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Jake Paul’s disturbing YouTube tactics get close look in new investigative video

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Raising the question: “How much of this is allowed?”

Jake Paul’s YouTube channel exists as a medium to sell merchandise and advertise his live tours to an audience of vulnerable 10-year-olds.

This isn’t a new criticism flung at Paul. Accusations about his channel unfairly targeting children, and bombarding them with advertisements have existed for more than a year. A new video by Nerd City, however, points out just how many lines Paul’s content crosses nearly every single video.

Nerd City is an interesting YouTube channel that does a variety of things, but is best known for the investigative work that goes into talking about YouTube creators, issues facing the community and trends. Prior to focusing on Jake Paul, Nerd City examined viewer suppression, which has affected a number of creators including Philip DeFranco, and demonetization.

This new video examines Paul’s various wrongdoings, from bombarding kids with unethical advertising to emotionally manipulating his audience with disturbing content.

The most egregious complaint Nerd City found with Paul’s content is the ridiculous amount of advertising found within Paul’s video that’s targeted at children. Not only is it seen as unethical, but also it gets into some grey legal areas. In 1990, the Federal Communications Commission introduced the Children’s Television Act (CTA), which is applicable to broadcast networks licensed by the agency.

One of the areas the CTA focused heavily on, according to Nerd City’s video, was creating “commercials for products related to the program, or featuring characters from the program.” This was intended to stop shows like Pokémon or Transformers from showcasing actual commercial products related to the brands. Although the shows were essentially advertising, studios and networks had to ensure kids were sold primarily entertainment.

The act also says that children’s shows can only incorporate commercials into 20 percent of the show’s total watch time.

If Paul was making videos for a broadcast network, his content would seem to violate both standards. Nerd City discovered that in an average 13 minute video, nearly seven minutes was dedicated to plugging Paul’s merchandise, live tour, recent pay-per-view boxing match and other miscellaneous goods. Not only was nearly 50 percent of the video dedicated to ads, but he’s also selling merchandise related to his vlog.

YouTube and its creators don’t have to abide by CTA rules as it’s not a typical broadcast network. The FCC is currently looking to change the CTA’s current regulations. Parent advocacy groups have complained about YouTube’s predatory advertising geared toward children; YouTube has avoided this criticism in the past by reminding others its terms state: “In any case, you affirm that you are over the age of 13, as the Service is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service. There are lots of other great web sites for you.”

Still, Paul has mentioned multiple times in countless interviews that his videos are targeted toward kids between the ages of 8 and 16. It’s why other YouTube creators, like Ethan Klein of H3H3, have called his advertising schtick predatory.

Much of Nerd City’s investigative video is focused on Paul’s merchandise and disturbing advertising ploys, but other issues were discovered.

In early July, Paul staged a scenario in which a group of frightening clowns broke into his California mansion, tied him up with his girlfriend, Erika Costell, and kidnapped them. The video series, released in 14 parts, was intricate. Paul even changed his channel name to, “Jake Paul Will Die” to reflect the current “hostage situation” that played out in the series.

The result was teary-eyed, emotional, sobbing kids posting their own vlogs on YouTube, and commenting on Twitter about how distressed they were. While the video is clearly fake to those who can understand the difference between fiction and reality — Nerd City accurately suggests that if the YouTube video was a movie, it would be rated PG-13 — many young kids can’t grasp that line. This is particularly true on YouTube, where parasocial relationships can develop. That is the psychological concept that a viewer (in this case, a young kid) develops an infatuation and intense personal relationship with the celebrity (in this case, Paul) that feels like a real friendship.

Kids weren’t just scared because the video itself is disturbing; many of them suggested they were worried their “best friend” was going to die, as seen in clips included in Nerd City’s investigation. Technically, Paul’s video should have received an age-gate, meaning users would have to confirm they’re 18. It doesn’t. YouTube’s own policies on disturbing content state:

Some people post videos that contain dramatized depictions of violence. Much like movies and TV, graphic or disturbing content that contains violence, gore, or shocking content is not suitable for minors and will be age-restricted.

YouTube’s policies regarding child safety also address content like Paul’s video, which again, doesn’t include an age-gate portal. Only one video has a warning included in the title. This type of content, which is geared toward kids by Paul’s own admissions, does tiptoe the line of what’s acceptable for kids on YouTube. Here’s the company’s “best practices” rule.

“Don’t cause emotional harm,” YouTube’s child policies state. “Avoid situations that may cause emotional distress, such as exposing them to mature themes.”

Although it doesn’t break the rules, it’s something YouTube frowns on.

Nerd City’s video is 45 minutes in length, and explores a host of other disturbing trends with Paul’s videos, including his father kissing a blindfolded girl as part of a prank, and over-sexualized content on his channel that’s, again, targeted toward kids. Polygon asked Nerd City why they decided to look into Paul’s channel in the first place.

“It actually started with people like [host of DramaAlert] Keemstar tweeting at me to ask if he was photoshopping his shirtless pictures to make his muscles look bigger,” Een from Nerd City said over Twitter DM. “I went through his Instagram and found a couple examples of photoshop, but then started seeing that aggressive advertising, junk merch, child exploitation and rough treatment of babies for laughs. Which bugged me a lot more than his thirst trap tactics.”

Polygon has reached out to YouTube for comment on some of Paul’s videos.