Logan Paul and the YouTube problem

By Sophie Paterson

The popularity of reality television in the last decade has now evolved into an interest in ‘daily vloggers’ – YouTubers who film the ups and downs of their day-to-day lives for their subscribers to watch and comment on. When watching what appears to be natural content, it can be easy to forget the thinking that goes into producing a successful channel.

YouTubers like Logan Paul are businesspeople and very aware of the fact that they can profit financially from shocking material. Recently, however, Logan Paul pushed this tried-and-tested formula too far. Whilst travelling in Japan he visited the Aokigahara Forest in Japan, known to be a frequent site for suicides, and the vlog he produced of the trip included footage of a recently deceased body. Soon after the video was posted, the wider community condemned him for the video, and his unconvincing apology video only intensified the backlash. This is horrifying behaviour, but is unsurprising when viewed in the context of the trends that have been emerging across YouTube recently.

YouTubers’ exploitation of the ‘shock factor’ is something that has only worsened over the past few years. It is evident that users are resorting to increasingly drastic measures to gain views: for example, the surge in prank channels. And so, what might have been previously considered ‘shocking’ content becomes less so as it becomes more common, which leads creators to produce increasingly scandalous videos in order to increase viewership.

In the context of YouTube, the Logan Paul episode is unsurprising

This has long been a trend in traditional media also – challenges in ‘I’m a Celebrity’ have become progressively more dramatic over the years, whilst the premises of new shows like ‘Hunted’ have taken this movement to another level. There are now no limits to click-bait and extremities of content: all is fair in the battle to get views.

YouTube has evolved considerably since its creation in 2005. Channels are bigger than ever, personalities more boisterous, audiences are constantly growing, and the worrying reality is that Logan Paul will probably emerge fairly unscathed from this. The scary truth is that there were hundreds of thousands of likes on Paul’s video before it came to the attention of the larger community, who pressured him to take it down.

Criticise is often drowned out by the defence of fans

YouTube viewers, now more than ever, need to question and criticise the content that they see, which is difficult when the demographics lean largely towards younger audiences. YouTubers are often aptly described as ‘influencers’, and this label seems appropriate when considering the mob-mentality of their fan bases: criticism is drowned out by the voices of belligerent fans who refuse to recognise the wrongdoings of their idols. YouTube is unlike conventional media in the fact that channels are governed only by the content creators themselves.

In recent years, creators have called out changes in the website’s systems of promotion, as YouTube seems to promote certain channels over others. YouTube seems to favour popularity over quality when it comes to content, an argument that is reinforced by the introduction of the ‘trending’ page. It is because of this that YouTube cannot severely punish Paul without alienating his 15 million-strong fan base.

Paul’s subscriber count has increased since the incident

YouTube has since dropped Paul from Google Preferred – an advertising privilege granted to the platform’s ‘top’ channels – and put his upcoming ‘YouTube Originals’ series on hold. However, this gesture is pretty underwhelming considering that he is facing no further repercussions. His subscriber count has even increased since the incident.

All we can do, as viewers, is to watch responsibly. The buzz generated by ‘YouTube drama’ only draws publicity to these channels – despite public condemnation, at the time of writing, Paul’s apology video had amassed 40 million views. As viewers, we have to be able to recognise offensive content, and not be afraid to openly condemn it. YouTube is, after all, just a platform, and most of Paul’s success is down to the subscribers that watch his videos, buy his merchandise, and allow him to have continued exposure. As the content we watch changes, we as viewers have to remain vigilant and hold creators accountable.

Photograph: Esther Vargas via Flickr and Creative Commons

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