- The Stokes Twins, who have 25 million TikTok followers and 4.8 million YouTuber subscribers, were charged with false imprisonment and swatting on Wednesday in connection to a fake bank robbery prank video they filmed in October 2019.
- In the video, they run around the Irvine, California area dressed in all black, with ski masks and duffle bags full of cash to make it seem like they had just committed a crime.
- The prank resulted in their Uber driver being held at gunpoint by police, who authorities later learned was not involved. Even after police issued the duo a warning, they continued to carry out their prank on the UC Irvine campus.
- Each face a maximum sentence of four years in state prison if convicted on all counts.
Stoke Twins in Trouble
A pair of brothers known online as the Stokes Twins are in serious legal trouble over a fake bank robbery prank video they uploaded to their YouTube channel last year.
The brothers are 23-year-old Alan and Alex Stokes, and they have 4.8 million followers on YouTube, where they post challenge videos, pranks, and other content. They also have over 25 million followers on their joint TikTok account.
On Wednesday the Orange County District Attorney’s office in California announced that they had each been charged in connection with their robbery prank.
The DA’s office said the video at the center of this case was filmed on October 15, 2019. However, in the video, the twins say it was filmed over the course of three days. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it had more than 1.4 million views before it was set to private sometime yesterday. Still, reuploads of the prank have already been posted and shared, along with more details about what happened when it was filmed thanks to a press release from the DA’s office.
What Happens in the Prank Video?
In the video, the pair dresses up in all black with ski masks and duffle bags full of cash to make those around them believe they have just committed a crime. Much of the video is filmed in the Irvine area and UC Irvine campus, where the two run around to catch people’s attention, sometimes tripping and spilling cash onto the ground.
In some parts of the video, they approach strangers and ask for directions to the nearest bank. “Do you know how tight their security is?” one brother says after getting directions from a group of students. “I’m just going to make a large withdrawal if you know what I mean.”
A short time later, they return to anyone they previously approached and offer them money for their help. “Hey man, I just wanted to give you this cause I would have never gotten this without your help,” one brother says.
At other points, they ask people if they can buy their clothes off of them and approach women to ask them out on dates, showing off their bags of cash. They even ask some women to help them commit their fake crimes.
“So I’m actually trying to rob a bank and I’m looking for an attractive female to distract the security guards. Would you be down to do that?” they ask.
The video ends with extra footage from these encounters, where the two explain that it was all a prank and people admit that they saw the cameraman or suspected it was a joke.
Stunt With Uber Driver Goes Wrong
Still, there were some people who didn’t think it was a joke at all. At one point in the video, the twins get into an Uber and the driver quickly becomes uncomfortable by the situation they’ve put him in.
“What is this?” the driver asks. “Uh, our getaway driver just bailed on us so uh,” one twin says.
“We’re going to like a costume party…Could you step on it? Like step on the gas,” they add.
“This is weird. It’s not funny. Okay, I can’t just take this ride. Just get out of my car please.” the driver tells the twins.
According to the DA’s office, a bystander saw this exchange and believed they were attempting to carjack the driver, so they called the police. When authorities responded, they ordered the driver out of the car at gunpoint. He was ultimately released after they determined that he was not involved.
Police also issued a warning to the brothers at that time about how dangerous their conduct was and let them go, which the twins actually include in the video.
When the brothers explain that its a prank, one officer says, “A public prank that gets about 15 police officers in the area hauling butt over here cause you guys are pulling off masks.“
One of the twins explains that he called the non-emergency police number and notified them of the days they would be filming their video. The officer responds with, “This is what’s going to get someone potentially gunstuck or someone hurt. We have people stopping the middle of the street because they’re watching this, guys pulling up ski masks, throwing stuff of the ground, changing clothes.”
One of the brothers explains that most people were laughing and he didn’t expect this to happen, seeming to admit that they took it too far. The officers continue to try to explain the seriousness of the situation to them, with one saying, “Dude, this about what’s going on nowadays. Think about it man you’ve got to be smarter than that.”
“You know better…I want you guys to be creative and do what you want to do, but you’ve got to be smarter than this. What do you think people are going to do? Right, and you’ve lucky you didn’t get any guns drawn at you. You’re absolutely lucky you didn’t get any guns drawn at you.”
The officers remain calm, warning them to be careful and advising them to maybe rent a space or a controlled area for future videos instead. Because the brothers placed this at the end of the video, you might believe that maybe the twins realized what they did wrong and were learning from their mistake.
However, according to the press release, the brothers performed the prank on the University campus four hours after police initially spoke to them.
In fact, they even laugh about how they’ve had the police call on them throughout the day when talking to others that they pranked on campus.
They tell one group of students about the incident with the Uber driver adding, “The Uber driver kicked us out of the car. One minute later, there were like 10 cop cars that pulled out guns on him. They were like rifles. They thought he was the getaway driver guns so they had like 15 guns put up. He’s like ‘I’m not even a part of this.’ So yeah, poor guy.”
What Were They Charged With?
The brothers have each been charged with one felony count of false imprisonment affected by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit, and one misdemeanor count of falsely reporting an emergency, which is often referred to as swatting. They both face a maximum sentence of four years in state prison if convicted on all counts.
When announcing the charges, D.A. Todd Spitzer condemned their actions, saying in a statement, “These were not pranks.”
“These are crimes that could have resulted in someone getting seriously injured or even killed. Law enforcement officers are sworn to protect the public and when someone calls 911 to report an active bank robbery they are going to respond to protect lives. Instead, what they found was some kind of twisted attempt to gain more popularity on the internet by unnecessarily putting members of the public and police officers in danger.”
The brothers have no made any public comments about the charges as of now.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (The Hollywood Reporter) (CNN)
Halsey Says Her Label Won’t Release Her New Song Unless They Can “Fake” A Viral TikTok Moment. Artists Say This Points to a Larger Issue in the Industry
Artist Sizzy Rocket said that record companies are forcing musicians “to fit into this box of virality” in hopes of landing a quick hit.
Halsey Calls Out Record Label
Over the last several years, TikTok has changed nearly every aspect of the music industry by sending viral songs to the top of the Billboard charts. Even major artists like Halsey say they cannot escape the pressure to go viral, sparking concern over how the app is influencing music.
On Sunday, Halsey, who uses she/they pronouns, posted a TikTok saying they had a new song they were eager to release, but their label said they “can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok.”
“Everything is marketing,” Halsey wrote, adding that this issue is impacting “basically every artist” right now.
Countless songs, including chart-toppers like “Old Town Road” and “drivers license” first soared to success on TikTok. Labels are eager to recreate that path in whatever ways they can.
Halsey’s label, Astralwerks-Capitol, gave a statement to Variety claiming its “belief in Halsey as a singular and important artist is total and unwavering.”
“We can’t wait for the world to hear their brilliant new music,” the statement said.
In response, Halsey noted that Astralwerks was the company that signed her before upstreaming her to Capitol. She said this statement in particular “came from the company who believed in me from the jump” and not the company she is “wrestling with now.”
Artists Speak Out
Nearly eight million views later, Halsey’s TikTok prompted fans and people working in the music industry to criticize the practice of forcing songs to go viral.
“Halsey has sold over 100 million records and she is having to put up with this nonsense?” musician Rebecca Ferguson tweeted. “Artists and creatives should be ‘free.’”
“halsey’s tik tok only scratches the surface of what’s happening in music right now,” singer and songwriter Sizzy Rocket added.
While speaking to Rogue Rocket, Sizzy Rocket said that labels and producers don’t understand that making a song and going viral on TikTok are two different art forms. The pressure of going viral often puts artists in positions where they feel their creative integrity could be compromised.
“Artists like myself and Halsey, who require a little bit more time and space to craft our messages, are sort of being forced to fit into this box of virality and so, it’s a big problem,” Sizzy Rocket said.
“As an artist, I can’t just do something to go viral.”
Sizzy Rocket said that labels have approached her to write songs for their more viral artists, oftentimes offering no pay for the session.
“It’s taken me four albums, I just released my fourth album, and ten years to develop this melodic and lyrical style,” she explained. “You know I have a thing, I have a je ne sais quoi, and so to ask me to just give that to a brand new artist who just went viral overnight is truly offensive.”
Smaller Artists Face Bigger Issues
As Halsey’s call-out TikTok has spread online, the “Closer” singer denied that the video was a promotional stunt of its own, arguing she is “way too established to stir something like this up for no reason or resort to this as a marketing tactic.”
But whether it be intentionally or inadvertently, Halsey has drummed up attention for their new music. Smaller artists don’t have the luxury of being able to instantly reach the masses. Sizzy Rocket said that up and comers like herself have to struggle more to get the spotlight, while mainstream artists have a larger fanbase to fall back on.
“I feel like smaller artists are more affected because we’re getting buried, right?” she said. “There’s so much content, there are so many people trying to go viral.”
“I feel like larger artists, because they have a more established and bigger audience, they sort of have access to that attention already,” Sizzy Rocket continued. “But for smaller artists, we sort of have to like, dig, dig through the pile of everyone else sort of grabbing for that trend.”
While Sizzy Rocket does not consider herself a viral artist, she said she did at one point try to go viral on TikTok. After filming the video, she felt it would be of no benefit.
“I just couldn’t post it because I didn’t understand how that sort of cheap grab for attention would help me deliver the message of my music,” she said.
With that said, Sizzy Rocket said she does not blame any TikTok artists who went viral on their own. Instead, she pointed the finger at labels who are trying to drive inorganic viral success while lacking an understanding of how art and social media interact with one another.
“I don’t want to place any blame on the actual TikTok artists who did go viral. I feel like they deserve to make their art as well,” she said. “It’s more about the label prioritizing the platform over the art itself.”
Other artists like Zara Larsson and Florence Welch have bemoaned the pressures they face from their record companies to be active on TikTok. Many agree that the expectations labels have in this arena are unfair to artists.
“labels all want a dove cameron ‘boyfriend’ moment (which i’d argue was rather organic) but how sustainable is that kind of traction as it’s v fleeting + how can artists even replicate that kind of virality,” culture writer Zoya Raza-Sheikh asked on Twitter.
For Halsey, it remains unclear when their new song will see the light of day. In a tweet, they claimed their label was impressed by their TikTok’s traction, but only said “we’ll see” when asked if the song could be released.
See what others are saying: (Variety) (Rolling Stone) (Entertainment Weekly)
N.Y. State Senate Passes Bill Championed by Jay-Z That Would Restrict Use of Rap Lyrics in Court
A companion bill currently sits in the state’s assembly.
“Rap Music on Trial” Passes Senate
The New York State Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that would curb prosecutors’ ability to cite rap lyrics and other creative works as evidence in legal battles.
Dubbed “Rap Music on Trial,” the bill aims to “enhance the free speech protections of New Yorkers by banning the use of art created by a defendant as evidence against them in a courtroom,” according to a statement from State Sens. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Jamaal Bailey (D-Queens).
“The legislation will protect all artists and content creators, including rappers from having their lyrics wielded against them by prosecutors,” the statement continued.
Right now, all forms of creative expression, including rap lyrics, can be used as evidence in criminal cases. Rap lyrics, however, are more likely to be weaponized against those who wrote them in trial, experts say.
“The use of rap and hip-hop lyrics in particular is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system,” Bailey said in a statement.
Hoylman agrees that there is a double standard.
“Nobody thinks Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, or that David Byrne is a psycho killer, but routinely rappers have their lyrics used against them in criminal trials,” he tweeted.
The bill would not fully ban the use of rap lyrics in court. If made into law, prosecutors would need “clear and convincing proof that there is a literal, factual nexus between creative expression and the facts of the case” in order to use these works as evidence.
Major artists including Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Kelly Rowland, and Robin Thicke previously signed a letter in support of the legislation.
A companion bill currently sits in the New York State Assembly.
Rap Lyrics in Court
The use of rap lyrics against their artists is not an uncommon tactic. Earlier this month, an indictment charging Young Thug, Gunna, and two dozen others over alleged gang activity and conspiracy to violate racketeering laws used lyrics of the aforementioned artists.
While the case is in Atlanta and would not be impacted by the New York bill, the use of their lyrics has stirred controversy. In a motion requesting that Gunna be released from jail, his lawyers argued that it was unfair to cite these works.
“It is intensely problematic that the State relies on song lyrics as part of its allegations,” his lawyers said in court documents. “These lyrics are an artist’s creative expression and not a literal recounting of facts and circumstances. Under the State’s theory, any artist with a song referencing violence could find herself the victim of a RICO indictment.”
Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis defended the indictment’s use of the lyrics and argued it did not violate the artist’s free speech.
In the letter signed by numerous recording artists, the authors said this kind of tactic “effectively denies rap music the status of art and, in the process, gives prosecutors a dangerous advantage in the courtroom.”
“Rather than acknowledge rap music as a form of artistic expression, police and prosecutors argue that the lyrics should be interpreted literally — in the words of one prosecutor, as ‘autobiographical journals’ — even though the genre is rooted in a long tradition of storytelling that privileges figurative language, is steeped in hyperbole, and employs all of the same poetic devices we find in more traditional works of poetry,” the letter, which was written by Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro and University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson, said.
YouTube Touts MrBeast and Mainstream Appeal in First Upfront Presentation
According to Nielson, over 230 million people in the United States used the video service in just one month.
YouTube Presents at Upfronts
During its first Upfront presentation on Tuesday, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said the company said it was joining staple broadcast and entertainment companies “because YouTube is the mainstream.”
“Viewers have more choices than ever about what to watch or where to watch it,” Wojcicki said while speaking at the Imperial Theatre in New York City. “And they continue to use YouTube.”
The company had previously done its Brandcast presentation at the NewFronts. This was the first time its pitch came alongside television competitors during the busy Upfronts season.
Many of YouTube’s primary talking points were highlighted in a company blog post. In its address, it marketed itself not just as the future of media consumption, but as the modern-day leader, too.
It said that over 135 million people watched YouTube on Connected TVs, representing every age demographic from toddlers to viewers 55-years-old and up. It also cited Nielson data that said YouTube has over 50% of ad-supported streaming watch time on TV screens.
Nielsen also found that YouTube reached over 230 million people in the United States in just one month.
YouTube Offers Up Its Talent
MrBeast, one of YouTube’s top creators, attended the presentation. The company boasted that if MrBeast were his own streaming service, he would “would have more subscribers than the next three most popular ad-supported streaming services.” In other words, with 95 million YouTube subscribers, MrBeast is ahead of HBO and HBO Max’s 77 million, Paramount’s 33 million, and Hulu’s 54 million in the United States.
Or course, subscribing to a YouTube channel is very different from subscribing to a streaming service, as YouTube subscriptions come at no cost. Viewers can subscribe to as many or as few creators as they please for free, while each streaming service has a monthly or annual fee to gain access to its content.
YouTube didn’t only show off its homegrown talent. Popstar Lizzo also took the stage to sing her praises of the company, along with a few of her biggest hits.
But the company’s most important appeals came from the strengths it offered to advertisers. It claimed that 2020 Nielson analysis showed that YouTube on average had a 1.2 times greater return on investment than television.
It also announced a frequency optimization tool for advertisers that would allow companies to control how many times viewers see their spots in one week. In its blog post, YouTube said this allows for “more efficient” spending and “a better experience for viewers.”
It touted this optimization as “a solution only YouTube can provide.”