Carter Reynolds, a 19-year-old Vine and YouTube star, recently made headlines for a video in which he attempted to pressure his ex-girlfriend, 16-year-old Maggie Lindemann, into performing oral sex on him while he filmed her. The incident became a conversation about consent, of which Reynolds quickly revealed he has no understanding.
"It's not like she was a random girl or a fan," he wrote on Twitter, as if that would justify his actions. "Couples do stuff like that all the time."
The most recent development came this past weekend, when Lindemann apparently wound up in the hospital. BuzzFeed rounded up the entire collection of tweets, and taken as a whole, they're a pretty damning indictment of what can happen when children come of age with a massive spotlight shining on every move. At first, the two exes tweeted rather amicably about the incident, though not directly at each other.
Then, because these two are teenagers who were once involved with each other romantically, everything went to hell. Something changed behind the scenes and resulted in histrionic tweets — again, never directly tagging each other, but invariably intense. Reynolds called Maggie "crazy and psychotic," while Lindemann responded, "Who the hell talks about someone they 'love' like that."
The drama resulted in Reynolds threatening to kill himself, which Lindemann rebuffed as a joke in poor taste.
There's a disgusting history of sex scandals involving young male Internet stars, many of them involving teenaged victims. Tumblr user Josh Macedo, who had previously made a name for himself as an outspoken feminist, was accused of sending nude photos to a 15-year-old girl in 2013. Alex Day, a YouTuber who first entered the world of online video at 18, has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by more than 10 people, some instances even amounting to assault. YouTube star Mike Lombardo became the subject of a federal child porn investigation in 2012 after allegedly exchanging nude photos with underage fans. Then there's Tom Milsom. And Luke Conard.
Perhaps most infamously, YouTuber Sam Pepper made a video in which he did nothing but grab women's butts, then tried to explain it away as a domestic abuse awareness video. He was then repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct and assault. British vlogger Dottie Martin recorded her recollection of one encounter with Pepper that she said included him repeatedly initiating sexual contact despite her protests.
This is a terrifying trend, to say the least. What makes this worse is that these online celebrities' giant profiles drag their victims along. Lindemann (who is famous in her own right on Instagram and other platforms) must endure an incredible amount of bullying, harassment and more for no reason except her ex-boyfriend's online fame.
Were she an average teen dealing with this problem, she could deal with the situation privately. But she doesn't have that choice. She can take a break from social media, as she said she would, but she's lived her life with it. She's a 16-year-old girl who hasn't lived a life without Twitter, Instagram, Vine and others.
Online fame for teens is an incubator for abuse. Immature and ignorant young people are living the ugliest years of their lives on a public stage, where their worst behavior is normalized in the eyes of their fans and even sometimes indulged by their mentors. Case in point: As BuzzFeed noted, Reynolds' adult half-brother Adam, a teacher, hosted a private meet-and-greet for teen girls to meet a then-17-year-old Reynolds. The result: A 14-year-old girl claimed she and Reynolds had sex after the event. No charges were ever filed.
Even more dangerous: This fame can lead to horrifying consequences for victims, who are dragged into the public eye and forced to withstand an onslaught of harassment from their abusers' legions of fans. Their drama is the audience's entertainment, amplified to a level they cannot possibly comprehend. They don't have the tools to deal with it.
Carter Reynolds tried to coerce his girlfriend to perform oral sex on him on camera without her consent. He's exploiting a male-dominated system that grants power to young men and protects them from consequences. Meanwhile, YouTube and Vine will continue to churn out male teen stars. Tragically, for Lindemann — and for all those who have been victimized by the online celebrities of the world — she's collateral damage.