Logan Paul’s suicide video is dangerous and exposes a bigger problem on the internet

Image: Screenshot/YouTube

Logan Paul was right about one thing: This definitely marks a moment in YouTube history. 

Backlash spread quickly on New Year’s Day after YouTuber Logan Paul uploaded a video titled “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest.” In the clip, which has since been pulled from the site, Paul and a few of his buddies discover a man who died by suicide in Aokigahara, at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji, and showed graphic images of the man’s body.

While the clip contained an explicit content warning, nowhere in that warning was it revealed there would be an exposed body. And not once did the clip provide any valuable resources for those living with depression or experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

That’s incredibly dangerous. 

“We know that exposure to suicide can have a negative impact on people and could increase the likelihood that those who are already suicidal could act on their thoughts,” Julie Cerel, a clinical psychologist and president of the American Association of Suicidology, said via email.

“I feel it was irresponsible of Logan Paul to post the initial video, which seemed to mock those who have died by suicide. While he issued an apology, it would have been most helpful for him to include ways people could reach out for help — the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK)  and Crisis Text Line. He still has the chance to turn this into a way to promote suicide prevention,” Cerel said.

After the brief warning of explicit content to his audience of more than 15 million subscribers, which mostly comprises tweens and teens, Paul said, “buckle the fuck up, because you’re never gonna see a video like this again.” He then joked around, and spoke directly to his followers, dubbed “the Logang.” For these young, impressionable viewers, Logan Paul is the king, the hero. His actions have a huge influence over his fanbase. 

His self-serving apology on Monday night, in which he claimed he was trying to “raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention,” didn’t sit well with many. Any attempt in the video to speak seriously about depression and suicide couldn’t change the fact that millions of young people already saw the triggering, disturbing images, and Paul continued to laugh and joke, leading some viewers to believe he was mocking those who have died by suicide. 

The bigger picture

Paul’s vlog is just one part of a massive problem in the new age of the internet. Seemingly anyone with a camera can develop a massive base of young and impressionable followers, but on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, these influencers are rarely held accountable for their actions. 

While Paul claimed he demonetized the video before posting it, he still has his loyal base of followers that will defend him no matter what he does. After his apology tour is over, he will likely vlog again, and stands to make millions of dollars from it. 

The responses to his apology tweet are loaded with his followers defending the 22-year-old, so much so that in a second apology posted to YouTube on Tuesday, Paul asked the Logang to stop coming to his defense.

While the clip itself is dangerous enough, Paul’s loyal fanbase — which will support him no matter what — makes this an even more perilous situation. A young kid disturbed by the video may see others in the Logang defend his actions, which could possibly deter them from getting help or speaking out against the video’s content.

“If members of the Logang see their pain reflected by mocking from their hero, it can discourage them from seeking help if they need it,” Cerel said. “He can use this as an opportunity to promote suicide prevention and how to get help, and can turn something incredibly insensitive [into] something that could help a lot of young people know where to turn if they are affected by this.”

The problem isn’t just the creators, it’s YouTube

While creators like Logan Paul are seemingly invincible from negative press and controversies, the other issue here is the giant tech corporations that profit from the questionable and sometimes dangerous content, without sufficient filters in place. YouTube, in particular, has come under fire in recent months for serving violent and disturbing content to children, and the company has since taken additional measures to combat the problem.

But when an algorithm controls what children see, and there’s money to be made in capturing attention by any means necessary, incidents like this will continue to happen, and vulnerable children will continue to be exposed to it.

In a statement, a YouTube spokesperson claims a video such as Paul’s can be left up if it is “supported by appropriate educational or documentary information and in some cases it will be age-gated.” It’s unclear if this video was age-gated, and to call it educational is questionable at best, considering the video’s lack of context or resources. 

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.

Actor and presenter Ed Petrie raised a good point on Twitter: Why are YouTube and these creators not held to the same standard as the as a TV channel or movie studio. YouTube is paying out TV-like money in ad revenue, without any of the checks and balances that come with that responsibility.

Ultimately, it’s up to the community and media to demand these videos be held to higher standards. YouTube is a massive destination for children of all ages, and needs to be held responsible for when it has mishaps such as these. That’s difficult with user-generated content, but it’s not impossible. If YouTube wants to remain the top destination for video content and creators, it needs to act the part. 

If there is any positive outcome from this ordeal, it can be that Logan Paul did start a conversation about suicide awareness, which can hopefully show that suicide is preventable and is caused by multiple factors. Hopefully, other YouTubers can look at this situation and learn from it before they publish an irresponsible video. 

“He has certainly led to a heated discussion about his actions, and I hope it does ultimately lead to awareness for suicide,” Cerel said.

If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources. 

For recommendations on reporting on suicide, visit reportingonsuicide.org.

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