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Tweens, teens, and young adults aren’t lining up to buy DVD box sets anymore. By and large, they’re watching things exclsively online. Netflix shows like Stranger Things are big, sure, but one of the biggest entertainment spectacles of all for today’s high school crowd are YouTube vlogs.
YouTubers like Tyler Oakley or Miranda Sings have millions of subscribers and they typically release videos weekly. Those videos regularly rack up hundreds of thousands of views, and occasionally hit the millions, views driven primarily or entirely by 13 to 25 year olds. This videos can mean big money for YouTube stars thanks to ads and sponsors.
The biggest of these stars is- or was- Logan Paul. Paul is internet-famous for his prank and parody videos. In the final week of 2017, Paul was in Japan filming his usual brand of videos: in one, he and his friends dressed up as Pokemon characters and pretended to be playing for real on a busy street corner.
His channel was occasionally criticized for racism or misogyny but mainly, his fans kept watching and those who disliked him simply ignored him. But in the first week of the new year, he uploaded a video many say made light of suicide. He and his friends were in Japan’s notorious Sea of Trees or Suicide Forest when they stumbled upon a dead body- a man who had apparently committed suicide hours earlier. Instead of deleting the tape and leaving the forest, Paul posted the video, including footage of the body itself and of Paul laughing and joking around in the moments after finding the body.
The backlash was quick and fierce. Within a few days, he removed the video from his channel and issued an apology. But forgiveness hasn’t come so quickly- many internet users have called for Paul to be banned from YouTube. Though YouTube has said he won’t be banned for this, over a month later, Paul still hasn’t returned to his regular schedule of making silly vlogs.
In the age of internet viral-videos, entertainers are constantly trying to push the envelope. Logan Paul’s situation offers us a look at how the internet marketplace will regulate itself without typical FCC or network executives overseeing content creation. How and when Paul is able to put his suicide forest video behind him will set a benchmark for what it takes to overcome controversy in the wild wild West of internet memes.
Resources for people contemplating suicide are available at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.