I am a YouTube fan.
At one point, this would have been an acceptable thing to say in civilised company, perhaps a time when my age still ended in ‘-teen’ and YouTube still remained largely misunderstood by mainstream media. Those were simpler times before YouTube swallowed its own tail, and became overrun by drama channels, reaction videos and stolen content. After the disaster of a year that was 2017, when the site took a nosedive and all creators were put on edge by the dreaded ‘ad-pocalypse’, I was hoping that 2018 would be the year that YouTube improved its algorithms, and started treating audiences and creators fairly.
It only took two days for my hopes for 2018 to be completely dashed, thanks to YouTube’s golden boy Logan Paul, an ex-Vine star who moved to YouTube when his platform was shut down. He has amassed over fifteen million subscribers on his YouTube vlog channel, most of them young children. In case you somehow missed it, he uploaded a video to his channel on January 2nd entitled ‘We found a dead body in the Japanese suicide forest’, and yes, the video is (or was, considering it has now been removed from YouTube) just as distasteful as you would expect.
I’m not going to delve into the video itself and the controversy that it has caused. Every second of footage has already been overanalysed, and most of what can be said about it has already been said by other YouTubers, celebrities, and every other average Joe on Twitter. However, I’m going to point out that the only people who have not spoken out about this incident are the only people who are obligated to address it: YouTube themselves. Oh, they put out a statement, sure; a sterile paragraph explaining how YouTube ‘prohibits violent or gory content’ and that videos that contain this kind of content ‘can only remain on the site when supported by appropriate educational or documentary information’.
But they were not involved in the taking-down of the video, despite it violating their guidelines. Once it had been removed, the information provided to audiences was that it had been ‘removed by the user’.
So, while YouTube’s algorithms were busy taking down film and music reviews that abided by fair use laws, a video containing a literal dead body in the thumbnail was allowed to appear on the Trending page and gain millions of views before controversy drove Logan Paul to take the video down himself. How insulting that a video showing this 22-year-old man and his friends running around the Aokigahara forest and laughing at dead bodies is what YouTube chooses to promote, while videos by creators such as Rob Dyke and Cayleigh Elise – who specialise in morbid and dark content presented in a respectful and educational manner – are instantly considered ‘not suitable for monetisation’. As for everybody who tried to upload videos talking about the situation or who attempted to re-upload the video to expose Logan Paul’s misdeeds, their videos were removed automatically from YouTube for graphic content. Do you see the problem here?
Compare this situation to another YouTube scandal: the ‘PewDiePie is a Nazi’ scenario that was brought to the public’s attention by the Wall Street Journal. It was a turning point in YouTube’s history that caused companies to stop advertising on the site: the dawn of the so-called ‘ad-pocalypse’. The general YouTube audience is still widely torn on whether his ‘anti-Semitic’ videos were simply jokes that were taken out of context or genuinely offensive propaganda that warranted the dethroning of the YouTube king. The fact remains that Felix Kjellberg, the man behind the PewDiePie mask, has largely remained controversy-free throughout his career. Yes, his brand of edgy humour is not for everybody, and even as a long-time fan, I find it hard to defend some of the dumb, shortsighted things that he has done. But I confess that I can’t find it in my heart to dislike him, mostly because Felix always comes across as a genuinely likeable guy who I have been watching on YouTube since I was fifteen. Despite being the most-subscribed person on the site, he somehow makes the community feel much smaller, interacting with fans on Twitter and Reddit, and every time I have seen him on a panel, in an interview or at a meet-and-greet, he always comes across as surprisingly humble and good-humoured. For me, the good outweighs the bad.
The same cannot be said for Logan Paul, as a recent video uploaded to Twitter by We The Unicorns proves. Made up of clips from his recent trip to Japan, the compilation video is two minutes of pure cringe that is guaranteed to make you angry. Highlights include him throwing PokéBalls at unsuspecting people on the street while dressed as Pikachu, taunting passersby with dead fish, dropping his pants in the middle of a busy street, general intimidation, and a lot of screaming. And this was all after he acknowledged that he needed to be careful to not disrespect Japanese culture. Not only did he fail at that, he also failed at being a decent human being. It seems that, even after a string of controversies that include getting arrested in Italy and creating havoc at VidCon, Logan Paul has not yet managed to pull his act together and show that he deserves to be a role model for the young children who watch his videos.
While there are people who will never forgive Felix for using Nazism and anti-Semitism as punchlines, it is apparent that he is now trying to clear up his act, having issued sincere apology statements, and steering into the skid by laughing at his past behaviour, not in an attempt to trivialise it, but in an attempt to move on. Logan Paul’s first apology for his Japan video was not so much an apology as a humble brag, expressing how he didn’t show the body for views because he would get those views anyway, and that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, ending his apology with the peace-sign emoji and ‘#Logang4Life’ of all things. His second attempt at an apology was much better, a simple video where he told any fans that were defending his actions to stop, and expressing sympathy for the suicide victim for the first time. He then proceeded to tweet that he was ‘taking time to reflect’, and he has not uploaded any new content since. A wise decision, in my opinion. As much as I dislike him, I’m hopeful that he can learn from his mistakes and change his behaviour. As for YouTube, I’m hopeful that the outcry from many of their most popular creators is enough to make them see the error of their ways, and I hope that they can improve their site and start treating everybody as equals.
*Disclaimer: the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and are in no way affiliated with DUSA.