With the rising popularity of social media stars and influencers, it is not surprising that many of Hollywood’s newest pop stars come from platforms such as YouTube. Carly Rae Jepsen, Justin Bieber, Greyson Chance, Cody Simpson and even 2007’s middle school hit artist Soulja Boy Tell’em got their start and were discovered on YouTube. These artists, especially teens and boys in their early twenties, gain thousands of loyal fans seemingly overnight that are willing to do anything to be recognized and loved by their idol.
But, what happens when these artists use their power over young fans for their own gain and self-indulgence? In recent news, up-and-coming YouTube musical star Austin Jones was caught doing just that–using his underage fans to solicit and produce a collection of child pornography.
Austin Jones seemed to be a young man destined for stardom like that of Cody Simpson or Greyson Chance. The twenty-four-year-old Chicago native released a variety of a cappella covers on his YouTube channel, ranging from My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade” to a medley of Twenty One Pilots’ smash hit “Blurryface.” In 2014, Jones even released his own EP, titled “We’ll Fall Together.” Most of his videos from the past year have over one million views, and based on his flippy, skater-boy hair and California surfer-boy good looks, it’s no surprise as to how he’s amassed this incredible number of fans.
So, as many new outlets and young media influencers have asked themselves, what went wrong? How did a seemingly clean-cut, Justin Bieber wannabe turn into a sexual prowler? How can we as a nation allow these sexual predators to roam free and make money off of their loving fans?
The current allegations against Jones are not the first that have been brought against the star. In an article written on Jones’ case by “BuzzFeed News,” several young women claim that in May 2015 Jones solicited sexually suggestive videos from fans, which, though not necessarily pornographic in nature, were extremely inappropriate, especially for someone garnering such fame. These women tried to bring charges against Jones, working to get him thrown off the 2015 Vans Warped Tour line-up and 2015 Grow Wild Tour.
Jones’ persistent requests of sexually proactive videos from fourteen- and fifteen-year-old fans resulted in basically nothing. He was kicked off both tours and was required to go to therapy, but no real charges were brought against him. However, the rumor mill was still abuzz, and some members of the YouTube community heard about the allegations against Jones and attempted to bring them to the attention of his manager, who swatted them away like an annoying fly.
On May 7, 2015, the scandal came to a head when a Twitter user who went by the name Star posted a video of Jones detailing how to twerk, with visual steps as well. The video is extremely cringey and hard to watch for more than one reason. The first reason being that Austin Jones is a skinny, emo-wannabe white boy with very little dance talent.
But the second, and real reason the video is painful to watch, is knowing the background of it. The original video had been sent to a girl named Ashley, a former fan of Jones’, who claims to have received the video in 2014 when she was only thirteen years old. Yes, a twenty-one-year old man asked a thirteen-year-old girl to send a video of herself twerking to him, and he filmed the exact instructions of what he wanted her to do. Still, no charges were brought against him. He later filmed a video for his channel apologizing and making up excuses for his actions, but that clearly did not deter him from his predatory actions.
Then, last month, shortly after landing in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport the conclusion of his world tour, Jones was taken into federal custody on charges of possession, production and the solicitation of child pornography. An article from “Rolling Stone” quotes court documents stating that Jones had been in communication with two underage females via Facebook, asking the fifteen- and fourteen-year-old girls to prove their love for him as fans by sending him sexually explicit videos.
The fifteen-year-old claims that Jones had told her she would be “lucky to be able to perform a (unspecified) sex act on him” and admits that she sent him eight sexually explicit videos. The fourteen-year-old’s interaction with Jones was similar, but with an even slimier feeling. Not only did he solicit videos from her as recently as this May, but Jones repeatedly acknowledged and seemed to enjoy that she was only fourteen while he was twenty-four, a full decade older than her.
Unlike many other cases of sexual predation and assault, Jones almost immediately admitted to requesting the videos, including a confession that they were for his sexual pleasure. Philip DeFranco, a popular YouTuber famous for his news coverage, made an extremely detailed video of the case with a more in-depth look into the legal files than I can provide here. In short, Jones is still awaiting trial but the popular verdict is clear: Jones is guilty of pedophilia, and no one is standing for it. He is currently looking at up to thirty years in prison for the production of child pornography.
So, where do we as a society stand on this case? Why do we allow young men to prey on much younger women and get away with it, just because it was not sexually explicit enough? If Austin Jones had been stopped back in 2015, he would not have been able to get as far as shaming these girls into giving in to his requests. Jones clearly used his fame as a manipulation tactic to overpower the women, and compared to powerhouses like Justin Bieber, he is nothing.
Do we brush these “smaller” allegations aside (like Jones requesting non-explicit videos) because these boys are famous? Or, is it because we, as a society, still believe that sexual predation is the woman’s fault? Those in the public eye need to be held to a higher standard and punished justly for their actions, lest the rest of us begin to follow their lead.