Update: YouTube has announced that it’ll be removing Logan Paul’s channels from its Google Preferred programme – a scheme used to sell ads against its most popular content – and shelving its original projects with the star.
“In light of recent events, we have decided to remove Logan Paul’s channels from Google Preferred…Additionally, we will not feature Logan in season 4 of ‘Foursome’ and his new Originals are on hold,” a YouTube spokesperson said.
This announcement comes only one day after the site posted a thread on Twitter explaining that it would look into “further consequences” for the vlogger, after he uploaded a video showing a dead body in the Aokigahara forest in Japan.
The video, in which Paul and his friends appeared shocked to find the body but also made jokes, was met with widespread criticism, and YouTube then also came under fire for taking a week to release what was essentially a non-apology. It might appear as if YouTube is now taking a strong stance against Paul for uploading offensive content that violates its terms, but crucially, unless it removes his channels altogether, both he and the site will continue to earn revenue through the YouTube Partner Programme.
Although it had been demonetised, the video in question was viewed millions of times before it was taken down, and then that was by the YouTuber himself. Even more damningly, a member of YouTube’s Trusted Flagger Programme has claimed that when the video was flagged as inappropriate by one of its community, it was manually reviewed by the site and deemed acceptable.
YouTube doesn’t touch on this in its Twitter statement but instead appears to place most of the responsibility with Logan Paul and stars like him to ensure their content doesn’t violate its rules. In fact, if you read carefully it even appears to claim that it took the video down.
“We expect more of the creators who build their community on @YouTube, as we’re sure you do too. The channel violated our community guidelines, we acted accordingly, and we are looking at further consequences”, it continues.
“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”
By essentially blaming Paul for the video and taking no responsibility itself, YouTube has let its users down once again with vague platitudes about doing better. As I wrote in the original article below, YouTube has a degree of care over its users, especially those who help it to make such large amounts of money. The very least YouTube owes the world is an apology, but it would be nice if it actually did better too.
Original article continues
Yesterday, the internet was awash with criticism of YouTube star Logan Paul after he uploaded a video showing him finding an apparent suicide victim in Aokigahara forest in Japan.
In the video, Paul and a group of friends appear shocked when they stumble upon a man’s body in the forest, which has earned an upsetting reputation as a destination for people who wish to end their lives. Wearing a Toy Story themed hat, Paul films the body and even zooms in on it, only blurring the man’s face. He can be seen saying “This literally probably just happened” before asking one of his entourage to call the police.
At one point, Paul can be seen making a joke and laughing. He also says to the camera “I’m so sorry…suicide is not a joke. Depression and mental illnesses are not a joke…We came here to focus on the haunted aspect of the forest. This just became very real.”
The video, which was uploaded on Sunday, had millions of views before it was taken down by the YouTuber. He then published the following apology on Twitter:
He later posted the following (albeit monetised) video, in which he does appear genuinely remorseful:
At best, Paul’s decision to shoot the video, let alone publish it, was naive and highly insensitive. At worst, it’s much more sinister and represents a deliberate decision to publish shocking content to boost his channel’s views (and therefore revenue), regardless of the offence it might cause.
The YouTuber denies this, explaining “I didn’t do it for views. I get views”. But perhaps he’s fallen victim to the video site’s business model in another way, without even realising it?
Consider this quote from the apology: “I’ve made a 15 minute TV show every single day for the last 460+ days. One may understand that it’s easy to get caught up in the moment without fully weighing up the ramifications.” That is a huge commitment, adding up to some 115 hours of video, each one with a different theme. The treadmill is never ending, with an implicit pressure to up the ante each time.
A vlogger like Paul doesn’t post so much content because he’s contractually obliged to do so, but because more views equals more money. The YouTube Partner Programme financially rewards users based on the number of hits their videos obtain and so there’s a direct incentive for vloggers to publish more videos, especially if they have 15 million subscribers like Logan Paul.
“Paul says in his apology that he’s “surrounded by good people,” but they did him no favours in letting him go ahead with this stunt, no matter what his intentions.”
Could Paul’s case therefore simply demonstrate the perils of churning out too much content without a proper editorial process in place? The strange thing about this particular case is that Paul clearly knows what he’s doing is edgy: the video was demonetised (though of course, millions of views here can push through viewers to his monetised videos) and the face of the victim was blurred. These things don’t just happen without any consideration to society’s wider conventions, so at some point while planning, filming, editing and uploading, the ethical considerations must have been considered, only to be largely overruled.
And this is the heart of the problem with YouTube over traditional television networks: the buck stops with you. Something like this would never get on the BBC, ITV or even late night Channel 5, because there are enough experienced editorial voices to push back, soften and overrule. Paul says in his apology that he’s “surrounded by good people,” but they did him no favours in letting him go ahead with this stunt, no matter what his intentions.
This is not an isolated case. PewDiePie, the world’s highest paid YouTube star with more than 58 million subscribers, was slammed for making a racial slur on a live broadcast in September. Earlier in 2017, he was reported for posting anti-Semitic content and making repeated references to Nazis in videos. DaddyoFive, meanwhile, only stopped making prank videos said to include bullying of his children for clicks when child services got involved. In a statement to vlogger Philip DeFranco, YouTube said the following:
“Our hearts go out to the family of the person featured in the video. YouTube prohibits violent or gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner. If a video is graphic, it can only remain on the site when supported by appropriate educational or documentary information and in some cases it will be age-gated. We partner with safety groups such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to provide educational resources that are incorporated in our YouTube Safety Center.”
The apology feels somewhat generic when really it needs to address how Logan Paul’s video came to be published at all. Only in December, YouTube announced that it was using machine learning and thousands of people to “monitor, review and make the right decisions across our ads and content policies”, but the fact that Paul’s video was seen millions of times before it was taken down (and then by the vlogger himself, not the site) proves how woefully ineffective those current methods are.
Clearly, the site needs to rethink its relationship with its top stars and if they have any sense at all, the vloggers will thank them for it. Sometimes anyone can benefit from being told what they don’t want to hear – and it’s better that comes from someone with your best interests at heart than from a baying internet mob.
If you feel depressed, you can find out where to get help in our guide.
If you are feeling suicidal, or are concerned about a friend or loved one, the Samaritans offer confidential support. Call 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritans branch or go to the Samaritans website for more details and support.