The Coronavirus 'Viral Video' Prank That Turned a Flight Around and 14 More Controversial YouTuber Scandals
As the world contends with an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed hundreds of people in China, YouTuber James Potok sees the health crisis as an opportunity to increase his online following.
Potok, who goes by Potok Philippe on YouTube, was on a WestJet plane scheduled to fly from Toronto, Canada to Montego Bay, Jamaica when he allegedly stood up and said that he had just returned from China's Hunan province and was not feeling well.
A representative for WestJet told PEOPLE that the flight was diverted due to "an unruly guest," and that "out of an abundance of caution our crew followed all protocols for infectious disease on board, including sequestering an individual who made an unfounded claim regarding coronavirus."
After landing and being checked for the virus, the would-be social media star was charged with Mischief and Breach of Recognizance. He is scheduled to appear at an Ontario court in March.
On Wednesday, Potok uploaded an "apology" video to his channel.
"When I said I was sick it was supposed to be interpreted as me not feeling well from eating Chinese food," he claimed. "This was blown out of proportion, and I am here to apologize today for any issues and all problems I caused to everybody involved in the situation … Looking back at what I said, I am extremely disappointed in myself."
Potok's side of the story seems to have changed between his Tuesday interview with CBC News and when he recorded the video. He had previously told the outlet: "I said: 'I just returned from a flight from Hunan province.' I might have said: 'This is the capital for coronavirus.' And then I said: 'I don't feel too well.' And I looked around. I saw the reception of the people. They didn't seem too happy about it. I don't blame them. And I stopped recording and I sat back down in my chair."
In May 2019 Kanghua Ren — known to his followers as ReSet — was ordered to pay his victim more than $20,000 and shut down his YouTube and other social media channels for five years after he filled Oreo cookies with toothpaste and gave them to a homeless man, filming and posting video of the man vomiting afterward.
He was also sentenced to 15 months in prison, a term likely to be suspended because Ren is a first-time offender convicted of a non-violent crime, according to The New York Times.
The YouTube celebrity claimed the challenge was a harmless prank proposed by one of his 1.2 million followers.
The incident played out in early 2017 outside a supermarket in Barcelona, Spain, where the Chinese-born Ren lives, and where authorities identified the homeless man of Romanian origin only as Gheorge L.
At trial where the charge was pursued by the hate crimes prosecutor’s office, Ren said he often accepted “challenges” from his YouTube followers and carried them out “in a joke,” reports the newspaper El País.
“I do things to give a show, people like morbid things,” he said during the trial, according to the outlet.
In handing the package of cookies to the man, Ren, who was then 19, also gave the man a 20 euro bill. After uploading his video, Ren wrote: “Look at the positive side: this will help you clean your teeth, I think you have not cleaned them since you became poor,” according to El País.
Though not as dark as some fellow influencers' troubles, this one almost broke the Internet in 2019.
More than 3 million people unsubscribed from 20-year-old beauty influencer James Charles’ YouTube page over one weekend in May, amid backlash over his feud with fellow YouTube beauty vlogger Tati Westbrook.
Trouble started for Charles back in April, after he posted a sponsored advertisement from Coachella for Sugar Bear Hair vitamins to his Instagram Story. The company is a direct competitor to Westbrook’s supplement brand, Halo Beauty.
Upset about it, Westbrook lashed out on Instagram, explaining in a video that she felt “betrayed” and “lost."
Charles attempted to apologize with his own statement on Instagram, but Westbrook wasn’t having it — especially after Charles’ friend Gabriel Zamora posted a YouTube rant of his own, dragging her and calling her “fraudulent.” In response, she uploaded a 43-minute video titled ‘BYE SISTER’ in which she accused Charles of being unsupportive, attacked him for spreading lies about her, slammed him for alleged comments he made about other beauty influencers, and claimed he had a habit of sexually harassing straight men.
Charles later told his side of the story in his own YouTube video, in which he denied Westbrook's allegations.
The social media star made headlines in 2017 when his neighbors began complaining about the noise and dangers created by Paul — whose brother is Logan Paul — and his team of digital creators, all of whom shared his home in West Hollywood.
"I feel bad for them, for sure," Paul said of his neighbors when local TV station KTLA visited his street. But he added: "There's nothing we can do, though — the Jake Paulers are the strongest army out there," referring to his millions of followers.
"We used to be a really nice, quiet street and now we're just this, like, war zone," neighbor Maytal Dahan told KTLA. "We're families here, and we're more than happy to have them live here if they're respectful of their neighbors — but they're not."
Amid the neighbor drama, Paul was let go from his Disney Channel show, Bizaardvark. In 2019 he made headlines again when he hosted a massive birthday party for rapper Desiigner, where multiple female guests were allegedly “drugged” and hospitalized, according to a mother of one of the attendees.
Jones, then 26, pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of child pornography and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He had more than 500,000 YouTube subscribers and his videos have been seen millions of times before his arrest.
The former Vine star was arrested in Aspen, Colorado, over New Year's weekend 2018 following an alleged assault at a hotel.
According to a statement from the Aspen Police Department obtained by CNN, an ambulance was called to the Hyatt Residence Grand Aspen the morning of Dec. 29, 2018; a man there was found with injuries to his face.
Dallas was arrested on a second-degree assault charge after the man identified the influencer as his attacker, according to CNN. The charge is a felony, reported CNN.
He posted a $5,000 bond and was released, and days later, tweeted about the incident.
“Unfortunately sometimes in life you find yourself in a situation where you have to protect yourself and the people you care about,” he wrote on Twitter. “Have a safe and happy new year, 2019 is going to be an amazing one.”
Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie to his YouTube subscribers, came under fire in early 2017 when he posted a video that featured two men — whom he'd hired for the stunt — holding up a sign that read, "Death to all Jews."
While many saw the act as anti-semitic, Kjellberg defended his choice to publish it, saying that he posted the video "to show how crazy the modern world is." Not long after the video's debut — which stayed up on his channel for over a month after its release — YouTube dropped the Swedish star, whose YouTube Red show was slated to premiere its the second season. "We've decided to cancel the release of Scare PewDiePie season 2 and we're removing the PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred," a YouTube spokesperson told Variety.
He stirred up controversy again in 2018 when he called fellow YouTuber Lilly Singh a "crybaby" and an "idiot" after she spoke out about wage and gender equality in the digital space.
Signh took the high road after Kjellberg's rant, tweeting at him, “Hey @pewdiepie, I just followed you. Please follow me back again so I can DM you. Speak soon hopefully =) x.”
After falsely telling guests at a Walt Disney World resort in Florida that there was an active shooter on the property (and later telling police he was staging a YouTube stunt), Burch was arrested. The YouTube star was sentenced to three days in jail after pleading no contest in May 2018 to disorderly intoxication and disturbing the peace at a public lodging for the incident at Disney's Contemporary Resort in Orlando, Florida, WKMG reported.
The 22-year-old social media star sparked severe outrage when he posted a controversial video in December 2017 that appeared to show the body of an alleged suicide victim in Japan's 'Suicide Forest.'
"This is not clickbait. This is the most real vlog I've ever posted to this channel," Paul said in the YouTube video, New York Magazine reported. "I think this definitely marks a moment in YouTube history because I’m pretty sure this has never hopefully happened to anyone on YouTube ever. Now with that said: Buckle the f— up, because you're never gonna see a video like this again!"
After experiencing backlash for posting the controversial video, Paul tweeted out an apology and made a pledge to take some time away from the spotlight. Three weeks later, the disgraced YouTube star posted a video on his channel, explaining his brief hiatus and addressing the social media attacks he experienced after releasing the initial vlog.
"I will never, ever forget who I am at my core and no one can make me think I’m something otherwise," he said in his video. "And as long as I’m learning and improving and getting better as a person, then we good. … And even though I f—ed up — like, I'm an idiot — it doesn't feel good to have millions of people telling you to go die."
Paul also revealed that he met with suicide prevention experts, pointing to his "Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow" video and affirming his pledge to donate $1 million to suicide prevention organizations.
The British social media influencer found herself in the middle of an online feud with Dublin-based hotel Charleville Lodge and its adjacent restaurant, The White Moose Café, following a request she made to stay at the property for free on Valentine's Day 2018 in exchange for promotion on her site.
Café owner Paul Stenson responded to the influencer's proposition — and his reaction was negative, to say the least. "It takes a lot of b***s to send an email like that, if not much self-respect and dignity," he wrote in an open letter on Facebook. He continued: "If I let you stay here in return for a feature in your video, who is going to pay the staff who look after you? Who is going to pay the housekeepers who clean your room? The waiters who serve you breakfast? The receptionist who checks you in?"
Darby released a response claiming that Stenson's black highlighter did not disguise her name well enough (although he said he did not realize this fact), and as a result, she dealt with "death threats and cancer wishes."
“My issue was not with the idea that he had refused my stay. My issue was how he reacted,” she said in a video posted to her YouTube page. “A very simple way to have gone about it would have been a ‘no’ or for the email to be ignored instead of me having death threats and cancer wishes.”
A then-19-year-old Monalisa Perez said she accidentally killed her boyfriend and father of her two children, 22-year-old Pedro Ruiz III, in June 2017 when she shot him in the chest, according to the criminal complaint against her, which was obtained by PEOPLE. The two began posting videos to YouTube in May and hoped to grow their slowly-swelling popularity by filming a stunt in which Perez — who was pregnant at the time — shot directly at an encyclopedia that Ruiz was holding in front of his chest, the complaint stated.
In December 2017, Perez entered her plea in Norman County District Court to second-degree manslaughter. She was sentenced to six months in jail in March 2018.
Michael & Heather Martin
The Maryland couple who ran a controversial YouTube channel, DaddyOFive — where they posted prank videos involving their blended family of five kids, specifically then-11-year-old daughter Emma and then-9-year-old son Cody — pleaded guilty in September 2017 to child neglect charges and were sentenced to five years probation each.
As part of their probation, the Martins will have no contact with Cody and Emma unless approved by a court, according to prosecutor Lindell Angel. They are also not allowed to film the kids for posting on social media.
The couple's controversial videos — which featured Heather and Michael destroying the children's belongings and berating and swearing at them until they cried — have since been taken off YouTube. The Martins have since resumed posting YouTube videos only of themselves, under the name "MommyOFive."
Despite being cast opposite Amandla Stenberg in the feature film The Hate U Give — about a black teenage girl who becomes a social activist after witnessing a white police officer shoot her unarmed friend — the star was dropped from the project when a video of him making racist remarks surfaced on YouTube.
Lawley addressed his actions, calling them "mistakes," on Twitter. "If u don't learn from ur mistakes, u can never grow as a person," he wrote. "I've learned a lot & i am grateful to have the power to change. i never want to be who i was yesterday. we're in a constant battle to become a better version of ourselves, use ur voice as ur weapon."
In 2015, Pepper posted a video called "Killing Best Friend Prank," which featured a masked Pepper "kidnapping" fellow social media stars Sam Golbach and Colby Brock, and forcing Golbach to watch Pepper "shoot" Brock (who was in on the hoax the entire time), which left Golbach in distress. Although thousands of people called for the removal of the video, Golbach came to Pepper's defense, saying the video's message was "about living life to the full... not taking life for granted and loving it because it's short."
But that wasn't the first time the Big Brother alum was embroiled in controversy. In 2014, the YouTube star posted a video titled "Fake Hand Ass Pinch Prank," in which he pinched seemingly unsuspecting women's behinds after asking them for directions. Since publishing the video, women came forward accusing the star of sexual harassment, which he denied. Pepper responded to the backlash by saying the video was staged and scripted. "It goes without saying you can't go around touching people's bums without asking," he said in a video.
Trevor Martin & Tom Cassel
Martin and Cassel — known online as TmarTn and Syndicate, respectively — are major gamers whose videos heavily promoted Counter Strike: Global Offensive, which they regularly recorded themselves playing and gambling on. It seemed harmless enough until viewers learned Martin and Cassel weren't being transparent and actually owned CS:GO Lotto, a gambling site affiliated with the game that allowed users as young as 13 years old to participate.
While Cassel apologized on Twitter, Martin showed no remorse for his actions. "I created the site. I wanted to build something awesome for other people to enjoy and I played on it," Martin said in a 2016 YouTube video following the backlash, which began after the release of their now-deleted video, "How To Win $13,000 In 5 Minutes!"
He added: "Obviously, on my end, me playing on Lotto rather than other sites gives me an advantage because it promotes my own site, but it is not immoral, there is nothing wrong with it. I am 100 percent honest."