Anna Scanlon became immersed in the online world of veganism. But when she was critical of another vlogger, he started posting videos about her – and after getting little relief from social media websites, Anna sued for defamation.
“At one point I Googled myself and I got the result ‘Anna Scanlon offers sex.’ I threw up.”
For Anna Scanlon, it was a nightmarish twist on what had once been a positive addition to her online life. After moving to Milton Keynes from California in 2012, she found video making not only a way to update friends and family on her new life, but an introduction to a whole new community.
“When I moved to the UK I didn’t know anyone,” she says, “so YouTube became a great outlet to be able to interact with people on a daily basis.”
Anna, now 34, became immersed in her studies – a PhD in Holocaust History at the University of Leicester – as well as her YouTube channel. At about the same time she decided to turn vegan, motivated both by a desire to lose weight and also for ethical reasons. Her vlogging increasingly covered vegan issues – and soon she became a target for another vegan blogger.
Vegan Cheetah, whose real name is Charles Marlowe-Cremedas, is a popular vegan vlogger. He lives in California and he built his channel, which has 37,000 subscribers on YouTube, by engaging in debates about veganism.
Like in other subcultures, arguments in the vegan world are often fractious and – for those outside the subculture – often tediously detailed. Vegans argue back and forth about questions like whether it’s OK to date non-vegans, or keep pets, and a host of other issues.
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The Vegan Cheetah channel included “drama” videos – a particular and hugely popular YouTube genre which catalogues gossip and rumours, often about other YouTubers or celebrities.
Anna watched his videos. Initially she saw the appeal.
“He was saying something that a lot of people in the community resonated with,” she says.
But soon, she claims, Vegan Cheetah ran out of original ideas and his channel “just became bashing individual vegans.”
Anna posted criticism of Charles in a private Facebook group, but somehow the drama vlogger got wind of it and began making drama videos – about Anna. He claimed that Anna called him on Skype, exposed herself to him, and started performing sexual acts on camera – all things which Anna says “never happened.”
It culminated in a four-hour broadcast on another video site, YouNow. Charles repeated the allegations and encouraged people to join in a live-streaming conversation.
“I did confront him asking him to retract his statement, but as it went on I think he really enjoyed the attention that he got from saying these things,” Anna says. “His audience loved it and joined in.”
“It was very shocking to me because it had no basis in reality,” she says of the claims. “I felt disgusted, at that point I thought about taking legal action.”
In April 2017 she did just that, and filed a defamation suit in California. Charles Marlowe-Cremedas declined to comment for this story, but in court filings he has denied Anna’s allegations.
Until recently, he continued to make a series of reaction videos insulting Anna and saying that the lawsuit “doesn’t scare me.”
Anna says that initially YouTube and YouNow took no action, even though she reported Vegan Cheetah’s videos.
“I sent YouNow several emails,” she says “they didn’t even respond.”
“Social media companies could do a lot better especially when it comes to protecting the safety of people online,” she says. “If they have somebody who is constantly reporting incidents then maybe it might be better to actually look into it and talk to people and actually take reporting seriously instead of just glossing over it.”
In a statement, YouTube told BBC Trending: “We have clear rules and policies against bullying and hateful speech and we enforce these policies. Our broadcasts are monitored 24/7, and any user who is reported is quickly disciplined.”
YouNow said in a statement: “We have strict policies against inappropriate behaviour, harassment and illegal activities. 24/7 live moderators respond to any issue flagged by the community or detected by our automated systems.”
After Anna filed her lawsuit, Marlowe-Cremedas was suspended from YouNow. His YouTube channel is still online, however recently most of his old videos were taken down.
After initially refusing to respond to the legal action, Charles filed a response to Anna’s lawsuit in May, 13 months after the lawsuit was originally filed. A trial is now pending.
“I think one of the positives is that people have seen that they can speak up for themselves,” Anna says. “I hope this gives people some hope that the internet will be a bit of a safer place.”
If you’ve been affected by this story, there are resources and links available from BBC Action Line