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YouTube star slammed over 'suicide forest' video

Many asked if there is 'disconnect from reality' in uploading disturbing video for views

IN POOR TASTE

Social media personality Logan Paul had the dubious honour of being one of the most controversial figures online last week.

On Dec 31, the 22-year-old uploaded a video of his team exploring the "suicide forest", a site in Aokigahara, Japan, known to be popular with people seeking to end their lives. The clip, which he classified as a "fun video blog", started innocuously enough.

Armed with several props like sleeping bags, funny hats and rugby balls, Paul and his team entered the forest.

To all intents and purposes, it looked like Paul was going for a common formula akin to videos of ghost sightings, to create contentious content and push boundaries without taking it too far. But the video took a darker turn when the team encountered the body of a man who had hanged himself recently.

Instead of treating the tragedy sensitively, Paul decided to document it in a bid to "shed light" about the seriousness of depression and suicide.

"I think this definitely marks a moment in YouTube history because I'm pretty sure this has never happened to anyone on YouTube ever," he said at the start.

"Bro, did we just find a dead person in the 'suicide forest'?" he added.

Logan Paul's video of his team exploring Aokigahara's "suicide forest" in Japan took a darker turn when they encountered the body of a man who had hanged himself recently. Adding to the public anger were out-takes of the video, where Paul was seen la
Logan Paul's video of his team exploring Aokigahara's "suicide forest" in Japan took a darker turn when they encountered the body of a man who had hanged himself recently. Adding to the public anger were out-takes of the video, where Paul was seen laughing and joking about the incident. PHOTO: YOUTUBE

A sceptical observer cannot be faulted for thinking that Paul's other goal was to score views and increase the strength of his brand.

This notion was reinforced by the title of the video - "We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest" - and the thumbnail of the video which showed a lifeless body dangling in the frame.

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The video was a hit, gaining 6.3 million views within the first 24 hours.

There are several worrying aspects about this surge in views.

For one, it was among one of the top trending videos on YouTube, which only added to its visibility online.

Observers have noted that the video platform should have been more proactive in taking down the content, given its controversial nature, instead of promoting it.

Second, an estimated 60 per cent of Paul's 15 million fans are between 12 and 25 years old.

Most of the comments before the video was taken down were in support of Paul's actions, which led to concerns about the values being disseminated to a younger generation who might not have the wisdom to differentiate between human decency and doing everything it takes to go viral.

Paul removed the video only after the rest of the Internet caught on. The condemnation was widespread. Some have questioned his judgment to film, edit and upload a video that was obviously in poor taste.

Adding to the anger were out-takes of the video, where Paul was seen laughing and joking about the incident.

"All I will say is that I think at this point, there is an actual disconnect from reality where the Paul brothers have started to only think in terms of viewership, growth and click bait," said Twitter user Michael J. Murphy of Paul and his brother Jake.

"You disgust me. I can't believe that so many young people look up to you… You are pure trash. Suicide is not a joke," said Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul, who is not related to the brothers.

Logan Paul later released several apologies amid the backlash.

"I'm often reminded of how big a reach I truly have and with great power comes great responsibility. For the first time in my life, I'm regretful to say I handled the power incorrectly," he said on Twitter.

On his YouTube channel, he apologised again, especially to the victim and his family. He also called on his fans not to defend his actions, as they "did not deserve to be defended".

YouTube said later in a statement that it prohibits gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner.

But many, like YouTube star Philip DeFranco, posit that the video platform did not take action sooner as Paul is advertiser-friendly, and brings in a massive amount of traffic.

"The video had to have been flagged by tons of people," he said.

"The only reason the video was taken down was because Paul took it down. YouTube did nothing. YouTube is either complicit, or ignorant."

On his part, Paul is lying low for now.

In a tweet on Dec 4, he said: "Taking time to reflect. No video blogs for now. See you soon."

LIFE IN THE AGE OF 'LIKES'

Most social media platforms have a minimum age limit of 13. But several studies have shown that there is a growing number of younger children who are on them.

Children's Commissioner for England Anne Longfield said there is a worry that many students aged between eight and 12 are anxious about their identity and crave likes and comments for validation.

According to a new report which conducted focus groups with 32 children, social media was perceived as having a positive effect on a child's well-being and enabled them to stay in touch with friends and be entertained.

However, it also made them worry about things they had little control over.

For younger children, it related to their families' use of social media, while older children were generally worried about identity in relation to their peers and maintaining friendships.

One 11-year-old interviewed equated gaining more than 100 "likes" to being well liked. Another 11-year-old said she wanted to be "as pretty as" a classmate she follows on Instagram.

An eight-year-old said he did not understand why his mother posted pictures of him on Snapchat. "I don't like it when your friends and family take a picture of you when you don't want them to," he said.

Ms Longfield said school and parents have a responsibility to prepare their children emotionally for the "significant risks" of social media.

Social media becomes increasingly important in the lives of the children as they transition from primary to secondary school.

"They find themselves chasing likes, chasing validation, being very anxious about their appearance online and offline and feeling that they can't disconnect - because that will be seen as socially damaging," she tells the BBC.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'YouTube star slammed over 'suicide forest' video'. Print Edition | Subscribe