After being accused of inappropriate conduct with minors, YouTube creator Colleen Ballinger played a ukulele in her apology video. The backlash continued. (2024)

U.S.

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

YouTuber Colleen Ballinger, known for her "Miranda Sings" character that earned her a Netflix show, has come under fire after videos of her past inappropriate behavior have resurfaced online.

Ballinger posted an apology – while playing the ukulele – after she was accused of inappropriate conduct around minors. But still, fans are continuing to condemn her and drudge up past inappropriate behavior, including a video in which she appears to be in blackface.

Ballinger started posting comedic videos online about 15 years ago, developing her most famous character, "Miranda Sings," and amassing 10.7 million subscribers on the YouTube page she made for the awkward, tone-deaf singer with smudged red lipstick. She now posts vlog-style videos about her life and family on her own YouTube page, which has 3.31 million subscribers.

Last week, past accusations that Ballinger had inappropriate relationships with minors surfaced on TikTok, with some social media users resurfacing old clips, and others sharing their personal experiences with Ballinger. In some cases, Ballinger had addressed the allegations years ago.

After being accused of inappropriate conduct with minors, YouTube creator Colleen Ballinger played a ukulele in her apology video. The backlash continued. (1)

A man named Adam McIntyre alleged in 2020 that Ballinger sent him a pair of her underwear four years earlier when he was a teen. He also alleged Ballinger made inappropriate comments to him privately online and in a group chat with teenage fans she called "Colleeny's Weenies."

Ballinger posted a video called "Addressing Everything" in 2020, not only addressing McIntyre's allegations, but also inappropriate comments she made in past videos about race, overweight people, animal abuse, and other controversial topics.

In the 2020 video, she apologizes for hurting anyone with comments made when she was younger and said McIntyre's allegations about the underwear were taken out of context. She said she bought a "really ugly pair of underwear" which she spoke about during a 2016 livestream asking fans if they wanted them. She then chose to send them to McIntyre.

The latest accusations and a ukelele apology

Last month, TikTok users started resurfacing some of Ballinger's past inappropriate comments, including McIntyre, who posted a video on June 10 criticizing how Ballinger handled his allegations, saying she "edited" the context to "make a child look bad."

In other TikTok videos and in an interview with the Huffington Post, McIntyre also said that when Ballinger was going through a divorce, she used to rely on the group chat with teenagers to emotionally vent, and told them to defend her publicly online. "I was so involved in this woman's life that it's embarrassing to look back on," McIntyre said. "There were some days, on a school night, I would be up until like 4 a.m. trying to calm her down."

Other TikTok users shared clips from Ballinger's previous live shows, many alleging she sexualized minors, oftentimes inviting them on stage to participate in a segment about p*rn. One woman alleged Ballinger called her up on stage when she was 14 years old and made her feel sexually violated by having her lay on the stage and spread her legs.

After more and more videos were posted on TikTok calling out Ballinger's past inappropriate behavior, the YouTuber posted a video titled "hi." last week where she played the ukulele and sang about the "toxic gossip train" she has been experiencing, saying some of the allegations against her are lies.

She admitted to having made mistakes, saying she may have "overshared" with young fans in the past, but said she has changed her behavior.

"Thought you wanted me to take accountability but that's not the point of your mob mentality, is it? No. Your goal is to ruin the life of the person you despise while you dramatize your lies and monetize their demise," she sings.

Many social media users criticized the seemingly flippant video, saying the allegations are serious – with some accusing her of "grooming" fans, or taking advantage of their young age to manipulate them – and condemning Ballinger for not taking accountability.

With the apology video unsatisfactory to many, social media users continued to resurface past videos showing Ballinger acting inappropriately. In a video posted by a Twitter user on Wednesday, Ballinger is seen dancing to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" in what appears to be blackface. The video, taken five years ago, is still up on the YouTube page Ballinger created for her character Miranda Sings.

What makes a good apology?

Kimberly A. Hall, an associate professor of English and digital media studies at Wofford College in South Carolina, told CBS News while Ballinger tried to defend herself and make amends in the ukulele video, "These two things work against one another in an apology." She said social media users' response of resurfacing other bad acts by Ballinger "seems to be an effort to affirm the validity of the claims against her and to reassert the need for Ballinger to take ownership of her actions."

"Defending oneself is not what an apology is for," said Hall, who wrote an academic paper analyzing Facebook's apology in the wake of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal. "An apology is a moment in which the offender recognizes the victim's claims of harm and makes it clear that they will act differently in the future."

Even though many called Facebook's 2018 apology a fail, Hall writes that the company had a successful apology after Cambridge Analytica exposed that the social media giant was gathering and selling personal data from users without their knowledge. She attributes the success in part to what is called a "splitting gesture," whereby the offender, Facebook in this case, divides itself in two, admitting its past self did wrong, but by apologizing, it separates its current self from the past self that offended.

"All of the scholarship on apologies makes it clear that in an apology the offender needs to own the mistake and take responsibility for their actions while acknowledging the harm they have caused," Hall told CBS News. "They also need to make it clear how they will act differently in the future. Most importantly, they need to apologize! That is a crucial element missing from Ballinger's video."

Hall says there is a whole side of YouTube dedicated to analyzing and ranking apology videos from public figures. She said what makes a successful apology is "often not the apology itself but the actions that follow the apology that do the work to restore the reputation of an individual or a brand."

Hall compared Ballinger's ukulele apology to Mario Batali's apology in 2017 after he faced allegations of sexual harassment by multiple women. "He did acknowledge his guilt and directly apologize but then he attached a recipe for Pizza Dough Cinnamon Rolls at the end of the apology," she said. "Like Ballinger's use of the ukulele, this set a completely inappropriate tone that undermined any sense of remorse or responsibility in the apology itself."

She pointed to Lizzo as someone who made a successful apology, because she took action to correct her mistake when fans criticized some of the lyrics in her 2022 song "GRRRLS" as ableist. "She made an immediate change to the lyric in question and affirmed how the change was in line with (her) own experience of harmful language and she acknowledged her own power as an 'influential artist,'" Hall said. "Her apology brought her values, her identity, and her reparative actions into alignment, making it very effective."

Ballinger recently launched a podcast with fellow YouTuber Trisha Paytas, who posted a video this week addressing the allegations against her collaborator. "I wasn't aware of these most recent things that are coming out," Paytas said. "Everyone knows I have a very, very, very firm stance on talking to anyone underage, platonic or not." She said she has trauma surrounding inappropriate relationships she had when she was a minor and was "shocked" by Ballinger's ukulele video.

Caitlin O'Kane

Caitlin O'Kane is a New York City journalist who works on the CBS News social media team as a senior manager of content and production. She writes about a variety of topics and produces "The Uplift," CBS News' streaming show that focuses on good news.

After being accused of inappropriate conduct with minors, YouTube creator Colleen Ballinger played a ukulele in her apology video. The backlash continued. (2024)

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