reading “I’m a liar.”
When Insider asked Jackson for comment on the allegations at the time, he responded saying it was “nonsense,” and asked for $US10,000 for an interview (the price he offered to Hansen was $US350,000). This was amid very public meltdowns he posted to YouTube when his Patreon was shut down, although he later claimed it was all “trolling.”
“It’s hard to tell how much of Onision’s videos are truth and how much are performance, as seemingly serious statements are interspersed with bursts of seemingly put-on sobbing and gagging,” S. Graves wrote for Insider.
‘Your videos are vile in nature’
Once Jackson’s YouTube career plummeted into disrepute, he never clawed his way back into earning any sort of respect. All he’s earned is universal contempt from the entire YouTube community, save for a small group of dedicated fans who subscribe to his OnlyFans account.
There are thousands of take-down style videos of him on YouTube, some of which are over an hour long. The YouTuber Repzion, real name Daniel Sulzbach, has posted over 50, documenting all the twists and turns of the building evidence and claims against him.Jackson even took Sulzbach to court over allegations of harassment and cyber-stalking, but later requested a dismissal, which was granted.
“Greg is always the victim of every circumstance, of every individual, of every person who he has ever been involved with,” Sulzbach said in his video “The Onision Files.“
“Your videos are vile in nature. There’s a trend of always making videos about beating women, hurting women, saying horrible degrading things about women, telling women that if they get abused it’s always somehow their fault, and they’re as bad as the abuser if they don’t report it right when you think it’s appropriate.”
Jackson didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article, but on his Tumblr page he said he’s no longer interested in being a YouTuber and asked his fans not to write to him about “YouTube stuff.” He recently deleted his main channel to focus on OnlyFans full time, so only his secondary one,OnisionSpeaks, remains.
“I know a lot of people want to talk about stuff that is depressing, uncomfortable & ultimately a waste of time … but you can’t move forward by living in the past,” Jackson responded to one fan on Tumblr. “Grow from what you go through, and cheer up. That is the way to live.”
This wish for distance makes sense, according to Neo, because nobody can handle being the default bad guy forever
“It’s easy to get damaged by it because nobody is impervious to criticism,” she said. “If you have problems with the law, unless you’re psychopathic and thrive off the legal issues, then it’s going to be terrifying … You don’t want to live in fear and always looking over your shoulder.”
The redemption arc of cancel culture
No other creators on YouTube come close to Jackson in terms of universal condemnation. Several online stars have been “cancelled” at some point during their careers, where they lose thousands, or even millions, of subscribers in a matter of days. But the drama usually blows over sooner rather than later.
Logan Paul and James Charles, for example, suffered massive losses in subscriber counts and popularity after their subsequent dramas – one involving a dead body, the other, vitamins – but both have recovered, made up all the losses, and continue to be two of the most popular creators on YouTube.
Charles lost three million subscribers almost exactly a year ago when the beauty community went into meltdown because he plugged Sugar Bear Hair vitamins on his Instagram story – a rival to his friend Westbrook’s brand Halo Beauty. Westbrook made her grievances about it public, releasing a long video calling Charles backstabbing and manipulative, and threw around several accusations about his alleged inappropriate behaviour around straight men.
Paul suffered a similar fate in 2018 when he filmed a dead body he found in Japan’s “suicide forest.” He spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what it was like to be suddenly the most hated person on the internet. Up until that point, “everything had been a smooth-sailing ride,” he said.
“I was so used to people liking me,” he said. “But being hated? I hate it. I hate being hated.”
Paul doubled-down on his new-found infamy for a while as a way to deal with it, subsequently filming a video where he tasered two dead rats. He now considers that “one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done in my life.”
“I thought, ‘I don’t know what to do right now. I’m already hated. I guess I’ll give them a reason to dislike me,'” he said.
But he turned things around. Two years later, the suicide forest incident is not forgotten, but it’s considered a blip on the radar of one of the pioneers of bridging the gap between mainstream and digital fame.
Media specialist and CEO of Studio BE, Brandon Relph, told Insider that the difference between Jackson and Paul or Charles is that Jackson’s unpopularity has been spread out over many years, and built to a completely irreparable reputation. There was no one mistake that offered a redemption arc – it’s been a lengthy, destructive process to become YouTube’s outcast.
Charles and Paul both benefited from taking a break from their dramas, with a lot of professional help behind the scenes to repair the damage. Jackson, it seems, would rather fight fire with fire, uploading his every thought on claims against him, either not considering, or not caring about, the consequences.
“I just think he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing,” said Relph. “I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but I would assume he doesn’t have things like a publicist, that maybe the Logan Pauls and the James Charleses of the world have.”
What’s wrong with Amberlynn?
Another creator who also appears to be on a never-ending downward spiral, albeit a significantly less grievous one than Jackson, is Amberlynn Reid. She gained notoriety through being a contradiction – setting up her YouTube channel in 2013 as a way to document her weight loss journey, only to gain the pounds over the years instead.
YouTuber Tom Harlock explained why viewers find this frustrating in a comprehensive video called “What’s wrong with Amberlynn?” He said Reid was doing pretty well for the first 18 months of her channel, doing weekly weigh-ins sharing healthy tips, and building a fanbase.
“However, it was around this time that her audience started to notice there was a cycle in regards to Amberlynn’s weight loss,” he said.
“Amberlynn finds a new strategy that she gets very invested in… She gets very excited about the idea of losing weight and the idea of being successful, [but] when push comes to shove and she has to put down that fork, she realises it’s a bit difficult really isn’t it, and she bails.”
She then goes on YouTube to blame her audience for her failures, Harlock said, rather than taking responsibility, and the whole cycle starts again. YouTubers and viewers have also voiced concerns about her treatment of animals, and disrespectful behaviour towards her partner.
We cannot know the full story just from her YouTube channel, but that doesn’t stop avid-watchers taking a particular interest in her and trying to fill in the gaps themselves. Reid didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.
Zachary Michael, who has nearly 100,000 subscribers, critiques nearly every video Reid posts. He told Insider some people are dedicated to hate-watching Reid, while others are former fans who ended up disappointed with the route she took.
“I think people decided to start talking about it and covering it because there are so many inconsistencies, scandals, and lies in the history of her channel, that it is really hard to keep it all sorted,” he said.
“People think the beauty community has a lot of drama, and that’s a community made up of several YouTubers. Amberlynn creates the same amount of drama all by herself.”
Michael used to be friendly with Reid until he became concerned about her the way she treated her pets and her thoughtless, and sometimes offensive, comments about her friends and partners – deadnaming and misgendering her ex-partner Casey, for instance.
“For the past year, I think the biggest problem I’ve had is her gaslighting,” Michael said, adding that Reid keeps posting videos made from old footage so nobody can really tell what’s actually going on in her current life.
“I think outside of that, my other frustration is that she never genuinely takes accountability or apologizes for what she does,” he said. “Even when she does squeeze out a tiny apology, she never changes her behaviour in a way that makes it meaningful or worthwhile.”
Surviving and thriving on hate-clicks
Reid also receives a lot of bullying and trolling from viewers who clearly don’t have any interest in her wellbeing. Each of her uploads is destined to receive a staggering dislike to like ratio, with hundreds of comments calling her a liar, telling her she’s killing herself, or mocking her appearance.
It’s a paradox because her whole channel’s survival seems to exist on hate-clicks. The comments tell her to get off YouTube or get help, but the fact she’s getting them in the first place keeps her posting.
None of the criticism stops Reid uploading. In fact, she seems to play up to it.
Michael said her continued notoriety is probably at least partly intentional, because Reid is always musing about where to take her channel and whether she should “start trolling” again.
“She recently posted on her community tab that she wished people ‘knew the truth,’ but it is hard to know what the truth is when she consistently gaslights and tells us all that she trolls on purpose,” he said.
According to Neo, no single person can stand this kind of constant negative attention forever because the anxiety will seep through eventually.
“It’s easy for all this stuff to pervade your consciousness and your feelings, no matter how strong you are,” she said.
‘I think a lot of it boils down to our lack of empathy for people’
Donna, better known as PsychIRL on YouTube, told Insider she likes to compare YouTubers to villains from TV shows or movies when they appear to be playing an unpopular character.
“I think a lot of it boils down to our lack of empathy for people,” she said. “Because when we’re watching a film, we see things through the eyes of the protagonist.”
That protagonist may be one creator with an exposé video like the now ill-famed “Bye Sister,” or it could be the multitude of different narratives from commentary and drama channels spilling the tea.
“The YouTuber’s story is not only being told by themselves, but it’s being told by several other people,” Donna said. “Whoever those several different people are, if we trust and like those people, we’re going to believe that over the YouTuber that’s going through the drama.”
Jackson, for example, was well-liked when he was associating with popular creators like Dawson.
“If you were just to go back in time and look at those vlogs, it’d be so hard to tell that he’d become this YouTube villain,” Donna said. “But after he broke ties with those well-liked people, bam, he went down.”
This association has worked for Trisha Paytas in the past, a YouTuber who is a self-confessed professional troll. In the last year alone, she has claimed to be transgender, married a cardboard cutout of Brad Pitt, and said she has Dissociative identity disorder, but her entire decade-long career has been littered with controversies.
She told Insider for a previous article she had always “wanted to be known,” and it didn’t matter what it was for.
“I never cared about being rich or anything (still don’t),” she said. “I just had (have) this constant need for attention. Maybe that’s a bad thing, maybe not, but it’s how I thrive.”
Paytas is incredibly entertaining, and it’s earned her an army of loyal fans. Being friends with Dawson has kept her status in the YouTube world intact, although patience now seems to be wearing thin. His association is no longer the bullet-proof vest it once was.
Ultimately, everyone loves a villain
The existence of villainous creators online is ultimately an inevitability. Whether they are fully to blame for their unpopularity, or are budged along by the rabid nature of mob mentality, it’s a role that someone is always destined to fill.
The vicious cycle of creating clickable content means having to cover the biggest dramas. And the more unpopular a creator, the more people will want to watch them fall.
“The more emotional you can get the audience to feel, the more they’re going to comment, the higher the likelihood that your video is going to be high up there on the algorithm,” said Donna.
“It keeps people entertained and we know that if we keep feeding into this, it just boosts the villains’ watch time and exposure to fans and things like that.”
But we still watch. Donna has a theory for why that is: We need someone to dislike. Just as much as we love our favourite creators whom we idolize, we can put the same amount of passion into hating the ones that fall short.
“We secretly like it,” she said. “We won’t admit it though.”
Relph said having villains and heroes is simply the way stories are constructed, and YouTube provides the opportunity for them to play out on a global scale. It’s also simply a place where a troubled person can seek attention, when in the real world they might not have enough.
“There’s always going to be people like Onision online because there are always going to be people like Onision in real life,” he said.