This story includes descriptions of abuse and eating disorders.
The public is calling on social media sites to deplatform Gregory Jackson — known online as Onision — after multiple women accused him of grooming and emotional abuse that began when they were teenagers.
Onision denies the allegations and blames the backlash on “cancel culture,” but given his past reactions to controversy, he may be playing into the spotlight. To ensure he stops leveraging his influence over teenagers, he should be kicked off YouTube where he has a collective 5.61 million subscribers across three accounts. YouTube’s policies may not directly ban his wrongdoing, but that just highlights the limitations of the company’s self-imposed rules.
Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows creators to offer paid subscriptions to their content, banned Onision just before Thanksgiving for doxxing one of the women who spoke out against him. He tweeted screenshots of texts between himself and YouTuber Billie Dawn Webb, one of which displayed Webb’s phone number. The Verge confirmed that the screenshots violated Patreon’s Bullying and Harassment Policy, even though it didn’t happen on Patreon itself.
Before he was banned, Onision had about 560 Patreon supporters. The ban, though, follows years of Onision’s inappropriate involvement with teenage fans. At least six women have publicly spoken out about his online harassment and emotional abuse, the Verge reports. Onision even got the attention of To Catch A Predator host Chris Hansen, who has been interviewing Onision’s accusers on a weekly YouTube livestream since October.
In the past few months, Twitter users have been calling for YouTube to ban Onision through the campaign #DeplatformPredators. It’s being spearheaded by his ex-girlfriend Shiloh Hoganson, who was featured on his channel around 2011. His accusers agree that while he hasn’t done anything illegal (they were all at least the age of consent in the states where their sexual experiences with Onision took place), he has harmed them. They also point to a problematic power imbalance in his romantic relationships with fans.
Hoganson called YouTube out for censoring the word “predator” on its platform, but still allowing Onision, who many consider to be one, to post videos. Even Hansen received a strike for saying the word “predator” during a livestream.
Onision, meanwhile, has responded to the Patreon ban by posting a series of rambling, disturbing videos.
“This is how outrage culture works, this is cancel culture,” Onision ranted in a video on his side channel, OnisionSpeaks, on Friday. He claimed he’s been sleeping outdoors. He stood shirtless in a body of water, poured kombucha over himself, and wailed, “People will say you did something wrong, even though you didn’t.”
Onision has been denying the allegations against him in videos posted to OnisionSpeaks since Hansen’s series premiered. When Mashable reached out for comment, he responded with a link to a convoluted blog post where he denied grooming Sarah, a teenager who began living with himself and Kai Avaroe, his husband, when she was 16. He does admit to verbally abusing her. YouTube has not responded to Mashable’s request for comment.
In the past two weeks, the videos have devolved into incoherent rants that follow him sobbing into the camera and raging about “cancel culture.”
But dismissing the public backlash against Onision as “cancel culture” is irresponsible. YouTubers are infamous for getting canceled, whether they create drama for views or screenshots of insensitive tweets resurface. Though Twitter users may declare them “canceled,” nobody faces real consequences for their actions aside from losing some subscribers and missing out on brand deals — nothing a few apology videos can’t fix.
Who is Onision anyway?
Onision was an early YouTube success story; he went viral in 2009 for the video “Banana Song (I’m A Banana)” which encapsulated the worst of the aughts’ affinity for quirky, random humor. From there, he ascended to classic YouTube stardom: He appeared on Tosh.0, he collaborated and publicly feuded with Shane Dawson, and was idolized by teenage fans.
While gaining popularity, Onision also had a string of questionable relationships that began when his partners were teenagers. Most were over the age of consent, which can be as low as 16 in some states, but they were still teens.
Most of these relationships started over social media; he met his husband when the then-16-year-old tweeted at him for months until Onision, who was 25 at the time, responded. Kai is a trans man who went by the username LaineyBot before he transitioned. He described himself as a “fangirl” who was “creepy nonetheless” when Onision finally responded after breaking up with Hoganson. After messaging each other on Twitter and Skyping daily, they began officially dating when Kai was 17 and Onision was 26. In a video, the couple claimed that it “didn’t even matter” because Kai was over the age of consent in New Mexico, the state they hooked up in.
Onision and Kai had an open marriage that allowed Kai to date women, and both displayed a pattern of soliciting relationships online with fans.
In one of the more well-known cases, the couple allegedly groomed Sarah, the teen Onision writes about in the lengthy November blog post, when she was living in their Washington house. Sarah told Hansen that she began talking to the couple on Twitter when she was 15. Because of a tumultuous home life, she began living with them on and off for about a year after she turned 16. Kai said he became Sarah’s guardian in a video that was deleted, but still swirls around Twitter.
In an interview with Hansen, Sarah said she didn’t engage in anything physical with the couple until just after her 18th birthday, but Onision made uncomfortable comments about her body and joked about becoming romantic with her when she was younger. Sarah also told Hansen that Kai sent her explicit photos when she was 17, and that the couple coerced her into making a video voicing her support for them. The age of consent in Washington is 16. Washington also has a sexting law meant to protect minors, but it doesn’t apply to those over 17.
Other women who were involved with Onision also accused him of emotional abuse. Hoganson tweeted that he was so controlling during their relationship, she began experiencing stress-induced seizures. In an undated video posted on Nov. 18 by YouTubers Behaving Badly, which relishes in providing the internet with receipts, Onision taunts Hoganson with “You know this video is never going to be online, right? No one will ever know how much I abuse you.” The video was posted before Patreon banned Onision.
Onision was also infamously banned from VidCon in 2012 because of the disparaging comments he made about an ex-girlfriend he dated after he and Hoganson broke up. In a leaked email, the ex-girlfriend later published on Google+, she alleged Onision pressured her into sex. In response, Onision claimed that because this woman had numerous sexual partners before him, she was a “slut” and in a now-deleted video, insinuated that she could not be raped because of her sexual history. VidCon co-founder Hank Green revoked Onision’s invitation because his attendance would create a “hostile environment,” the Daily Dot reported.
Billie Dawn Webb, the YouTuber who was doxxed by Onision when he tweeted screenshots that included her phone number, began dating Kai and Onision while Sarah was living with them. Webb was an 18-year-old with a prominent Instagram following who was invited to visit the couple. During her interview with Hansen, Webb said Onision pressured her into including him in what was supposed to be a relationship between herself and Kai. Their first sexual encounter felt rushed, she said.
“The whole thing was kind of uncomfortable, very clearly for me and Kai both,” Webb said during the livestream. “Just not being ready for the situations we were in.”
YouTube needs to deplatform Onision
Since Hansen’s livestream series and the subsequent Patreon ban, Onision has only ramped up his on-camera tirades. In the one posted the day he was banned from Patreon, titled “i can’t take it anymore,” Onision spliced shots of his bare face with frames of himself in what appears to be Joker-inspired makeup. In another titled “bye,” he claimed he’s retiring from YouTube and applied for a job at McDonald’s because he’s been “canceled.”
In one particularly incoherent one titled “wow,” Onision shrieked, “Is this what you want? You want a total meltdown?”
It’s exactly what the internet loves: a sensationally public downward spiral, all caught on camera. His recent videos have been viciously meme’d in the last two weeks, becoming guitar covers, TikTok dance routines, and reaction GIFs.
There is, of course, a chance that Onision’s reaction is genuine. In his videos since the Patreon ban, he apologizes, but it’s unclear if he’s apologizing for doxxing Webb or if he’s apologizing to the women who have accused him of abuse.
Others online speculate that he’s acting out for views. In one video, titled “dissolution,” Onision claims he’s been served with divorce papers. (Onision has not explicitly named Kai in any of these videos, instead referring to him as “someone” or “my ex.”)
Observant Reddit users noticed that the forms Onision held up in the video appear in one of the first Google Image search results for “dissolution of marriage document.” The document header also names the state of Florida, and Onision and Kai live in Washington.
In a recent video, titled “i want custody,” shot in a motel room, Onision appears to address the Reddit post. Onision didn’t mention the two children he has with Kai, but did insist on taking his dog.
“I guess somebody’s moving to Florida or they gave me the wrong form or something,” he says, before muttering “Stop talking” to an empty room.
His intent in these videos is questionable. Onision, OnisionSpeaks, and UhOhBro — all channels run by Onision — still have ads served on their videos, meaning they’re monetized. The more he drenches himself in kombucha, the more views he gets. He may have lost a significant portion of his income when Patreon cut him off, but if his videos are still monetized, then the videos of him sobbing in the shower and claiming he’ll sue his presumably soon to be ex-husband Kai are still pulling in some money.
“He knows what he’s doing, he’s stirring things up and he’s just trying to get more attention,” reaction vlogger TerryTV said in a video posted Sunday. “And it is working, because so many people are talking about him.”
Searches for Onision have peaked and dipped over the decade he’s been on YouTube. After Hansen’s series started in late October, searches for “Onision” have skyrocketed.
And while SocialBlade says he’s steadily losing subscribers, Onision’s average views per video have also spiked. For most of 2019, his viewership ranged from 12,000 to 30,000 views per video. Videos with particularly charged titles, especially ones that included the word “divorce,” tended to receive more engagement.
Hoganson began tweeting from the account _patientzero on Sept. 11, naming and tagging Onision in tweets about the start of their relationship. Onision posted a video titled “We Need To Talk …” on Sept. 12, which received more than 127,500 views. He doesn’t address Hoganson’s allegations against him, but does allude to “rumors.”
The series of videos after the Patreon ban have been getting even more engagement. The first, titled “wow,” has more than 874,000 views. TerryTV is right: Onision may be “canceled,” but the memes, TikToks, and reaction videos only give him more views.
Which is why if YouTube wants to enact actual change, it needs to ban him from the platform like Patreon did.
Eugenia Cooney and YouTube’s harassment policy
Unfortunately, being an abuser isn’t exactly against YouTube’s community guidelines.
YouTube’s users took to Google’s support forum to question why Onision is still allowed on the platform. A handful were deleted, but still show up in Google search results. The posts that did stay up on the support forums were met with similar answers from Google “product experts,” who seem to be volunteers. His actions weren’t against YouTube’s policies, they said.
Even Hansen was incredulous that YouTube will strike channels like his for saying certain banned words.
“This is a platform that has sanctioned me and so many others for using words that pop up on some sort of algorithm,” he said during his interview with Hogenson. “Makes sense to you?”
Onision’s past fixation on fellow YouTuber Eugenia Cooney, however, may actually violate YouTube’s community guidelines, although YouTube never did anything about the online harassment at the time.
Cooney has been on YouTube since 2011. Over the past decade, others in the YouTube community expressed concern over her weight as she appeared increasingly thinner in videos. She recently opened up about her eating disorder and recovery process in a documentary by Shane Dawson this year.
Onision began posting content about Cooney’s appearance in 2016. Since then, he has posted roughly 70 videos about Cooney under the guise of concern for her health. Most of them have been deleted. In early videos, Onision told his followers to unsubscribe from Cooney if she didn’t gain weight within a month. For a now-deleted video from 2018, he made Cooney in The Sims 4 and had her character die of starvation. In the video, which was reposted by other YouTube accounts, Onision joked that after passing away from anorexia, the character gained more subscribers. When Cooney announced a break from social media earlier this year to focus on her health, Onision made his videos about her “Patreon exclusive.” Since the documentary about her was released, Onision claimed he removed most of his videos about her from public listings because he “didn’t want them to be triggering now that she’s doing awesome.”
While Onision’s videos mentioning divorce received more engagement than his usual vlogs did, videos about Cooney gained even more views. Hate clicks still pull in money, regardless of their intention.
When he received too much backlash for targeting Cooney, he pivoted to voicing support for her recovery process.
Cooney has responded as graciously as a public figure could to such rampant online harassment. In a 2017 tweet, she said, “I personally don’t feel like Onision has good intentions with a lot of the things he does and I don’t really feel like it’s about ‘helping.'” A year later, she clarified that she wasn’t trying to “start drama,” but his videos did sway people into hating her. Onision shared emails between himself and Cooney in August in which he apologized if his jokes “upset” her. She replied with her thanks for his more recent positive content about her, but called his past videos “pretty hurtful.”
Regardless of Onision’s apology, why didn’t he face repercussions from YouTube for harassing Cooney? YouTube’s harassment and cyberbullying policy warns against “content that is deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone” and “content that makes hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person.” Onision has used his significant following to target Cooney for her eating disorder.
If the alleged abuse he inflicted on the teenagers he dated aren’t enough to ban Onision from YouTube, then his treatment of other women on the platform should be. He’s been using social media platforms to garner support and harass those who spoke out against him for nearly a decade. Removing him from the platform would not only prevent him from exploiting other people’s trauma for monetized views, but also protect young, impressionable fans from a predator.
Getting “canceled” doesn’t mean anything
When the internet declares an individual “canceled,” little change actually happens.
After the feud between James Charles, Tati Westbrook, and Jeffree Star shook YouTube culture to its core earlier this year, rivaling fans declared them all canceled. They reveled in watching SocialBlade show subscriber counts drop, screenshots be shared, and disgraced stars apologize on screen.
After enough time passed, it all blew over. All the parties involved regained their subscribers and aside from a handful of irreparable friendships, have all recovered. At worst, getting canceled only made them temporary pariahs.
Granted, you can’t compare what Charles allegedly did — make advances on other men despite the others’ hesitation — to the six women who have come forward about Onision’s alleged abuse. Discourse about cancel culture aside, it’s still an amorphous term that doesn’t carry much weight outside of online spaces.
Removing Onision from YouTube, though, does.
In her interview with Hansen, Sarah noted that when she was still living with Onision and Kai, they flew out a Patreon patron to vet as a “potential third.” She blamed YouTube for allowing it to happen, because Onision actively used his large platform to take advantage of his followers.
“Had it not been through YouTube or Patreon, they would have never have been able to come into contact with any victims that have come forward. It’s all through YouTube,” she concluded. “If they [YouTube] keep this up, they’re going to get sued by someone like me who was taken advantage of because of the platform they give to the wrong people.”
If YouTube’s own community guidelines prevent the platform from banning someone like Onision, then the policy itself is flawed. To foster a safe environment for its creators and viewers, then YouTube must have community guidelines that don’t give predators like Onision a platform.
And that can start by deplatforming Onision himself.
If you have experienced sexual abuse, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access the 24-7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For international resources, this list is a good place to start.