New year, same YouTube

Why the Logan Paul scandal should make us rethink our social media consumption in 2018

Logan Paul and the YouTube logo.
Photo: 
Credit: 
Photo illustration by Josh Granovsky

[This article mentions suicide and may be triggering for some readers.]

Less than a month ago, YouTube superstar Logan Paul rang in the new year by posting a video that featured a dead body hanging in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, a site commonly known for its high suicide rates.

The video blog, which has since been removed from Paul’s 15 million-subscriber YouTube channel, followed the 22 year-old and his friends as they encountered a man who had recently taken his own life. 

Despite blurring the victim’s face and claiming it was to promote mental health awareness, the viral video and Paul have rightly faced major public backlash.

Paul has been widely criticized not only for mocking the deceased, filming his hands, clothes and bag, but also for his decision to bring a camera into what is colloquially known as the “suicide forest” in the first place. 

In the first of two poorly-received public apologies, Paul claims to have been “caught up in the moment.” Yet, the Twitter post, which is less remorseful than it is self-congratulatory, goes on to praise his otherwise sound judgement and knack for raking in “views,” and wide-reaching social media presence.  

Though extremely misguided, Paul is unfortunately right about one thing: he’s a force to be reckoned with.

Within the span of four years, the vlogger has managed to cultivate a cult-like following by uploading daily content, engaging in outrageous stunts and antics, as well as shamelessly plugging his brand and merchandise. This scandal is nothing if not evidence of the true fruit of Paul’s labour — his fan base, which seems to buy or believe anything he puts forth. 

Before its removal, the “suicide forest” video racked up over six million views and more disturbingly, almost 600,000 likes. In response to the widespread condemnation of Logan Paul, his fans also took to social media to defend his actions. Their protests not only exposed the gravity of his influence, but also shared that many of his most devoted supporters are children and young teens. 

Sadly, Logan Paul isn’t the only YouTube creator guilty of circulating inappropriate content and taking advantage of his young, unsuspecting audience. This isn’t an isolated incident; YouTube has become a breeding ground for sensationalism. 

Hungry for subscribers and views, a large portion of the YouTube community churns out shocking or misleading videos — inventing drama and controversy — to capture mass attention. And all of this goes essentially unregulated.      

In light of the scandal, YouTube itself has been forced to make some changes. Heavily criticized for its initial inaction, the platform has punished Paul by 

removing his channels from the top-tier advertising program Google Preferred and booted him out of a YouTube-original movie and series. YouTube has also promised to hire more team members to monitor the site’s most popular content.  

Television series, video games and novels have also been under fire in the past for confusing or corrupting young minds at large. So why is this any different? 

YouTube has answered this question by way of their most recent public statement. Dismissing the claim that the platform’s content should be regulated like traditional broadcasters, YouTube’s chief business officer, Robert Kyncl maintained “We’re not content creators; we’re a platform that distributes the content.”

YouTube’s biggest appeal is also its biggest downfall. In giving its users the freedom to upload and consume content, they give the layperson an opportunity to share their talents, foster a community, and even start a satisfying career. At the same time, the platform also skyrockets digital stars like Paul to fame, leaving them unequipped to deal with the accompanying social responsibilities.

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