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Jeffree Star, Laura Lee, Gabriel Zamora and YouTube’s issue with problematic faves

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A prominent issue in the YouTube community

Beauty vlogger Laura Lee.
Laura Lee/YouTube

There’s one unspoken rule that accompanies being a well-known YouTuber who participates in creator culture: drama will follow.

Some creators thrive on it. Turning a Twitter feud into a week-long series on YouTube isn’t just a guaranteed conversation starter, but often leads to lucrative financial success. Drama, manufactured or authentic, once sold tabloid magazines. Now it’s engrained in a very popular sect of YouTube culture.

But there are some incidents that are impossible to come back from.

Such is the case of Laura Lee, a popular beauty vlogger on YouTube who has lost more than 200,000 subscribers in just a few days after a series of racist tweets from her past emerged.

People didn’t just stumble upon Lee’s past Twitter behavior. They went searching for it after a series of subtweets from beauty vlogger gurus targeting Jeffree Star, another controversial YouTube creator and entrepreneur called out multiple times in the past for using racist language and making derogatory jokes. Stan Twitter, a term that refers to a Twitter community built around a deep admiration for a celebrity, took one particular, now-deleted subtweet as a call to arms to defend Star — and ruin Lee’s career in the process.

This current wave of drama kicked off a week ago, in which time Lee has lost more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube. Based on trends, that hit approximately equates to a loss of $70 a day — or, $25,000 a year.

Everything stems around a recent documentary series conducted between Shane Dawson and Star — two creators both still grappling with problematic, racist pasts — and an influx of attention aimed at Star’s career. What started as simple YouTube drama exploded into a demonstration of Stan Twitter’s power, and YouTube’s ongoing issue with problematic faves.

The basics

Lee is at the center of drama along with three other beauty vloggers: Gabriel Zamora, Manny Mua and Nikita Dragun. All four are popular beauty vlogger gurus, and all four people have a history with Star. Zamora tweeted a photo of the four of them one week ago, captioning it, “Bitch is bitter because without him we’re doing better.”

Star’s biggest fans — or, stans — took this as a subtweet aimed at Star, who was back in the limelight after Dawson’s well-received documentary and an appearance in a David Dobrik video. Their assumptions were only proven right when Zamora followed it up with another tweet, saying, “Imagine stanning a racist? I could never.”

“Honey, every time I was around him he would constantly say racist things about black people,” Zamora said in response to someone who asked him why he was talking about Star now, “but would validate it by saying, ‘I’ve had so much black dick I can’t be racist. To use derogatory racial slurs and think that a person of color is less than you by the color of their skin is disgusting ... a lot of people think he cut me off, but that’s not the case. Once I realized it was real racism, I realized I couldn’t be friends with him.”

That’s when people started digging into Zamora, Lee and Dragun’s old tweets. Numerous tweets using blatantly racist and derogatory language, dating from around six years ago, surfaced.

Zamora, Dragun and Lee posted lengthy apologies on their personal Twitter accounts for using derogatory language. All three YouTubers blamed their language on being young (in their mid-teens and early 20s), and using hateful word as jokes with friends.

“There’s no excuse for me to use it, but I can say that no one had ever explained the use of that word until that day to me,” Zamora tweeted. “I honestly thought because my friend was black that I could use it with him. I playfully responded to my friend thinking it wasn’t serious in the comments. I then had a conversation with my friends about it and was educated on the fact that it’s not a word for me and why and I respect it. Just know that I’ve never used that word in a negative way, and never will.”

Dragun posted a similar statement on Twitter, and Lee followed it up with a tearful apology video on YouTube.

“I apologize and feel disappointed in myself,” Dragun said. “I know I’m better than those old tweets from when I was 15. I hope you can see I am literally a changed person, growing and changing everyday to be a good role model for my loving followers.”

“Six years ago I decided to retweet things that were so vile and hurtful,” Lee said in the video. “I have no excuses. I’m only here to say I’m sorry. I can’t even look at myself.”

All three have deleted their old tweets, and Zamora has deleted the original tweet that kickstarted the entire mess. Star has responded to the situation through a series of winking videos, featuring him laughing.

“This week, karma has done its due diligence,” Star said in a recent Snapchat video. “You’re about to see a lot more shit trickle out. I don’t know why people try me. I don’t know why people act the way they do. All I know is that some people tried to bully me, and they really ended up ending themselves.”

While it may seem like petty YouTube drama, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars at play. Lee could see a loss of $25,000 a year. Dragun has lost more than 1,500 subscribers today, according to SocialBlade. Zamora has continuously lost subscribers every single day since the incident.

All three people, alongside Star, are incredibly popular vloggers within the beauty community, but this acts as a reminder that YouTube is a platform full of problematic faves who are capable of disappointing their fans.

Problematic faves

Star has a well-documented history of using derogatory terms or racially insensitive phrases. Shane Dawson, the YouTube creator Star teamed up with for the documentary, used to wear black face in his early YouTube days. His most popular character, Shanaynay, is a “parody” of a ghetto girl that many critics have called out as blatantly unacceptable.

Lee, Dragun and Zamora have all tweeted racist terms at some point during their time online.

Other YouTube creators connected to the Los Angeles YouTube elite world, including Tana Mongeau and James Charles, have also used extremely derogatory vocabulary in the past on public platforms like Instagram and Twitter they’ve since apologized for.

“I have never really made a direct apology to the people that my tweets affected, which is where an apology should’ve been directed in the first place,” Charles said in a video last year addressing controversy. “In case you didn’t know, a few years ago I posted some really, really sh*tty and ignorant and offensive tweets regarding people of different races that I’m really, really not proud of. They were disgusting, they were degrading, and now I realize how my words actually affect people.”

Holding visible YouTube creators accountable for their actions is as much a part of YouTube culture as watching videos. It’s not enough to just watch a creator’s daily or weekly videos and leave it at that, especially as YouTube culture continues to grow and dominate mainstream entertainment. Our relationships to these creators is more personal and intimate than any celebrity adoration before, and part of participating in Stan culture is acknowledging there are difficult times when important people have to answer for past mistakes.

There are creators who get paid millions of dollars per year, like Star, for participating on YouTube or score big modeling gigs, like Charles becoming the first man to become an official CoverGirl model. Calling out past incidents, holding them to a candle and demanding they do better is a must is part of the viewer relationship.

It’s easy to wave off what someone said in the past as something they did when they were younger; to an extent, they’re right. Someone acting like a stupid teen is much different from someone in their early to mid-20s acting like an imbecile. The difference in 2018, however, is that anything people do online exists forever. People can dig up old tweets from the past and ask creators to explain themselves. They can say that there’s never a defense for using racist language, and if people want to become public figures — role models for kids who spend their time obsessing over YouTube creators and their videos — then accountability is a must.

This past week proves stan communities are beginning to rise to the occasion.

Update: The Blast, a gossip news site that often reports on YouTube creators, is reporting that retailers, designers and beauty lines have cut ties with Laura Lee in light of recent tweets.

“We have decided not to move forward with the launch of Laura Lee Los Angeles,” a company spokesperson for retailer Ulta told The Blast. “Ulta Beauty values equality and inclusivity in all that we do.”

Three other companies have also severed ties. Their statements can be found in The Blast’s report.