On New Year’s Eve, a great disturbance rippled through the Internet. Well, a certain part of the Internet: the section that pays attention to the exploits of brash YouTube celebrities like Logan Paul, a 22-year-old star vlogger who has the attention of some 15 million subscribers.
On December 31, 2017, Paul uploaded a video from his travels in Japan, detailing his trek into the famous Aokigahara “suicide woods” near Mount Fuji, where he found a man who apparently had recently hung himself. Paul showed the body, with his face blurred out, and filmed his own reaction: at first stunned, then suddenly slap happy (a somewhat common reaction to stress, according to the Mayo Clinic).
Online attack mobs quickly formed, and the Internet — or, again, a certain area of it — battled. On one side, many were appalled at the idea that Paul would post such a video, while also maybe a little glad that he’d given them another concrete thing to throw at him. Paul’s fans — the “Logang,” as he likes to call them — entrenched themselves in loyal service of their pranking, their stunting and their “WE FOUND A DEAD BODY!” bragging hero. It’s a familiar narrative, especially for the Paul family, as his younger brother Jake was accosted online earlier this year for both emotional abuse claims and for doxxing one of his neighbors.
Albeit a particularly egregious example of witless YouTube content, Paul’s video still seems likely to be only a minor bump on the way to whatever YouTube we’re already headed toward.
Based on his seemingly nonchalant Twitter apology and subsequent teary-eyed one, it’s clearly obvious that Paul only felt somewhat sorry when he realized that his video may have much larger implications than expected for his burgeoning business. He went from saying “I do this sh*t every day” in his original apology on Twitter to seemingly crying in a video titled “So Sorry.” uploaded to YouTube.
Paul seems broken and regretful during this video, and in some sense he probably actually is. But there’s more than a glimmer of inauthenticity here, just as there was in his first apology. A large part of this is because Logan Paul is a man-baby who doesn’t have a sense of anything beyond his subscriber count, but it also shows that as his legion of supporters grows — a horde of young teens that cannot handle criticism of their idol in any form — the less and less external condemnation, or any kind of moral urging, really matters. Sure, brands will and have backed away, but people like the Pauls are creating their own revenue streams that seem more self-sustaining (including merchandise, donations and social media deals) and less reliant on cozy big-name partnerships.
There’s no doubt that Paul will be fine in the long run. Though his subscribers dipped for a few days after the suicide video was uploaded, he has quickly bounced back by gaining 16,000 subscribers a day in the past week, according to the website socialblade.com. In fact, just in the time it took to write this piece, Logan Paul gained 500 subscribers to reach 15,626,315 users receiving his content. It’s kind of odd, but also very believable how controversies work out like this for internet personalities. With all kinds of media attention and hate from fellow YouTubers, Paul has easily made thousands of dollars off of every middle age Yahoo user and BuzzFeed activist trying to comprehend how something like this could happen.
This is the root of problem, however. These kinds of controversies has been happening for a while now (granted on a smaller, more confined level) because Google and YouTube need Logan Paul and his fellow shock artists on the platform. In a year where the website has received more hate and condemnation from the wider internet than ever before, YouTube is in need of big personalities like him and his brother Jake to bring in tons of new viewers. After all, they are the company’s largest source of new teen subscribers, which is an extremely important market considering they are more likely than any other demographic to spend money, according to Business Insider.
As horrifying as Paul’s video was, equally disturbing was the fact that YouTube allowed the video to trend (in other words, be featured on the front page of the site), allegedly for over 24 hours, despite a policy banning graphic content and social media outcry demanding that the video be removed from the site’s trending list. It can be easy to think that it’s in YouTube’s best interest to immediately take down such a video, but Google is smart, which means they’re here for the long run.
In the end, YouTube didn’t actually take direct action against Paul’s Aokigahara video — it disappeared from the site’s trending list only when Paul finally deleted it himself. And while the site did issue a statement regarding Paul’s video to YouTube creator Philip DeFranco, the statement did not address the site’s failure to apply its content policies in time to remove the video from the trending list.
At a time where YouTube should be growing and taking over traditional media companies and competing with news sources online, they are instead insisting on sticking with their creators even when they are completely moronic imbeciles. Creators, subscribers and even casual users of the site should be even more outraged than they already are about how vloggers like Logan Paul are directly feeding their content to impressionable children and seemingly convincing them that this is normal behavior. This is an indefensible video and an indefensible man, but it is also reality, and more than likely the future, unless the wider community can come together and protect YouTube. Even if it means killing the website all together and starting over.
If you or anyone you know was affected by Logan Paul’s video, help is available anytime. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free, confidential help and can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.