A trio of influencers from Toronto known as the NELK Boys are being penalized by their primary platform YouTube while being investigated by local Illinois officials after throwing a party at the Illinois State University amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Kyle Forgeard, Jesse Sebastiani, and Steve Deleonardis are the masterminds behind the prank videos that appear weekly on their YouTube channel that has 5.69 million subscribers. Some of their recent videos include “UNDERAGE GIRL Prank on TikTokers” and “Drinking Fake Beer While Driving By Cops.” But their latest stunt is what is making headlines after the group made their way to ISU to host a party with hundreds of maskless attendees. Now, YouTube says, they’re temporarily barred from making money on the platform.
New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz captured the videos posted to the NELK Boys’s Instagram stories on Wednesday, which show crowds of people drinking, jumping around and screaming for the cameras, and posted them to Twitter. “This is what they’re promoting to their 3.5M young followers,” Lorenz wrote, referring to the NELK Boys’s additional following on Instagram.
YouTubers known as Nelk boys, after hosting an “open up gyms” protest and partying their way through LA, are now traveling to colleges encouraging students to ignore COVID restrictions to party.— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) September 10, 2020
Pls watch these videos this is what they’re promoting to their 3.5M young followers pic.twitter.com/sJSLEJpQYS
The tweet immediately grabbed the attention of thousands of people condemning the influencers’s actions and raising concerns about the possible spread of the coronavirus. On Wednesday, ISU President Larry Dietz addressed the party during a press conference.
“It really gives me no joy to convey my great disappointment in the actions of those who gathered,” he said, according to local Illinois publication The Pantagraph. “We’re investigating that; if any individuals are identified out of that gathering, we have a student conduct code that will be applied.”
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner confirmed that the party took place at off-campus housing in Normal, Ill. and was in fact hosted by the infamous visitors. “They created the gatherings,” he said of the NELK Boys. “The gatherings happened because they were there.”
The police chief went on to say that that three boys set up shop and started filming, which brought the crowds flocking. The gathering moved to three different locations as each was broken up by ISU police officers before Normal police showed up to the last location to break it up for the night. About 200 people were in attendance at that time.
Related: College students test positive for virus and party
“We're going to continue to work with landlords and the university but the students have to be accountable,” Bleichner said. “Just because some internet sensation shows up, it doesn't mean all caution should be thrown to the wind. The students need to be accountable for their actions.”
Beyond Dietz’s warning that students involved may face suspension or “interruption of the students' plan to be here,” Normal Mayor Chris Koos additionally said that the town is looking to hold the NELK Boys accountable.
“I think they should answer for their actions, whether that's a fine or a university code of conduct action,” he said. “There is a lot of community anger about it because it's things like this that can cause us to step back. ...It could impact local businesses, and it could impact student life for those who are trying to comply with what needs to happen to tamp this COVID virus down.”
Neither ISU nor Mayor Koos’s office immediately responded to Yahoo Life’s request for comment. University staff did, however, include information about the large gathering in a Coronavirus Weekly Update on Thursday.
The NELK Boys didn’t respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment but posted a short video from the party to their primary Twitter account on Wednesday, where Forgeard thanked their supporters before shotgunning a Twisted Tea.
The day prior, the trio had posted their road trip plans for the week — including Chicago, Columbus, Washington, Philadelphia and New Jersey.
Chicago today, Columbus tomorrow, then Washington/Philly and then Jersey! Where our fans at?— NELK (@NelkFilmz) September 8, 2020
Koos confirmed during the press conference that the boys had re-routed to ISU on their way to Chicago. According to the NELK Boys Instagram stories, they are at their lawyer’s house in Columbus, Ohio where they were informed of an existing warrant against Forgeard from two years ago. The mayor’s office in Columbus didn’t respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment, however, the NELK Boys posted a later video of the lawyer toasting to the NELK Boys’s success. “This legend keeps us out of jail,” the text on the video reads.
Despite the work being done by local Illinois and Ohio officials to hold the influencers legally responsible for flouting social distancing protocol, their primary platform YouTube is also taking a stance after announcing that the trio is temporarily unable to make money from their videos.
“We have temporarily suspended the Nelk Boys channel from the YouTube Partner Program for violating our Creator Responsibility policy,” a YouTube spokesperson tells Yahoo Life. “If we see that a creator’s off-platform behavior harms our users, community, employees or ecosystem, we take action to protect the community. In this case, these creators were encouraging large groups of people to actively disregard social distancing guidelines from local health authorities that were put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, creating a widespread public health risk.”
According to a tweet from August where the NELK Boys claimed that they will “never change or simmer down,” it remains to be seen where the group goes from here.
Well never change or simmer down our comedy to please people especially snowflakes— NELK (@NelkFilmz) August 10, 2020
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
Read more from Yahoo Life:
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.