Logan Paul and the importance of humility in the social media age

Depending on how deeply you associate with the “Logang” community, you likely stood on one of two sides of the controversy around Youtuber and actor Logan Paul. On New Year’s Eve, Paul released a disturbing video that appalled and confused millions of people, both within and outside of his enormous 15.6 million subscriber fan base, a portion of which includes elementary and middle schoolers. During his trip to Japan, Paul, along with his vlogging mates, ventured into the Aokigahara Jukai forest at the base of Mount Fuji, colloquially nicknamed the “Suicide Forest” due to the large number of suicides conducted there, and recorded the body of an apparent suicide victim.

Paul’s video sparked tremendous public outcry and many popular online and celebrity personalities, such as Dylan O’Brien, Anna Akana and Chrissy Teigen, condemned his actions through indignant and disappointed tweets. Paul released statements on both Twitter and YouTube apologizing for documenting the suicide victim, claiming that the vlog was meant to spread awareness about mental health and suicide, and in no way was to gain views or be insensitive. Due to the wide-ranging backlash, Paul has since taken a break from social media “to reflect.” In the meantime, YouTube penalized Paul by removing him from Google Preferred and withholding him from a planned YouTube Red movie. On Tuesday, Jan. 9, the company announced that they are thinking of “further consequences” for Paul, as his video clearly violated community guidelines by displaying graphic imagery, and confirmed that they have issued a strike to his channel.

When my nephew first showed me the video, I was taken aback by the insensitivity Paul showed toward suicide. “Suicide is not a joke … We came here with the intent to focus on the ‘haunted’ aspect of the forest. This obviously just became very real, and obviously a lotta people are going through a lot of shit in their lives,” Paul claimed before turning the camera off him and recording the body of a man who took his own life. Paul blurs out the face of the man but keeps the camera rolling, and even goes as far as zooming in on the body and panning downward. He can be heard making remarks to the body, calling out, “Yo, are you alive?” and laughing with his friends throughout filming.

Sure, laughing can be a coping method for people unaware of how to react in uncomfortable situations, but Paul should have been more conscious of the repercussions of the content he brings to his audience. Paul’s entire Japan series reeled in a total of nearly 24 million views, which highlights the enormous reach he has in terms of viewers having access to and watching his content from all over the world. I could not help but wonder how one could be so oblivious to the severity of witnessing something like this. I am aware that you cannot predict what your reaction will be in times of distress, but why should it be keeping the cameras on and continuing to roll footage? Even in the situation that one acquired the footage somehow, in what way is editing it multiple times and posting it online to 12-year-old fans under the guise of suicide awareness fitting? An audience composed of many children and young teens, who have only a very small understanding of the complexities of mental health and suicide, were thrown into a situation that no one should should encounter, when they clicked on their favorite YouTube channel and saw a victim hanging dead from a tree.

Logan’s suggestion after the incident that he “was not thinking” seems ingenuine, as he clearly had the opportunity to think through what he was doing. The process of filming and editing a video is not an easy one and certainly not a quick one, so did this all seem appropriate to him in that span as well? Paul’s claim, in his written apology published on Twitter, that he “intended to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention” and “create a positive ripple on the internet” is concerning because he clearly used the video, which was #1 trending on YouTube without an age restriction before it was taken down, to gain views and ratings. Paul titled the video: “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…” intending for it to be clickbait and also described it as his “craziest video yet.” He even reminded people to subscribe to his channel at the end. Not to mention he constantly put out statements on Twitter after taking down the video like, “Logang4Life,” and “Like if you’re still in the Logang” on a since-deleted tweet.

With the great power that comes from Logan Paul’s wide reach on social media, he has a greater responsibility to understand the sensitivity of subjects like suicide and mental health. Paul’s actions serve as an example of what human indecency does for you when you are irresponsible online.

We live and thrive in an age of YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and other platforms, and we should embrace that, but it is also time we become self-aware of our social media identities and take responsibility for what we post on public platforms. In no manner is suicide or mental health a joke, and Logan Paul, along with ourselves as an online community, has an obligation to humble and educate himself greatly about this going forward.

Note: If you or anyone you know has depression or thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. UCR Psychological and Counseling Services provides counseling and group therapy for those who need it; you can book your appointment today at 951-827-5531 or visit counseling.ucr.edu.

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