Jared “ProJared” Knabenbauer, a gaming YouTuber who had over a million subscribers before today’s events, has been accused of sending nudes to and soliciting nudes from fans, two of whom say they were underage at the time of the solicitation. The allegations were first published last night by his wife, artist and cosplayer Heidi O’Ferrall, who is also accusing him of having cheated on her.
Knabenbauer has long been an installation in the gaming YouTube world, where he posts Let’s Plays and gaming reviews, and most notably, his “One Minute Reviews” series. Knabenbauer first started climbing the ranks of YouTube fame around 2013 and, since then, he has collaborated with other YouTube superstars like Jonathan “JonTron” Jafari, the Game Grumps, and even D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast.
Last night on Twitter, Knabenbauer announced his upcoming divorce from O’Ferrall. Shortly afterward, she published a series of tweets alleging adultery. In those tweets, O’Ferrall wrote that her husband “has been soliciting nudes from his fans for years… I was there. In the beginning, it was a joke on tumblr. Then it was its own tumblr account just for nudes. It was ostensibly a body-positive space for consenting adults, and I approved on that basis.” Since last night, at least seven of Knabenbauer’s fans have come forward to say that they either sent naked pictures to or received naked pictures from the YouTuber; two of these fans says they were 16 years old at the time of this exchange. Several of Knabenbauer’s lewd images are now circulating on Twitter and Reddit.
Knabenbauer has been open about having received lewd images from fans on his Tumblr. However, some of those fans are now expressing regret about how the photo exchanges occurred and pointing out the imbalanced power dynamics between fan and celebrity. Earlier this year, Kotaku reported on the easily-exploitable power imbalances between top Twitch and YouTube personalities and their fans. In the cases described in that story, fans detailed how surprised they felt when these micro-celebrities began showing them attention on social media and how they felt conflicted about the sudden boundary-crossing of sexual solicitations.
If all parties are of age, it is not illegal or even necessarily inappropriate for a famous YouTuber to trade nudes with fans, but these situations can involve a power imbalance that places pressure on the fan. O’Ferrall described this particular situation as an “abuse of power” on the part of her husband. “I used to think that among consenting adults, it was fine,” she said. “Now I see it as an abuse of power for him to intentionally manipulate anyone to show him their naked body on the basis that he’s a popular internet man. I would like to apologize for my role in enabling this.” (In the past, when a fan asked O’Ferrall whether receiving the nudes bothered her, she had said, “No, he shows them to me and we high five about it.”)
Kotaku has reached out to five of Knabenbauer’s fans who said they participated in exchanging nude photos. Two did not return requests for comment and one declined to speak with press. The fourth fan, Danielle Shafran, told Kotaku that she followed Knabenbauer’s Tumblr and added him on Snapchat when she was 21. “It was kind of weird. I was trying to play it cool, but him being a ‘famous YouTuber’ was definitely a major reason why I was even messaging him.” After he asked her age, she says, he sent several nude pictures. “I didn’t expect him to send full nudes, though. Him being a public figure, and all, I did not think he would do that.” Shafran deleted Knabenbauer from her Snapchat after just a week, she says. She doesn’t feel extremely victimized; just “pretty gross,” she says, adding that she didn’t know he had a wife. [Update—8/30/2019: This paragraph has been updated to clarify how many fans spoke to Kotaku.]
On Twitter, several fans have detailed their communications with the YouTube star, which supposedly unfolded on Snapchat and Tumblr. One fan, who goes by Chai, said that Knabenbauer “sexually manipulated” him when he was 16. “We spoke sexually,” Chai said in a tweet. “He sent me pictures of him in cosplay with his dick very visible. He told me details about his sexual life and fantasies. Eventually, he sent me a dick pick. . . We didn’t speak every day, but most. I sent him many actual, real nudes.” One other former fan says they shared intimate words and pictures with Knabenbauer when they were about the same age as Chai. In a direct message, that fan elaborated:
“I think he took advantage of the fact that he was a big YouTuber and had a lot of young, impressionable fans. a lot of those fans would have done aaaanything to get attention from him.”
O’Ferrall and Knabenbauer did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment. Knabenbauer’s initial statement on Twitter announcing his divorce from O’Ferrall, in part, appears to have been spurred by his alleged sexual relationship with Twitch star Holly Conrad. On Twitter, Conrad said of the allegations, “If it’s worth anything, you all know me. I’d never hurt anyone and I only want the best and happiness for those around me.”
Knabenbauer’s statement read: “I know this may come as surprising and upsetting for many of you, but know that we do this so that we may both seek happiness for ourselves. During this time you may see a lot of rumors, speculation and gossip going around. I ask that you make your own observations and come to your own conclusions.” He did not address the conversations around him supposedly sending nudes to fans, nor the allegation that he sent nudes to a 16-year-old fan.
In response to today’s controversy, thousands of fans have unsubscribed from his YouTube channel. On his Reddit page, a moderator erased the description and replaced it with the words “jared cheated on his wife.” Former fans are peppering the subreddit with sympathetic messages for O’Ferrall and others who felt mistreated by Knabenbauer.
[Correction—8:00 pm ET]: An earlier version of this story implied that O’Ferrall’s tweets came before Knabenbauer’s statement. In fact, hers came about a half hour later. We regret the error.
[Update—4:30 pm ET, 5/10/19]: This story has been updated to include allegations by another former fan who says they were underage at the time of their conversations with Knabenbauer.
[Update—8/20/19]: On August 27, 2019, three months after these accusations emerged, Jared “ProJared” Knabenbauer posted a YouTube video denying the specific claims that he exchanged nude photos with two of his underage fans. Knabenbauer also acknowledged that he did exchange nude photos with other fans of his, but clarified that these exchanges were always “consensual” and, as far as he knew at the time, only with 18+ aged fans.
“I want to acknowledge now that there was a power imbalance,” he said in the video, in reference to these nude photo exchanges. “That comes down to who I am and what I do. Even if there was nothing offered in return, there was still incentive for people to do it, because I am a YouTuber. It doesn’t matter how neutral the intent was. Just being in this position causes a power imbalance. A lot of people saw that and were upset at me for that reason, and to those of you who feel that way, I completely understand how you feel and why you feel that way, and I’m sorry. I feel that what I was doing was not predatory, but it was unhealthy.”
In reference to one of the two underage accusers, Knabenbauer claims he could find no evidence that he had ever spoken to them. Knabenbauer went on: “I don’t remember ever talking to this person. None of what he claims sounds familiar to my memory at all. The actions he describes doesn’t sound like something I would ever do.” That accuser did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment on Knabenbaur’s video.
In reference to the other underage fan, who had spoken to Kotaku three months ago, Knabenbauer showed a chat log that depicted himself asking the fan if they were 18+. The fan then appeared to respond in affirmation. Knabenbauer went on to say that although this fan sent him photos, Knabenbauer did not reciprocate. Kotaku requested full chat logs from Knabenbauer to corroborate his claims. Knabenbauer sent screenshots, not full chat logs, depicting the fan saying they were over 18, but Kotaku could not confirm that he never sent sexually explicit photos of himself to the fan, as the fan had alleged. That accuser also did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment on Knabenbaur’s video.