In October 2016, Charles Marlowe, aka “Vegan Cheetah,” a popular personality in the strange internet corner of vegan YouTube, went live on his vlog. Two and half hours into his four-hour broadcast, Marlowe decided to sing about a recent alleged Skype call. “I’m sorry that I didn’t want to FaceTime fuck, FaceTime fuck, FaceTime fuck,” he sang while strumming an acoustic guitar.
“Scamartist in my DMs! Trying to see my cock on a Skype call,” the lyrics continued. “You were trying to show me your pussy, but I hung up the phone, because it didn’t really turn me on.”
Prior to this 12-bar serenade, Marlowe gave his viewers some backstory, from his standpoint: Earlier that fall, he claimed, a woman named Anna Scanlon, another vegan YouTuber he refers to as “Anna SCAM-lon,” called him on Skype. (YouTubers moving over to Skype is sort of their version of sliding into DMs.) While drinking a Monster energy drink, vaping, and complaining about his dad vacuuming in the background, Marlowe told his viewers that Scanlon tried to have Skype sex with him, but he hung up before it got intimate.
“If I had talked to her a few times and gotten to know her, I might have been down to freak out,” Marlowe said. “On a first Skype call, that’s like having sex on the first date.”
While Marlowe talked, a viewer following the broadcast posted a comment telling him he could have “confirmed if she had a bush.” Marlowe responded, “This is how the Skype call ended,” while mimicking Scanlon lowering the phone to her crotch. “When she did that I hung up,” he said.
As the comments poured in, Marlowe appeared ready to drop the discussion, telling viewers to go to his Tumblr to learn more. But then the plot thickened: Scanlon was online too, and she wanted to join the broadcast as a guest.
“If you have my Skype, call my Skype. I’m on,” Scanlon said to Marlowe after joining his vlog.
“To be honest with you, I’m logged out of Skype. Let’s just talk here, I’d rather do this on guesting,” Marlowe replied.
For the next 25 minutes, Scanlon and Marlowe engaged in a split-screen back-and-forth. The exchange is dizzying and awful. She repeatedly asked him to call her Skype — insisting that if they had Skype sex, as he claims, he would have her number in his Skype log. Marlowe refused, claiming she is associated with hackers and trying to doxx him. “You have nothing. You have nothing. Fuck you. You’re a creep. And you’re lying big time. I want you to show the receipts,” Scanlon said in one of her last attempts to get him to prove that they Skyped.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to leave it to the viewers. The burden of proof is on you, girl,” Marlowe said before ending Scanlon’s guest appearance.
That was the last time Scanlon and Marlowe spoke. Now, six months later, she has filed a lawsuit against him in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging libel, defamation, and invasion of privacy. She is seeking $350,000.
It’s an interesting development. Both Marlowe and Scanlon are part of a fast-growing subgenre of YouTubers who have “drama” channels — a popular style of video where users revel in combining some reportage with a lot of gossip and unsubstantiated rumors about fellow content creators. And vegan YouTubers are really, really into it. Which makes the lawsuit a sudden, real-world — so to say — test of what constitutes libel or defamation on such channels.
In the complaint, Scanlon says that Marlowe “published on his online forum to thousands of people” claims that “she solicited the opportunity for online sexual acts; performed lewd, unsolicited sexual acts online”; and called her “diseased,” a “wannabe academic,” and a "chronic liar.”
“Because [YouTube] is such a free-for-all market — which it’s supposed to be — it’s easier for people to overstep and commit internet libel,” Scanlon’s attorney, Bruce Jaques, told BuzzFeed News. “The world is sorting out how to deal with this phenomenal technology. It’s really a huge question.”
Jaques believes that the case could take at least six months. Some experts believe the only thing that’s certain is that these sort of claims can lead to long court battles.
“Defamation cases, they’re really, really, really difficult to prove,” University of Southern California law professor Michael Overing told BuzzFeed News. “The plaintiff has to prove that the statement was false, and you have been damaged in your reputation — she has to show that somebody shunned her.”
Marlowe and YouTube didn’t return several requests for comment.
To understand how things got to this point, you need to take a step back and understand the uniquely free-wheeling dynamic of vegan YouTubers, who seem prone to more drama than most social media communities. For example, the platform’s most popular vegan personality, Freelee the Banana Girl — the moniker is a reference to her daily ritual of eating 51 bananas — once infamously claimed that obese people got “stuck on the stairway on 9/11 preventing fit people from getting through and surviving.”
Marlowe doesn’t have nearly the reach of someone like Freelee; his channels have approximately 52,000 subscribers, while Freelee, who recently left her original channel but started a new one, has more than 700,000 subscribers. But what he lacks in reach he makes up for with his unique ability to pump out daily videos about the community. (Talking about YouTubers with bigger followings is a good way to game your videos into the coveted recommended videos sidebar. Many believe that YouTube made an algorithm change in December to actually decrease the views of these types of videos, deciding to instead promote videos that start trending on the site.)
Marlowe’s vlogs chronicling the drama in the vegan community usually garner him between 10,000 and 50,000 views per video. Last year, Jezebel posted a story about Marlowe’s recurring series, "The Dumbest Vegan on YouTube," where he slams other vegan YouTubers.
The videos include gossip such as critiques other video personalities’ diets, exercise regimens, and physical appearances — like another Vegan YouTuber feeding elk meat to his dog. Then there are clips where Marlowe says he is a recovering heroin addict and a convicted felon who has been arrested more than 20 times.
Anna Scanlon told BuzzFeed News she originally joined YouTube in 2014 to fill her free time while she finished up graduate school with making videos about beauty and lifestyle. Then she got very sick — she said her ailments included lupus and interstitial cystitis, a painful bladder condition. Instead of giving up her channel, she shifted its focus in April 2016 to talk about veganism, which she had recently adopted in hopes of improving her health.
At first, Scanlon really enjoyed the camaraderie in the community, made friends with other vegan YouTubers, and said she even watched and liked the Vegan Cheetah’s videos. She said an installment of "The Dumbest Vegan on YouTube" in which Marlowe trashes Freelee for advising young aspiring vegans to call "the authorities" on their parents if they don’t support their veganism was “pretty good.”
Scanlon said that she wasn’t really into the vegan YouTube drama. But her social profiles suggest that she found it impossible to avoid. A few months after she joined the vegan YouTube community, Scanlon says she also joined a closed Facebook group for vegans called the The Nut Milk Crew. Marlowe wasn’t a part of the group, but this is where his feud with Scanlon really begins.
In September 2016, after receiving screenshots of activity in the Facebook group, Marlowe published a video, since taken down but shared with BuzzFeed News, claiming the members were conspiring against him. He showed comments from members discussing his criminal history, including an arrest for breaking into a warehouse and stealing golf clubs to finance his heroin addiction — an incident he himself had not previously discussed on his YouTube channel. He also showed Scanlon commenting negatively about one of his videos, calling her a “psychotic witch.”
After Marlowe published his video outing the Facebook group, other vegan YouTubers lashed out against him and got the video taken down by alleging privacy violations. Scanlon says she filed one of those claims against Marlowe with YouTube — BuzzFeed News asked her for a copy — but she never heard back. She also said she filed a bullying complaint with YouTube about the video of him singing, but never heard back. BuzzFeed News has reached out to YouTube for comment several times about this.
Then, a little more than a month later, Marlowe went live on his vlog with his comments about the alleged Skype sex.
Scanlon told BuzzFeed News that after her guest appearance on the vlog, she received repeated threats and harassment from Marlowe’s audience — including several anti-Semitic remarks. For instance, Scanlon was sent comments and others were posted to her YouTube videos such as "What are you doing on YouTube, you should be preparing to get back in the oven" and "Your family should have died in the Holocaust."
Meanwhile, Marlowe continued to discuss his claims online. During a guest appearance in February on the vlog of the Vegan Traveler, another vegan YouTuber, the host asked Marlowe if he stood by what he said about Scanlon.
“Why did you say those things about Anna?” Marlowe is asked.
“About what, that she tried to sexually harass me on Skype? Why did I say those things?” Marlowe responded. “Because, she had denounced me in some of the worst ways possible and I thought her viewers should know what she’s really about.”
Vegan Traveler then asked: “So you stand by those comments?”
“I stand by those comments,” Marlowe said.
“I had kind of decided to let it go. Then I heard him say that,” Scanlon said. “Then I googled myself, and I saw that the second result was Anna Scanlon accused of offering sex.”
After this, Scanlon emailed Marlowe a cease-and-desist letter. She asked Marlowe to rescind his comments and delete them to avoid a lawsuit.
“I am in contact with a lawyer who has advised me that in the state of California, I can garnish your wages for 25% until you end pay the entirety of whatever damages the court has ruled fit. If you think this is a joke, I will provide you further evidence,” the letter, which was provided to BuzzFeed News, reads.
But the only response she received from him was being blocked on social media. “It seems he thinks he is not in contempt of the law and would rather play hardball,” Scanlon said in a video.
In early March 2017, she announced that she was starting a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to sue Marlowe. “[Marlowe] made the false claim that I cheated on my partner and exposed myself to him via Skype,” she said in a video about the campaign. “Additionally, he followed me into chats, made fun of my [illnesses], and generally laughed at my hurt and the anguish this caused me.” So far, the campaign has raised more than $11,000 on GoFundMe. With enough to pay half of her attorney’s retainer fee, Scanlon filed the complaint at the end of April.
Scanlon’s attorney said that Marlowe has not been served the legal papers — they didn’t realize his full name is Charles Marlowe-Cremedas, which is not how it’s listed in the original documents — but they expect to serve him by the end of the first week of May.
However, in his videos, Marlowe made it obvious that he knows about the case.
“You’re not going to intimidate me. I’ll fucking meet every single court date. I’ve already looked into it. I know how to respond immediately once I get served. Try serving me. It’s going to be difficult. I don’t think it’s going to be as easy as you think it is. But try serving me papers,” Marlowe said in a recent video.
“And we’ll just have to see where it goes. Again, I don’t think it’s ever going to see the light of day,” he added, laughing. “You really can’t make this shit up in a book. This only happens on vegan YouTube.”
But Scanlon’s attorney said that he wouldn’t rule out the impact of a retraction from Marlowe, which could “denature the suit.”
“If you post a retraction so that everyone could see it as prominently as you posted the original, there’s a question of payment of attorney’s fees, but usually the case can go away,” Jaques said. The videos where Marlowe sings the song, discussed the Skype sex allegations, and has Scanlon on as a guest are still live, but are “unlisted” — you need to enter the link to see them and can’t search for them.
If Scanlon sees this lawsuit through, she’ll be opening herself up to to a long and invasive legal battle. It “gives the defendant a chance to go through your underwear drawer to see if your reputation was damaged,” Overing, the law professor, said.
So, if Marlowe rescinded his comments, deleted all the videos, and apologized for the whole thing, would Scanlon drop the case?
“I don’t know at this point. It’s already gone too far with the money. We’ve already paid the lawyer,” Scanlon said.
“I mean, I gave him a chance.” ●
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mike Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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