Photo Credit: Google Images
Just a few days into the New Year, and we already have our first big social media controversy of 2018 – the Logan Paul YouTube scandal. Logan, one of YouTube’s most popular online personalities (15 million subscribers), posted a video detailing how he came across a dead body in Japan’s famous “Suicide Forest” at the base of Mt. Fuji. The video picked up nearly 6 million views and thousands of likes before it was eventually deleted and the social media backlash began.
You can immediately see the problem here – suicide is no joking matter, but YouTube celebrity Logan Paul didn’t see it that way. From his own perspective, stumbling across the body of a Japanese suicide victim was the ultimate way to pick up more clicks and views. The video showed extensive footage of the dead body, and seemed to trivialize the act of suicide. Logan Paul, in fact, characterized this as “a moment in YouTube history” and “the most real vlog I have ever posted.”
The push for social media relevance has gone off the rails
There’s a lot to unpack here. The first question, of course, is: What was Logan Paul actually planning to do in Japan’s Suicide Forest in the first place? The location had acquired a kind of social media mystique, and Logan Paul knew that he could mine the location for YouTube gold.
Based on initial accounts, it looked like Logan Paul was planning to make a fake video that he could upload to YouTube for his fans (the “Logang”) – he would camp overnight in the forest and pretend to see dead bodies or commune with lost spirits (sort of like a “Blair Witch Project” for YouTube) He was playing this for laughs from the very beginning – it’s not like he was carrying around a video camera and just happened to run into a suicide victim on the streets of Tokyo.
The role of YouTube in creating an ecosystem of young celebrities
The second question is: What role does YouTube play in all this? Is YouTube somehow complicit? After all, YouTube has helped to create a mentality online that it’s possible to make a lot of money if you’re a vlogging celebrity. Post a few sensational videos online, get people to click, and the money will roll in.
It’s hard to deny that YouTube has worked hard to cultivate this ecosystem of YouTube stars – both Logan Paul and his brother Jake Paul were two of the biggest symbols of how a 20-something could become Internet famous by posting great content every day. In fact, one of Logan Paul’s most famous slogans (now a viral rap video, naturally) is, “It’s Everyday Bro”
Crisis 101 for brands
In all fairness to Logan Paul, he did take a few steps even before the backlash began. For example, the video (now deleted) gave advance warning that what was going to be shown would be shocking and gruesome. The video also told people experiencing suicidal thoughts to seek help. And, most importantly, Logan Paul “demonetized” the video – in other words, he wouldn’t be making money off of the YouTube views (But he would still be building his brand). And then when the backlash began, he deleted the video and made an apology.
Those steps taken by Logan can be viewed as a sort of Crisis 101 for brands that have screwed up. If disaster strikes, immediately take down the content and offer a full-throated apology. In Logan’s case, he admitted that, “I handled [my] power incorrectly.”
But this type of thing should have never happened in the first place. The race for social media relevance shouldn’t mean a race to the bottom. While brands can’t possibly vet every single post, video, or blog before it goes “live” – they can offer social media guidelines in advance, clearly articulating what type of content should (or should not) ever be posted. Clearly, there needs to be a limit on what can be published on social media. We shouldn’t let the relentless drive for clicks and views numb us to the basic tenets of human decency.