For Logan Paul and Others, What Happens Online Doesn’t Stay Online
The controversy started with a Youtube video released by Logan Paul on his Youtube channel, Logan Paul Vlogs, in December 2017 about a trip to Japan’s Aokigahara or more commonly known as the “Suicide Forest”. In the video, which has now been taken down, Paul films himself and several fellow Youtubers as they take a walk through the forest. In the video, they find a body of a recently deceased person who committed suicide. Paul then films the body, showing the identity of the deceased, and cracks a few jokes at the expense of the deceased. Some very important questions were raised in this video, but this is certainly not the first time controversy has struck the video-sharing site.
Logan Paul is not the first to cause controversy
Logan Paul is a specialist in a genre of web videos known as vlogs, which is short for video blogs. It’s more or less a web-only, low budget reality television. This form of entertainment has bred a new generation of online celebrities such as Casey Neistat, Zoella (Zoe Suggs), Nigahiga (Ryan Higa), all of whom have multi-million dollar contracts for different projects. There are millions of videos like these online, and one can see why. This form of web video, unlike previous generations of Youtuber, requires little skill and only the minimum preparation and filmmaking skills. For both filmmakers and viewers, it largely acts as an escape from a modern world and the traditional workplace with its 9-5, straitjacket uniforms, and mind-numbing routine.
However, the platform hasn’t been without its controversies. Several Youtubers have faced scandals about their relationships with fans. Tom Milsom, a famous vlogger known for his distinctive blue hair and various fandoms, stirred controversy when he admitted abuse allegations about inappropriate relations with an underage fan were true. Alex Day also stirred up controversy for multiple inappropriate relationships with women. Sam Pepper, who is known for his real-life pranks, has gotten into numerous problems with law enforcement and viewers. Even for those with well-meaning intentions, such as Laci Green, the platform becomes less of a utopian escape and more of a hellish battlefield of anti-social trolling and dangerously zealous death threats. The list goes on and on. Outside of the vlogging community, Pewdiepie (Felix Kjellberg) caused massive controversy and ended his contract with Disney after reports emerged with numerous racist and antisemitic comments on multiple videos. Logan Paul is just another addition to the already long list.
What this incident clearly shows is the Logan Paul was incredibly reckless in his decision making. This could have been avoided. There have been numerous other Youtubers who have visited the famous forest without half of the controversy. It is more striking when one looks at the first “apology” that Paul delivered on Twitter, stating that his lax decision was due to overwork.
Web video culture is everywhere
The effect of scandals are not minor. When a website has a viewership the size of the third largest country in the world, it is no laughing matter when a controversy erupts on the site. Events like Vidcon with attendance in the thousands, as well as numerous influential advertisers spending money into the event, its clear that web videos have taken on a culture of their own. Companies have taken notice of this influence and exploited it to their benefit, since over 60% of young people trust online product reviews from Youtubers. Even at the supposedly untouchable higher echelons have welcomed the upstart platform, from the filmmaking community, in the form of the Webby Awards, a web version of the Oscars, as well as politicians such as Barack Obama, extending vloggers a visit to the White House.
However, this is not a call for a complete and total embargo of web videos or Youtube. It is becoming increasingly clear that the web site’s newfound popularity needs to be managed appropriate to its enormous global influence. According to Dr, Chee, a psychologist and creator of Purposefully Today, a blog about mental illness, given the popularity of the channel, combined with the age group of the audience, several negative outcomes such as the possibility of copycat suicides combined with the negative stereotyping of suicide victims, especially in a more conservative culture like that of Japan would have their impact expanded a thousandfold because of Youtube’s global influence.
Youtube’s actions post-controversy
Youtube took action against Logan Paul after the backlash the video received. However, despite the growing criticism, during the entire existence of the video, Youtube never put down the video themselves. It was instead removed by Logan Paul himself. The only actions that Youtube carried out were to remove Paul from Google Preferred, an advertising program which promotes popular Youtubers and cut Paul from the upcoming Youtube Red movie The Thinning: New World Order and from Foursome, an ongoing Youtube Red comedy series which he had participated in.
YouTubeVerified account @YouTube Jan 9
It’s taken us a long time to respond, but we’ve been listening to everything you’ve been saying. We know that the actions of one creator can affect the entire community, so we’ll have more to share soon on steps we’re taking to ensure a video like this is never circulated again.
Paul himself issued a video apology and went on several news programs and talk shows to talk about the controversy his video stirred. He also promised to donate $1 million to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The question to be asked is, was that enough? There are no simple answers there. Even now, there is still an online petition circulating on Change.org, which at the time of writing, has over half a million signatures, demanding permanent removal of Logan Paul’s Youtube account.
The next question to be asked is what will happen to the format of Youtube. Currently, the platform has a three strikes policy, which states that if a channel receives three strikes within a three month period, the channel will be terminated and all videos erased from the site. Paul’s channel currently has one strike for the controversial video along with an additional age restrictions and removal of monetization privileges. However, it seems that Youtube leadership is still in favor of keeping Paul’s channel on the site and not changing the guidelines, as a statement by Youtube CEO Susan Wojcicki says, because ultimately, “What you think is tasteless is not necessarily what someone else would think is tasteless.” Just to add context to the decision, there is a perverse incentive structure for the platform. Given that Youtube receives somewhere around 40% of revenue from video ads, a channel as popular as Paul’s would garner the website somewhere around $1 million for the company. So it seems this will be a lesson ignored for the website, which is no surprise. What is becoming clear is that this is a systemic problem, one which the platform has no intention of dealing with.
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