Logan Paul, one of YouTube's biggest stars, treated a video he uploaded over the weekend as the equivalent of a TV sitcom's "very special episode." To indicate the seriousness of the matter to his young fans, Paul posted a warning at the beginning, telling viewers who are having thoughts of suicide or self harm to seek help. He also demonetized the video so that he would not earn advertising money off its views.
The now-deleted video was titled, "We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest . . .", and that is, more or less, exactly what the vlog showed - complete with extended footage of the body of an apparent suicide victim. In a short intro, Paul called it "the most real vlog I have ever posted on this channel" and "a moment in YouTube history."
On Monday, amid outrage on Twitter and from other YouTube personalities, the video disappeared from Paul's YouTube channel, and the social media superstar tweeted out an apology. Paul said he "intended to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention" with the video, and claimed he "didn't do it for views."
So sorry. pic.twitter.com/JkYXzYsrLX
"I'm often reminded of how big a reach I have & with great power comes great responsibility," He said. "For the first time in my life I'm regretful to say I handled that power incorrectly. It won't happen again."
A moment like this was perhaps inevitable in Paul's world, where everything is content before it is anything else. The only wrong decision in this universe is to turn the camera off.
If you're over 25, this might be the first time you've heard of Logan Paul. The thing you need to know about him is that he is very famous. Paul has 15 million subscribers on YouTube. Each one of his daily videos routinely gets more than 5 million views. Like his younger brother Jake Paul, who also vlogs daily on his own YouTube channel, Logan's fans are young - tweens and under, often.
Each Paul has a boy band-like role to play in the brotherhood. Jake Paul was the bad boy, the one who lost his Disney gig after the news picked up on the mayhem outside of his former Los Angeles-area home. Until he vlogged about a dead body, Logan played the relatively responsible older brother, or at least responsible enough to still get cast in TV and movie roles.
Logan calls his fans the "Logang;" Jake's are the "Jake Paulers." The brothers treat fandom like a competition, pitting their viewers against each other by maintaining a mostly fake, on-camera rivalry to see who can get the most YouTube views or merchandise sales.
It works, and because of their success, the brothers have become the prosperity gospel preachers of social media stardom, inviting their young fans to follow in their vlogging footsteps. Your daily life, the gospel says, is meant to be monetized, just as the Pauls have done. Jake Paul's catch phrase is "It's every day, bro," which explicitly refers to the fact that he posts a new vlog about his life, every day. He turned "it's every day bro" into a rap video that, while mocked into the meme stratosphere for its horrible lyrics, currently has more than 167 million YouTube views.
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Experiences that don't become content are, in the Pauls' world, money and influence left on the table. The daily vlogging gospel only promises wealth and influence if your life on camera is interesting enough to deserve it. So in this context, consider that Logan Paul had footage of a dead body - and more importantly, his own on camera reaction to seeing a dead body for the first time in his life. As I said, it was inevitable.
Dozens of research studies suggest that media sensationalizing suicide, showing it extensively and graphically as this vlog did, can put vulnerable individuals at risk. But that research doesn't seem to register as even a blip for Logan Paul.
The now-deleted video reveals something else: from the moment Paul walked into that forest, he intended to make a video about death and suicide. But his original plan was to fake it, treating the Aokigahara - where dozens of real corpses are found every year - like a haunted house. They were going to camp overnight in the forest. When it was dark, they'd pretend to see things, maybe a dead body. It's the sort of video that tons of YouTubers make while visiting Japan.
Several minutes into the video, Logan and his crew are walking in broad daylight to find a place to camp, like the other YouTubers who have visited this forest for content before them have done. Then they find the body. They move in closer, camera rolling. Logan zooms the camera he is holding in on the body, closer still. He then turns the camera on himself. "I'm so sorry about this Logang," Paul said, using the nickname for his millions of YouTube fans, "this was supposed to be a fun vlog."
Still standing there, feet from the body of an apparent suicide victim, Logan tells his viewers that "we came here with an intent to focus on the haunted aspect of the forest, this just became very real and obviously a lot of people are going through a lot of (expletive) in their lives."
"Suicide is not the answer, guys, there are people who love you and care for you," Paul said.
Later, Paul and his crew are beginning to freak out. "I've never seen a dead person. Like, I've never discovered a dead person," Paul says. But standing there, it's clear that they have already decided to use this footage. Paul tells his viewers that they will be blurring the face of the victim to protect his identity. Authorities have not yet arrived.
"This is the most real vlog I've ever made," Paul says. "400 vlogs And I've never, I've never had a more real moment than this."
The vlog is now gone from Paul's channel. But before it went, a cached version shows, the video had hundreds of thousands of likes and more than 6 million views.