On Friday, YouTuber Ian Jomha sent shockwaves throughout social media after he uploaded a video on iDubbbzTV, his 7.5 million subscriber channel, apologizing for a lot of his older content.
In recent years, the 32-year-old transitioned into being a wholesome squirrel enthusiast and putting on the widely beloved Creator Clash boxing event. But from 2015 to 2018, he was the undisputed king of “edgy,” shocking YouTube videos. He would ruthlessly roast bad crowd-funding programs with a series named “Kickstarter Crap,” and open up weird packages from fans (that ranged from containing glitter to feces) in a series named “Bad Unboxing.”
But the crowning jewel of his notorious crown was “Content Cop,” a series where he insulted and berated controversial YouTubers of the era like RiceGum, Keemstar, and LeafyisHere. All of these videos would do exceedingly well, pulling in tens of millions of views and causing their targets to become the takedown of the day.
“I don’t think these videos were edgy, I think they were outright cruel,” Jomha said in his apology video. “I have made some cruel hurtful content, and I need to acknowledge that, and I’m really sorry it’s taken me this long to acknowledge it.”
In the video, Jomha announced he unlisted his Content Cop videos and specifically apologized to one of his former targets, vlogger and influencer Tana Mongeau. In his video about Mongeau from 2017 (that accumulated 35 million views), Jomha says the N-word and defended its use multiple times in response to clips of Mongeau using the word herself. He even visited one of Mongeau’s fan meetups, saying the N-word to her face. The infamous video claims that when it comes to slurs “either some of them are okay, or none of them are.”
Jomha specifically calls out that logic in his latest video, calling it “dangerous and stupid” and apologizing to all “Black viewers and minority groups.” Jomha did not respond to Passionfruit’s request for comment by publication time.
Doing better for a growing fanbase
In an interview Passionfruit did with Jomha in April 2023 leading up to the second Creator Clash, Jomha said the content he produced in that era was evidence of what he was consuming at the time and what he thought his viewers wanted to see. The content of that era was brash, and it shaped the lives of a lot of young kids who now look back on it with cringe and remorse.
“I think I was influenced by my fan base a bit to that extent because I watched the same type of videos, I watched other commentators,” Jomha told Passionfruit. “I wanted to produce more of that, but it never felt like it was doing a lot of good for the world, and it didn’t feel like I was necessarily creating something new.”
YouTube has gone through multiple different eras, but the site fundamentally changed in late 2017 after the Adpocalypse, a series of events that led advertisers to leave the site in a mass exodus forcing the video platform to rethink how videos were monetized. Creators who bullied others, swore, and provided “edgier” entertainment couldn’t make money off their work and were pushed less frequently by the algorithm. It fundamentally changed how the site worked, disincentivizing this brasher style of content.
The algorithm wasn’t the only change, but Jomha himself says he evolved as a person. In June 2021, he married his partner, Anisa, taking her surname. Months before he released his apology video this month, the idea of the legacy of his content weighed heavily on his head.
“I feel like I could have been more responsible,” Jomha told Passionfruit in April. “I know exactly why they enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. It was fun to make, and I enjoyed watching other people’s edgy content. But as you age, it becomes clear, you look back and you’re just like, ‘Yeah, it could have done better.’”
Is transformation possible?
As YouTube continues to age, creators will continue to get older and look back on the content they once produced. Posting regrettable content in your youth can lead to consequences further down the road. At the peak of Jomha’s “Content Cop” era, provocative, drama-inducing content on YouTube was heavily encouraged with views and capital. But now, he wants to change.
A lot of creators have been supportive of this move by Jomha, especially by others who have made similarly edgy content in the past. Eric, who runs the 2.1 million subscriber gaming channel McNasty, tweeted he has “nothing but respect” for Jomha “and if you feel like he’s being fake for changing who he is, then you are the problem.” DramaTuber and comedian Def Noodles tweeted, “People changing and evolving is absolutely normal. It’s what you hope everyone experiences.”
Ethan Klein of h3h3Productions, who collaborated with Jomha multiple times since 2016, also started out his content career making pointed videos commenting on those whose content seemed cringe or worth mockery. But like Jomha, Klein’s content has transformed, and now he steers clear of aggressive takedown videos.
“He went through something that I went through a few years ago,” Klein said on a Sunday podcast. “We knew the conflict, we knew that all the kids running around saying the N-word because iDubbbz said it was okay wasn’t how Ian felt.”
But other YouTubers have passed judgment on Jomha and his latest videos. Charlie White Jr, who runs the 13 million subscribers “penguinz0” YouTube channel, said in a Friday video that he “didn’t think the apology was warranted” and “to think that it was this huge massive problem like he made an unforgivable mistake is a little weird to me.”
Dozens of insulting drama videos have been posted online in the past few weeks, hurling insults at Jomha and his wife Anisa. Fans of Jomha’s earlier content shared their thoughts on social media, claiming they felt “betrayed” when he “lost his edge” and doesn’t have “thick enough skin to take comments from others.” Some of these people have fallen down the extremist pipeline, sharing intolerant memes as a way to “own the libs.”
Coye Cheshire, a professor at UC Berkeley studying social psychology in online communities, told Passionfruit a critical reevaluation of a popular influencer’s position based on new information is a key way to build trust with an audience—however, it isn’t always received well by certain followers stuck in their ways.
“Apologies that acknowledge how and why a change has occurred can, and often do, build trust among those who critically evaluate those who provide opinions/insight (e.g., influencers). These types of apologies based on introspection and re-evaluation are worthy of our praise in this, or any domain,” Cheshire said. “[But] if the audience is primarily interested in confirmation of their existing beliefs, then growth, reflection, and re-evaluation may not be met positively by these followers.”
Many of those commenting on Jomha’s situation said they thought this apology may be too little too late, with a whole generation of his fans already falling down an extremist pipeline and emboldened in their use of slurs. “Content Cop” was a blueprint for researched and aggressive takedown videos that have become a whole genre of commentary on YouTube.
“I’ve always had this dumb philosophy that I’m not responsible for my audience and how they behave beyond what content I put out, and that’s stupid. It’s led to a lot of hate and a lot of bad outcomes. I am absolutely responsible,” Jomha said in his apology.
Even despite the dangers of risking YouTube monetization, edgy content still thrives. YouTubers can funnel their fans to outside monetization, like selling merch or running a Patreon. New “edgelords” like Adin Ross have stepped in to fill the hole left by creators like Jomha, and extremist figures like Sam Hyde and Andrew Tate continue to cater to an audience of young men falling deeper into the alt-right pipeline.
Kayla Gogarty, a research director at the non-profit Media Matters, which studies the rise of extremist conservative content on the internet, told Passionfruit public apologies from creators can have an impact, but it doesn’t change the real-world harm already committed.
“It may be too late for some of their audience,” Gogarty said. “They’ve already maybe pushed into these corners of the internet.”
For creators, Jomha’s story is a sign that posting edgy content on YouTube has consequences. For fans, it’s an opportunity to think about the content you once consumed. But for everyone, it’s a chance to examine the extremist pipeline and the little steps it takes to fall.