January is less than two days old and already we have a reminder of the bad side of YouTube after it emerged that Logan Paul, a brash 22-year-old with over 15 million subscribers and a clothing line in his name, posted then removed a video that included footage of an apparent suicide victim.
The video was taken at Aokigahara, a forest in Japan that is known for suicides. Titled “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest” with a thumbnail image of Paul standing in front of a blurred out body, the video got more than 1 million views before being removed within 24 hours.
In the video, Paul, a number of other YouTubers and a guide who accompanied them found the body of a man who had apparently hanged himself. Paul zoomed his video camera to show the body and later took close-up footage with only the face blurred out while the guide phoned the police.
The YouTuber — who stars in MGM’s Valley Girl film which is due out this year and is part of YouTube’s paid-for Red subscription service — said in the video that he originally intended to focus on the haunted aspect of the forest. When one of his group said he didn’t feel good after seeing the hanging body, Paul said “You never stand next to a dead guy?” and laughed.
Paul responded to anger at the posting with an apology in which he claimed he was trying to raise awareness of suicide and suicide prevention.
In his apology, Paul claimed he has posted videos for more than 15 months which got him “caught up in the moment without fully weighing up the possible ramifications.” This wasn’t a live blog and, as many pointed out on Twitter, Paul and his team had ample time during editing or preparation to elect not to post the video.
There are no official figures for suicides in Aokigahara, primarily because the Japanese government doesn’t want to promote the forest as a suicide destination, but more than 500 people are said to have died there since the 1950s.
Japan’s suicide rate is the sixth highest in the world although figures have declined in recent years. The latest government report found that 21,897 people took their own life in 2016 — while that represented the lowest number for 22 years, suicide remains the top cause of death for people aged 15-39.
The duo are not the only big name stars from Google-owned YouTube who ran into trouble. PewDiePie lost a contract with Disney following anti-Semitic content on his channel, while he apologized in September for using the n-word in a broadcast.
Last year saw YouTube continue to cement its position as the internet’s go-to video portal, but a number of troubling incidents demonstrated the issues with unregulated content from new media creators and — now — bots that create content aimed at gaining clicks from children.
In response, YouTube cut down on unsuitable content — removing channels deemed exploitative such as ToyFreaks — while it introduced new moderation processes for kid-focused content, and pledged to increase its army of content checkers and moderators to 10,000 people.