Last week, the debate over who is responsible for managing content on media-sharing sites was once again ignited.
Professional YouTuber Logan Paul posted a 15-minute video, since deleted, in late 2017, of a visit to Aokigahara, a forest located at the base of Mt. Fuji that has earned the infamous moniker the Suicide Forest, as it is a popular destination for people to go to and take their lives. Paul and his group came across a body, and Paul posted a video of it online of the encounter, calling it “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…”, which included him mocking the deceased. While the body could be seen, the face was blurred out.
Predictably, and rightfully so, there was outrage over the video, which was trending on YouTube. Paul took the video down himself, with both him and YouTube issuing separate apologies.
As a professional YouTuber, Paul gets paid as per the number of views his videos gets. It is in his interest to create attention-grabbing videos, because the more views his videos get, the more money he makes. He has 15 million subscribers, and likely millions more casual viewers, whose attention he has to keep. So he posts videos with attention grabbing headlines that more often then not revolve around pranks.
In an apology posted on twitter, he said he “never faced criticism like this before, because I never made a mistake like this before” and he “didn’t do it for the views”, as he intended raise attention to suicide and suicide prevention. Another apology was posted to YouTube.
The Aokigahara video is down now, and although Paul said it wasn’t monetized content, it reportedly racked up about 6.3 million views within a day and received over 550,000 likes. His apology video has been watched 17 million times as of the writing of this editorial, and is supposedly monetized.
A video takes time to make. While people can claim a photo or a tweet are done in a moment of bad decision, as they can be done and posted online rather quickly, a video tends to be much longer, thus requiring more thought put in to it, and that is without editing, which this video reportable had.
Paul is not new at this. He started on Vine, amassed an audience on that platform and successful made the transition to YouTube. He is not a child, he is 22-years-old, an adult. Plenty old enough to realize that posting a video of a dead body and mocking it, no matter your attentions, is not a good idea.
While the backlash with Paul concerns him making and posting that video, YouTube, in turn, is facing backlash for not taking down that video themselves and even promoting it.
The backlash against YouTube is, unfortunately, not new. They have been criticized in the past for not being able to regulate their user-created content, with scandals involving censoring of LGBTQ+ referencing content and promoting videos that allegedly contain child abuse. While some advertisers fled and apologies have been made in the past, it doesn’t seem like they’re learning their lesson.
Yes, it does take time to create systems that flag these kind of things, and YouTube has billions of videos to moderate, aren’t there moderators that look for content to might raise red flags, such as those that literally have ‘dead body’ in their title? And shouldn’t there be someone at YouTube who checks the trending page, even if it’s just for bugs, who might be able to notice a video that has ‘dead body’ in its title?
While prank culture is big on YouTube and generates a lot of views, why didn’t anyone at YouTube catch this?
There are videos of song remixes that get yanked off YouTube because someone reports them. How did a suicide victim in a trending video go unnoticed?
As of the writing of this editorial, there is no word about what actions YouTube is taking in response to the video, and Although Logan Paul is reportably taking a break from vlogging about his life, his account is still on YouTube.
According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those ages 10-19 years old. In Canada, there was 3,926 suicides in 2012, making suicide the ninth leading cause of death that year. About 14.7 per cent of all Canadians have thought about committing suicide, and 3.5 per cent will have attempted suicide during their lifetime. In 2005, 412 people in Alberta committed suicide. According documents on the Centre for Suicide Prevention’s website, 2,796 people in Alberta committed suicide between 2012-2016, with 539 of those deaths taking place in 2016.
No matter how good your intentions were, trivializing suicide in a viral video is wrong. With conversations on suicide, mental health and depression taking place, stunts like these do not help.