A YouTube star has sparked outrage after filming a series of “acid attack” prank videos in which he throws water in people’s faces.
His latest video, which reached more than 1.6 million views before being removed for violating YouTube’s policy on harassment and bullying, shows him approaching people on the streets of London and dousing their faces in water as they begin to scream.
Britain has “one of world’s highest rates of corrosive-substance attacks,” The Guardian reported in December. More than 20 people were injured in a London nightclub last April when a man drenched a crowd with acid.
Arya Mosallah, the YouTuber who perpetuated the prank, has more than 666,000 followers and opens his video by saying, “You guys know what happens when I’m back with my cup. I’m going to be throwing water in people’s faces.”
He says he’ll continue to do the prank if the video of his latest stunt reaches 150,000 likes.
While plenty of his followers praised him for the “hilarious” joke, others were outraged that he would make light of such a serious issue in pursuit of views.
“I lost an eye to an acid attack… this is horrendous,” one man tweeted. “If this person was brandishing a toy gun to joke terrorise people, the police would be called in to manage the situation. This is no different.”
“Given the rise in acid attacks of late, I find this to be extremely disturbing. The ‘YouTuber’ is aware of the current climate and has chosen to exploit that for some kicks. @YouTube should take action against him and definitely shouldn't allow him to profit off causing distress,” another said.
“Think this guy needs to be sat down and have a chat with an acid attack victim. See how funny this type of ‘prank’ is then,” said another.
“How dare you try to make light of the pain and emotional trauma that comes from acid attacks,” said Resham Khan, an acid-attack victim who was attacked by a stranger on her 21st birthday. “You will thankfully never experience what it feels like to have your skin melt away, but I tell you now it is agonising and is not funny.”
In 2015, a woman was found guilty of assault in the U.K. for throwing water on a child’s face.
Mosallah’s video is just the latest in a series of problematic stunts pulled by YouTube stars in attempt to go viral. This month, YouTube cut business ties with vlog powerhouse Logan Paul after he posted a video featuring the body of a suicide victim.
Mosallah himself has largely grown his channel through assault-style “pranks” in which he grabs people’s hats off their heads, pours ketchup on their shoes, pulls chairs out from under them, jumps on the hoods of their cars, smacks drinks out of people’s hands, and steals their iPhones.
In one video on his channel that garnered over 2 million views this past fall, he runs around pulling people’s pants down in an attempt to expose their underwear or genitals.
In a response to the backlash, Mosallah issued a video Monday night claiming that media companies were "slandering" his name over a harmless prank though also admitting that he still shouldn't have produced the video in the first place.
"I've been doing pranks on YouTube for about three years, I've never once come across anything about community guidelines or strikes," he said. "If one video of mine literally offended you guys, then all my other videos would literally anal you guys."
"You're crying over one video that was a joke and never meant to be for these old boring people," he said.
He also took issue with how haphazardly YouTube seems to enforce its community guidelines.
"There are videos on YouTube of bombings and stabbings and pornography that have not been deleted, I've seen it myself," he said. "I've been doing way more controversial pranks that haven't been deleted or demonetized... I've done a bomb prank that got no attention."
In an interview with MSNBC over the weekend, YouTube CEO Susan Wojicki said the platform is working hard to ferret out and remove problematic content that explicitly violates the company’s community guidelines.
“We announced that we would hire 10,000 people to help us manage and enforce the policies that we have across content on YouTube,” she said in the interview. “We’ve always had community guidelines on YouTube and we’ve always enforced those guidelines.”
Wojicki said YouTube has begun using machine learning to find problematic videos proactively, then let humans review them and potentially take them down.
In the meantime, prank videos, which have become YouTube influencers’ favored genre, can often straddle the line. Many YouTubers know just how far to push things without technically violating YouTube’s terms.
“There are a lot of nuances,” Wojicki said.