YouTube has made celebrities out of many ordinary young people who have been able to gather a substantial following online. Online stardom often brings out adoring fans, frequently children and teenagers, who are willing to do whatever it takes to get the attention of their idol. This was the case for 26-year-old former YouTube star Austin Jones. Jones became famous for singing popular a cappella covers on the platform. He drew in a lot of doting fans and used their idolization of him to his advantage. On Friday, Jones was sentenced to 10 years in prison for coercing his young followers to send him explicit images, according to NBC News.
Jones’s a cappella covers included hits such as “Sugar, We’re Going Down” by Fall Out Boy and “Sorry” by Justin Bieber. He accumulated more than 534,000 subscribers and 41 million views on YouTube. The majority of his viewers were young underage girls, in their early teens or even younger. Court documents show that between the years of 2016 and 2017, Jones engaged in private conversations with six different girls, all aged between 14- and 15-years-old. These girls made it clear to Jones that they were in fact underage. While some sent explicit photos to him, others sent videos.
In some exchanges, Jones tried to guilt girls into sending him explicit images by asking them to prove themselves as true fans. At one point, a 14-year-old girl he was in contact with stated her concern that they could both get in trouble due to the explicit nature of the content they were exchanging. When she expressed hesitation over continuing to send him videos, his response was harsh.
“I guess you really aren’t my biggest fan…..ok then,” he told her.
While Jones’ lawyers were hoping for a minimum of five years, District Judge John Z. Lee opted to sentence him to 1o years for child pornography charges, according to CNN.
Prosecutors explained the ways in which Jones used his online fame to manipulate young girls, saying he “preyed on their youth, their vulnerabilities and most glaringly, their adoration of him.”
Upon casting down his sentence, Judge Lee spoke about the ways in which Jones used his status to steal the innocence of young girls.
“Production and receipt of child pornography are extraordinarily serious offenses that threaten the safety of our children and communities. Jones’ actions took something from his victims and their families that they will never be able to get back.”