Everyone else is, and I don’t mean just (or even mostly) the usual media-political chatterati. This is NYT/WaPo fodder now. I haven’t watched the full video, nor do I intend to, but I assume it’s floating around out there in one of the many virtual garbage patches that populates the Internet Ocean. This screencap is enough to give you a taste of what the controversy is about, though:
I think you need to see this thumnbail to grasp how bad the Logan Paul video is. pic.twitter.com/PrUeknANCb
— Ethan Klein (@h3h3productions) January 2, 2018
That was shot in Aokigahara, the forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan that’s known colloquially as the “Suicide Forest” because — well, guess. Logan Paul, the guy in the “Toy Story” alien hat, and a bunch of his friends went there to explore, having heard the legends about the forest being haunted. They got more than they bargained for. While walking through the trees looking for a place to camp they came upon the body of the latest person to take his life there.
So they vlogged it.
“This is not clickbait. This is the most real vlog I’ve ever posted to this channel,” Paul says in an intro to the video. “I think this definitely marks a moment in YouTube history because I’m pretty sure this has never hopefully happened to anyone on YouTube ever,” he continues as minor-key piano music plays. “Now with that said: Buckle the fuck up, because you’re never gonna see a video like this again!”…
After Paul realizes that he is in all probability filming a dead body, he turns the camera back on himself. “So, a lot of things are going through my mind. This is a first for me.” Paul (or one of the other members of his entourage) then films the body from a few feet away. “His hands are purple. He did this this morning,” says Paul.
They had the basic good taste to blur the man’s face, although not his hands or the rest of his body. They did … not have the basic good taste to edit out shots of them laughing and joking:
Logan Paul and his friends laughing and smiling after discovering a dead body pic.twitter.com/azY7EAiuC4
— JhbTeam (@JhbTeam) January 2, 2018
According to the Times, upon immediately discovering the body Paul “apologizes to his viewers and says that suicide, depression and mental illness are not a joke” and at the end of the clip explains that the joking was his way of coping with the shock. But he posted it, warts and all, and then went merrily on to promote his next video, about Pokemon Go — until the Internet ignited.
He tried apologizing once…
Dear Internet, pic.twitter.com/42OCDBhiWg
— Logan Paul (@LoganPaul) January 2, 2018
…but a written statement didn’t douse the flames. So he posted a second, more personal apology this afternoon:
So sorry. pic.twitter.com/JkYXzYsrLX
— Logan Paul (@LoganPaul) January 2, 2018
Right now you’re thinking, “Who the hell is this guy? Why does anyone care?” I had the same reaction. Turns out Paul has a cool 15 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. His goofy videos, popular mainly with teens and tweens, routinely pull millions of views. He has nearly four million followers on Twitter or 700,000 more than Sean Hannity, the top-rated star on Fox News and a man with a daily radio audience that numbers in the low eight figures. He and his little brother Jake built massive viewerships initially on Vine, then Jake went off to star in a Disney show while Logan migrated to YouTube. The sheer number of eyeballs on their clips has made them each millionaires many times over.
Point being, the Pauls have a shocking amount of exposure to a famously impressionable population, teenagers. “Suicide contagion,” especially among adolescents, is nothing to sneer at. Normally YouTube isn’t shy about nuking vloggers who violate their terms of service, if only by “demonitizing” their content, and this is an unusually high-profile case. But they’re playing it coy so far. Any theorie$ why?
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.
I’m less depressed about YouTube star Logan Paul posting a corpse video than about “YouTube star Logan Paul” being a thing, frankly. But a Twitter pal makes a shrewd point: As with any other growing media, the competition for eyeballs among professional YouTubers is so intense and the prospect of big money so real given the enormous audiences that Paul may have concluded that he just couldn’t resist cashing this ticket in. He’s a mega-viral star to begin with and he stumbled into a sensationally macabre discovery. Potentially he was looking at hundreds of millions of views. And he had every reason to believe that YouTube’s own financial interests would lead them to look the other way. So he rolled the dice on posting it and now … I was going to say “it backfired,” but I don’t know that it did since you and I both know his name after not knowing it yesterday. Take a voyeuristic culture, add a dash of “everything is content” sociopathy, and you’re destined for a “you guys want to see a dead body?” online genre. The only surprise is that it took as long as it did to get from Ogrish to YouTube.