YouTube has responded to the outcry against one of its most popular stars, Logan Paul, who this weekend uploaded a video of a dead body to a channel followed by 15 million subscribers.
The video, since removed, appears to show a person who had hanged himself in a Japanese forest well known as the scene of many suicides and attempted suicides. The video, uploaded Dec. 31, continues to draw swift and widespread condemnation on social media.
In the video, Paul and his friends tour Japan’s Aokigahara forest, which is nicknamed the “Suicide Forest.” The group encounter a man left hanging after apparently committing suicide. Paul can be heard yelling, “Are you joking?” before stepping back and reiterating to the camera that they are looking at a body.
Paul then walks up to the body, providing close-ups of the man’s hands and zooming in on the pockets of the victim to point out he still has his wallet. The victim’s face is blurred out during portions of the video. Paul’s video was not monetized; in multiple playthroughs, no pre-roll, mid-roll or banner ad was shown.
The video was later age-gated, meaning it was restricted to viewers logged into a YouTube account whose owner is 18 years or older. The video still accumulated hundreds of thousands of views, and was condemned by other popular YouTubers, including PewDiePie, jackscepticeye, Keemstar, Philip DeFranco and Ethan Klein. Paul then removed the video and responded to the outcry on Twitter.
“I’ve never faced criticism like this before, because I’ve never made a mistake like this before,” Paul said in a tweet. “I didn’t do it for views. I get views. I did it because I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet, not cause a monsoon of negativity.”
“Our hearts go out to the family of the person featured in the video,” YouTube’s statement reads. “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.”
Paul’s own statement can be read below.
Paul’s apology doesn’t appear to be enough for some, who have called him out for sensationalizing the suicide for views. The video’s keyframe showed Paul in the foreground with an exaggerated look on his face, while the body hung in the background. Others pointed out that the video’s sensationalized title and disturbing thumbnail were irresponsible or in poor taste.
Image this: Logan Paul trying to frame up a dangling corpse in the background of a photograph for his thumbnail. Just a little to the left....— Ethan Klein (@h3h3productions) January 2, 2018
"What if one of the kids stumbled upon the body" he says as he shows millions of impressionable kids on his channel. Then making jokes about it while still next to the guy. I can't man....— Jacksepticeye (@Jack_Septic_Eye) January 2, 2018
Logan Paul actually recorded a person who committed suicide in his vlog. What kind of fucked up mentality do you need to have to do something like that?! There is absolutely no defending it— Jacksepticeye (@Jack_Septic_Eye) January 2, 2018
0% chance a video showing a dead body would monetize , he's knows that— pewdiepie (@pewdiepie) January 2, 2018
Despite its statement, it is not clear if YouTube sanctioned Paul to remove the video, but he took the video off his channel. Had YouTube removed the video, the message that appears on the removed page would read differently.
Yet according to YouTube’s standards, Paul broke several rules of the service. Here is YouTube’s policy on the use of graphic violence or disturbing footage:
It’s not okay to post violent or gory content that’s primarily intended to be shocking, sensational, or gratuitous. If a video is particularly graphic or disturbing, it should be balanced with additional context and information.If posting graphic content in a news, documentary, scientific, or artistic context, please be mindful to provide enough information to help people understand what's going on. In some cases, content may be so violent or shocking that no amount of context will allow that content to remain on our platforms. Lastly, don't encourage others to commit specific acts of violence.
If the violence shown in your video is particularly graphic, please make sure to post as much information as possible in the title and metadata to help viewers understand what they are seeing.
Although Paul did include some preliminary context for the video — he and his friends were visiting Japan’s “Suicide Forest” to record a different vlog — much of the outcry is based on Paul’s decision to zoom in on the dead body and use that image for the video’s thumbnail. Paul’s audience is also largely tweens and teens.
Other members of YouTube’s community, including Game Grumps’ Ross O’Donovan, are asking YouTube to issue a strike against Paul’s channel to punish him for the video.
O’Donovan’s response echoes others who have complained that YouTube enforces its rules against some creators but not others. The same debate erupted in early 2017 when PewDiePie’s channel was called out for anti-Semitic remarks in his videos. DeFranco pointed out that Paul’s core audience won’t care about the controversy, so unless YouTube takes action, nothing will change.
Just remember this. Before all the extended community outrage against Logan Paul’s “we found a dead body” video, there was a seemingly uncontested 550-600,000 likes on it.— Philip DeFranco (@PhillyD) January 2, 2018
His core audience doesn’t give a fuuuuuuck. Unless youtube does something, this doesn’t hurt him.
Paul’s behavior in the video and his reactions are also troubling to many. He starts his video by saying its title — “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest ...” —isn’t clickbait. Paul then says the vlog “marks a moment in YouTube history,” adding that he doesn’t think it’s ever happened to another creator.
“Now with that said: Buckle the fuck up, because you’re never gonna see a video like this again,” Paul said.
About halfway through the video, after Paul zooms in on the body, he stands in the parking lot with his friends, talking about what he’s seen, and cracks a joke about the word “dead” that he then apologizes for. In a follow-up vlog posted a day later, Paul noted that finding a dead body wasn’t how he “planned to end 2017, but life’s about the journey.”
Oomf. Today's vlog. What's missing before the second screen shot is "not exactly how I planned..." pic.twitter.com/QyY7p5YoaV— Julia Alexander (@loudmouthjulia) January 2, 2018
Some of Paul’s fans, many of whom are young teens, defended his video, calling it an inspirational message about depression. Paul’s video is bookended with minutelong statements about the dangers of depression, adding that people are not alone and they are loved.
His vlog has inspired a flurry of “reaction videos,” with responses ranging from the aforementioned disgust to younger vloggers thanking him for what he tried to do.
Logan Paul ‘s Attorney issues a statement pic.twitter.com/srK8spfbYB— KEEM (@KEEMSTAR) January 2, 2018
Despite Paul’s apology and removal of the video, it will likely remain a major talking point in the ongoing debate about YouTube's responsibility for the content on its platform and how it responds to popular YouTubers who violate its rules.
YouTube announced in December that it was hiring an additional 10,000 moderators to help flag content categorized as disturbing or dangerous for younger audiences in wake of unsettling children’s content infesting the platform. The announcement acknowledged that YouTube’s automated algorithm isn’t a catch-all solution for moderation.
Polygon has reached out to YouTube for comment and will update when more information becomes available.
Update: Logan Paul uploaded a video to Twitter today, apologizing for uploading the video and explaining his actions.
“The reactions that you saw on tape were raw, unfiltered,” Paul said. “None of us knew how to act or feel. I should have never posted the video, I should have put the cameras down and stopped recording what we were going through. There were a lot of things I should have done differently, but I didn’t. And for that, from the bottom of my heart, I am sorry.”
The full video can be seen below.