Earlier this week, a YouTube creator named Brooke Houts uploaded what appeared to be an unremarkable video. Houts, a brunette vegan trying to make it in show business, specializes in upbeat, fast-talking segments about true crime, fitness, and life in Los Angeles, often featuring her enormous Doberman Pinscher puppy, Sphinx. Houts' feed is filled with dog stills. The new video, which has since been removed from her’ page, seemed to continue the theme. Houts had planned an innocuous, if unimaginative prank: saran-wrapping her doorway, walking Sphinx toward it, and watching him trip on what he plainly couldn’t see.
But instead of her usual hyper-edited fare, Houts uploaded raw footage of her shoot. In the uncut video, the creator appears in an AC/DC shirt, face fully bronzered, with an over-the-top enthusiasm to rival Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod. After the intro, the tape cuts to Houts exploding at Sphinx, hitting him, pushing him to the ground, and appearing to spit in his face. Between moments of rage, Houts jumps back into character, smiling at the camera, flipping her hair, and giggling. In one of the more mercurial clips, Houts attempts four takes at cooing, “I love you!” before pushing Sphinx off-camera, following him out of frame, and screaming, “LAY DOWN.”
Like a lot of social media stars, Houts, who has around 330,000 followers on YouTube and whose videos regularly clock views in the hundred thousands, presents herself as a precocious blend of playful and candid. She is real, as she’ll tell you in “Facing Reality. (Ep. 1) My Fitness Journey,” or in “my REAL morning routine with my doberman puppy,” or in “what it’s really like being an actress in LA.”
Houts’ bio reads as a testament to her honesty: “HEY my name is Brooke Houts and if you're reading this congratulations you can read. Since you’re already here, I heard that it’s strongly advised by all medical personnel that you hit the subscribe button (also the notification bell doesn’t hurt either) or else SOMETHING WILL HAPPEN I DON’T KNOW I’M BAD AT LYING JUST SUBSCRIBE OKAY IT’S FREE AND FUN.”
But the new video offered another kind of honesty. Within hours of the upload, viewers had caught on to the error. Fans erupted in the comments, calling for YouTube to ban Houts’ account and threatening to report her to animal services. The YouTuber quickly scrubbed the video from her account and issued an apology, acknowledging that her anger was unwarranted but denying any abuse or spitting. She also copped to her realness flub, claiming she’d been upset on the day she filmed.
“The bubbly, happy-go-lucky Brooke that you often see in my videos is typically an accurate representation of me,” Houts wrote, “but it’s obvious that I’m playing up my mood in this video when I’m clearly actually frustrated.”
The apology was not well-received. Many online personalities had already piled on, and others soon followed suit. Houts’ statement attracted replies from a bizarre swath of the digital world, including weight loss influencer Tony Posnanski, E! Fashion Police stylist Brad Goreski, British sports commentator Layla Anna-Lee, and self-declared imam Mohamed Tawhidi. Ethan Klein, one half of YouTube’s popular h3h3Productions channel, even offered to buy Houts’ dog for “any price.”
Then, Wednesday morning, Daniel Keem aka Keemstar, an active online gamer and the face of DramaAlert, the popular internet news show and informal “TMZ of YouTube,” immortalized the moment in a video about Houts’ misstep, pointing viewers to his Twitter, where he had archived the original footage.
Keemstar even tracked down Houts’ ex-boyfriend, Dolan Henrikson, who went on a rant about the YouTuber’s history of animal abuse and accused her of never showering. (Henrikson told The Daily Beast that he dated Houts for less than a year in 2017. They were long-distance: Henrikson lives in Orlando; Houts was in San Francisco at the time. The showering comment stemmed from a one-week visit Houts made to Henrikson’s home right before they broke up, one of two in-person interactions they had.)
In barely 24 hours, the DramaAlert video racked up 1.3 million views and shot to the top of YouTube’s trending feed.
The controversy quickly broke out of the online world and into real life. Animal rights groups condemned the video; PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange told The Daily Beast the organization was urging YouTube to take action against Houts.
Fans followed through on their threats to report her to the police. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Police Department opened an investigation into Houts. “We’re aware of the video,” Officer Jeff Lee told The Daily Beast. “The LAPD’s Animal Cruelty Task Force is now overseeing that and trying to determine if a crime was committed or not.”
In the YouTube ecosystem, controversies, feuds, and premeditated mistakes have become so commonplace that their inevitable aftermath—the public apology—has become its own genre. There are marketing studies on apology videos; detailed analyses of their titles, tone, and degrees of authenticity; and so many memes riffing on the trope that one kid even came to VidCon dressed in full apology cosplay.
The catalysts for these public reckonings vary, trending from the serious (YouTuber Logan Paul filmed a suicide victim while on vacation in Japan), to the trivial (Manny “MUA” Gutierrez made his apology debut following nebulous charges of “social climbing”), to the precariously in-between (arguably the largest feud of the past few months involved beauty vlogger James Charles and his mentor, Tati Westbook, seemingly over both Charles’ Coachella ad sponsorship for a gummy-vitamin company called “Sugar Bear Hair,” rather than Westbrook’s line of supplements, “Halo Beauty,” and his apparent sexual coercion of straight guys).
Houts’ scandal falls squarely in the last camp. Her video triggered outrage not only for showcasing an obvious disregard for her dog but for catching the creator in a moment of true candidness. She had tripped and everyone saw. In the hypercurated world of online celebrity, where everything from eating, sleeping, and offering tearful apologies is subjected to excruciating edits and rehearsal, Houts’ video offered a glimpse behind the scenes and confirmed what most already suspected: that everything—her channel, the platform, the slightly modified versions of ourselves we all expose on social media—is not, entirely, real.
“Brooke Houts’ split personality is scary,” Keemstar told The Daily Beast in a statement. “In the unedited video we see her go from YouTube happy to full rage back to YouTube happy. Obviously the main story & concern here is the abuse of the animal. But I would argue this makes us question if any YouTuber is actually authentic at all.”