California university sues YouTubers who allegedly filmed disruptive pranks

A pair of YouTubers are facing a lawsuit and a restraining order after allegedly filming themselves disrupting classes at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles and uploading footage of the staged pranks online.

The University of Southern California sued Ernest Kanevsky and Yuguo Bai over the incidents, USC Annenberg Media reported last week. A judge granted a restraining order banning Kanevsky and Bai, who are not USC students, from campus after university attorneys said the pranks had terrorized “students to the point where they are running out of lecture halls for fear of their lives”.

The Guardian has contacted Kanevsky and Bai for comment on the lawsuit.

The pair have taken over three USC classrooms since last year, the Daily Trojan reported, most recently in March when they disrupted a lecture on the Holocaust. Kanevsky was reportedly dressed as a member of the “Russian mafia”, while Bai posed as Hugo Boss, the designer who made uniforms for the Nazis. Students panicked and fled the classroom.

“I was near the door and I started running out,” one student told USC Annenberg Media. “Everyone just left in a really big panic.”

Authorities with the university’s public safety department detained the pair. There was a drastic drop in classroom attendance after that incident, the university reported in court documents.

“Simply put, there is no public benefit to terrorizing students to the point where they are running out of lecture halls for fear of their lives through the perpetration of prank classroom takeovers in order to garner a handful of likes on YouTube,” USC lawyers stated in court papers, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

On other occasions Kanevsky and Bai escorted a professor out of a classroom and dressed as characters from the Netflix show Squid Game.

USC had requested a temporary restraining order, which a judge granted, and is also seeking damages for attorney fees and other costs associated with the lawsuit. The pair “provoked extreme fear and anxiety”, the university said, causing students to experience “emotional distress and genuine fear for their personal wellbeing; against the national background of active shooter concerns on college campuses”.

Eric Kanevsky has more than 100,000 followers on YouTube and regularly posts prank videos, which have garnered more than 8m views. The videos of the incidents at USC appear to have been deleted, but other videos depict Kanevsky staging similar pranks at other southern California college campuses, including the University of California, Los Angeles, and California State University, Long Beach.

In a video uploaded in March 2021, Kanevsky, dressed as what he describes as a “Russian gangster” poses as a professor in a class at CSU, Long Beach. He takes what appears to be a drink of alcohol before reviewing classroom rules and expectations, and lights a cigarette, but is eventually disrupted by university officials. The university said at the time that it was considering legal action against Kanevsky.

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