Most people experienced a negative 2021, but possibly no 1 experienced a worse 12 months than David Dobrik. At the beginning of last yr, the YouTube feeling and head of the crew recognized as the Vlog Squad was on top of the environment and poised to cross in excess of into the mainstream, acquiring lined up innumerable blue-chip brand discounts and even an eponymous pizza franchise referred to as Doughbrick’s.

In March 2021, nevertheless, Insider revealed a bombshell report accusing him of getting facilitated and profited off of the sexual assault of an nameless female by his then-close friend and collaborator “Durte” Dom Zeglaitis. The posting alleged that the lady, who was 20 at the time, was plied with liquor by Vlog Squad users, rendering her unable to consent to sexual intercourse with Zeglaitis and that he assaulted her while Dobrik and other Vlog Squad associates listened outside the house the door, with Dobrik later uploading the footage onto YouTube. (Zeglaitis has denied the allegations, stating he thought it was consensual Dobrik denied any information of it becoming sexual assault, and the video clip, titled “She Should Not Have Performed With Hearth!!,” was later on removed at the woman’s request, however not just before it obtained hundreds of thousands of views.) Several of Dobrik’s sponsors backed out of their discounts with him, prompting him to release a widely criticized apology video on his secondary YouTube channel. (He afterwards posted a a lot more in-depth next apology video clip.)

To make issues even worse, in April 2021, footage of Vlog Squad member Jeff Wittek receiving severely wounded in a stunt involving an excavator leaked on the web, with Dobrik fielding allegations of fostering a harmful perform setting immediately after it was discovered that he was driving the design equipment. Though Wittek to begin with mentioned he did not blame Dobrik for the incident, their romance has because soured, with Wittek revealing on his podcast this March that their friendship was about and hinted that he prepared to sue Dobrik. “Let’s just enable the courts choose and you will have to indicator a paper that says, ‘Yeah, this was a lie, and I’m guilty of this and that,’ and we can go that route about it,” Wittek reported on his podcast.

When YouTuber and director Casey Neistat started out documenting Dobrik’s daily existence three yrs in the past, capturing the footage that would turn out to be his new documentary Below the Affect, he experienced no notion that any of this would unfold. Instead, Neistat tells Rolling Stone, he was interested in how Dobrik represented a new wave of YouTube stardom, and the implications of what being a YouTuber truly intended. At the time, Dobrik was putting up slice-of-lifetime videos featuring his Vlog Squad, before long pivoting to lavish giveaways and significantly intense stunts. “There was something totally exclusive about the videos he was generating,” claims Neistat. “They weren’t expressions of creativity. They weren’t about filmmaking. They weren’t about matters I comprehended to be what makes a great YouTube video clip. They had been portraits, minor home windows of daily life in early adulthood with no restrict to methods and no obligation.” 

Less than the Influence, which premieres at SXSW on March 12, is a gradual-burn up portrait of a toxic ability dynamic that binds a group of incredibly young, wildly thriving people today together, and the lengths they’re prepared to go to to reach astronomical concentrations of fame — as nicely as the ringmaster at the heart of the circus, directing their every move. (Entire disclosure: Rolling Stone‘s guardian company, Penske Corp., owns a important stake in SXSW.) 

Like many of Dobrik’s subscribers, Neistat was initially entranced by Dobrik’s enthusiastic, puppyish demeanor and the simple rapport he had with the other members of the Vlog Squad. “It’s comprehensible to watch his videos and not question the friendships you’re observing,” he says. “It was only carefully scratching the floor that I started out to realize what was likely on.”

From the extremely beginning, Neistat claims, it was evident that boundaries had been currently being crossed within the environment that Dobrik had constructed, ensuing in increasingly hazardous stunts remaining executed for the digicam. “It’s only funny right up until anyone receives damage,” a grinning Dobrik suggests on digicam all through a stunt involving a Vlog Squad member. Neistat suggests he started questioning the energy dynamics central to the group when he asked Dobrik during their initial sitdown interview no matter whether he and the Vlog Squad were mates or coworkers. “I expected him to be offended by the problem,” he suggests. “But he paused and reported, ‘When the camera will come on they know what they are supposed to do.’”

In one notably abdomen-turning scene that takes area on a personal jet, Dobrik directs associates of the Vlog Squad to engage in ever more wild however mainly innocuous habits — photographs of vodka remaining drizzled into their mouths, etcetera. — till he instructions one Vlog Squad member, Corinna Kopf, to just take off her shirt and fake to clearly show her breasts to the some others even though they applaud. Kopf complies, still the diploma to which Dobrik directs the motion — and the degree to which all people unfailingly follows his guide — is truly unpleasant, to say the minimum.

When the Insider tale came out, intently followed by the facts of Wittek’s incident rising, Neistat says Dobrik was hesitant to seem on-digicam once more for the documentary they did a person last, tense interview, in which Dobrik mostly normally takes an unrepentant stance, proclaiming to have experienced no idea what transpired involving Zeglaitis and his alleged sufferer and that he did not watch the allegations versus Zeglaitis as remaining a reflection on him. (Dobrik mostly assumed this stance in his have interview with Rolling Stone last June, declaring he “couldn’t see how [the allegations] were being linked to me” and saying he was “not mindful of what was heading on.” He also claimed to have slash off call with Zeglaitis after the lady arrived forward, while public social media posts counsel normally.)

Neistat has not spoken to Dobrik given that that remaining interview. “A great deal has transpired in that time. I really don’t know how I would characterize my connection with him now,” Neistat says. “[I] assume he transformed above the training course of my reporting, my documenting of his vocation. I feel you can see that in the deficiency of seriousness in his tone exactly where he’s sort of taking part in a bit of a character and the lovable, goofy David. He normally takes a considerably far more severe tone and owns who he is in that remaining job interview.” 

Some on social media who have not viewed Neistat’s movie have categorized it as a “redemption documentary” for Dobrik, which it is not: it is unsparing in its criticisms of influencer culture and the hurt it can wreak on others’ life, and how Dobrik particularly abdicated his massive accountability as a creator and hurt lots of in the course of action. The film ends on a dejected note, tracking how Dobrik has mainly rebounded from the controversies and dodged accountability: he has ongoing publishing vlogs and podcast episodes, even internet hosting his really have Discovery + sequence, which premiered previous tumble. 

But Neistat stresses that the movie is much less about Dobrik precisely, and how he really should finest be held accountable, and more about the hazards of the YouTube ecosystem in normal, in which sensationalism and clickbait are rewarded and there are handful of infrastructural things in put to guarantee others’ safety.

David is form of part of a sample. The speediest route to obtaining eyeballs is with sensational articles, entire stop. If it’s sensational it will garner a lot more sights. That pursuit of sensationalism unchecked invariably ends in catastrophe. We’ve viewed that time and time all over again,” he suggests. “[I] don’t know what the clear up is for it, or if it even exists. But I think it speaks to 1) the potential risks of new media, and 2) human nature. There is an audience for this. And the larger the viewers, the far more benefits an individual gets. With no absolving David of his wrongdoing or apologizing him, I do feel there’s a higher problem of culpability when it comes to 20 million clicking subscribers, and countless blue chip firms creating him substantial checks. What culpability do the viewers have? And I don’t know if there is an solution to that question.”

By Indana