WATCH: Logan Paul has made a name for himself as an online jokester. But as Ines de La Cuetara reports, his fame is now under fire.
YouTube star Logan Paul is under fire from all directions: former fans, suicide prevention groups and families of people who died by suicide have all voiced their opposition to Paul and his posting of a video last week.
Paul is currently touring Japan, and he, along with a group of his friends/followers, visited the “suicide forest” and recorded their experience. (Aokigahara, also known as the Sea of Trees, is a popular locale for people seeking to take their own lives.) Paul’s video briefly shows the corpse of a man who had hanged himself, and the YouTube star is clearly laughing onscreen; in his apology after the backlash, he claimed that laughter is his way of dealing with anxiety.
You can see both apologies, below.
After much backlash, Paul released a second apology, this time in video format.
“There’s a lot of things I should have done differently but I didn’t,” he said tearfully. “And for that, from the bottom of my heart, I am sorry … for my fans who are defending my actions, please don’t. I don’t deserve to be defended. My goal with my content is always to entertain; to push the boundaries, to be all-inclusive. In the world live in, I share almost everything I do. The intent is never to be heartless, cruel, or malicious.”
On Tuesday, YouTube issued an open letter stating Paul violated their terms of service.
“Many of you have been frustrated with our lack of communication recently. You’re right to be. You deserve to know what’s going on,” the YouTube Twitter account posted on Tuesday. “Like many others, we were upset by the video that was shared last week. Suicide is not a joke, nor should it ever be a driving force for views.”
“The channel violated our community guidelines, we acted accordingly, and we are looking at further consequences,” the tweet thread continued. “It’s taken us a long time to respond, but we’ve been listening to everything you’ve been saying. We know that the actions of one creator can affect the entire community, so we’ll have more to share soon on steps we’re taking to ensure a video like this is never circulated again.”
The “suicide forest” video, now deleted from YouTube, can currently be found on other sites and is reportedly being viewed by millions of people. Before it was removed from YouTube, it had been viewed by six million people around the world.
The bulk of Paul fans — most of whom are under 14 years old — are supporting him, but there is a small minority who have decided they’ll no longer watch his vlogs.
While the initial “suicide forest” video was not monetized, his apology video is. In layman’s terms, this means that Paul can make money off the apology video.
Many people are dissatisfied with Paul’s apologies and amends, pointing out that he neglects to link off to or point out any suicide help groups and chat lines for those who need help.
Suicide prevention groups especially are calling Paul out.
Jiro Ito, who runs the Tokyo-based youth suicide prevention group Ova, told The Japan Times on Wednesday that Paul’s act “raises serious issues from the point of suicide prevention” and is in clear violation of the World Health Organization guidelines on how the media should report on the issue.
The WHO urges members of the media to show restraint when covering suicides, both committed or attempted.
Though Paul is not part of the news media, he should have acted more prudently given his huge influence on YouTube, Ito said by email.
“It is totally unacceptable to show someone who was driven to suicide as if it’s humorous content,” he said.
Ito criticized Paul’s statement following the uproar, too, saying “it is Logan Paul himself, not other members of society, who should raise awareness about suicide prevention.”
A spokesperson at Google, which owns YouTube, confirmed to The Japan Times on Wednesday that Paul’s video “does violate” the video-sharing site’s policies, adding that it was taken down by the YouTuber himself.
“Our hearts go out to the family of the person featured in the video,” the Google press team said. “YouTube prohibits violent or gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner. If a video is graphic, it can only remain on the site when supported by appropriate educational or documentary information and in some cases it will be age-gated.”
Japan’s suicide rate is among the highest in the world, according to the latest government numbers on suicide measures released in May 2017. However, the rate has been in decline since peaking in 2003.
In 2016, the number of people who took their own life declined to 21,897, the lowest in 22 years. But the figures also show that suicide was the top cause of death among people in five age groups from 15 to 39, a trend that stands out amid a decline in other generations.
Understandably, people who have lost loved ones to suicide are especially triggered and traumatized by the Paul video, more so for those who were fans of Paul beforehand.
One mom, who has chosen to use a pseudonym to protect her family’s privacy, says that her 13-year-old son, once a fan, was re-traumatized by Paul’s video; his father (her ex-husband) took his own life in 2009. She is calling for Paul to be banned from YouTube.
Joan Conrick reached out to Logan in a powerful open letter, which she posted online.
“My husband took his life eight years ago, a year after the financial crash (in 2008),” reads the letter in part. “He wasn’’t found immediately, so my children have always been disturbed by his suicide. My 13-year-old son, like many kids his age, loves following all the popular YouTubers. I assumed that the likes of Logan Paul was fairly innocent, even though much of his content is obnoxious. But I try to be an easygoing parent.”
She claims her son had the “hardest time” coping with his father’s passing and says that he blamed himself. He went to therapy to try to come to terms with it, to varying success.
“Last night he came to me and described how Logan Paul had uploaded [a video of] someone who had hanged themselves,” the letter continues. “I assumed that it was maybe an extremely vulgar prank. He kept saying how he could see how the hands were all purple. Already my children struggle to explain to others how their father died, when they ask. Suicide isn’t an easy thing to explain. So I am extremely upset that so many young impressionable children saw Logan Paul make light (and laugh at) a suicide victim. Children who could potentially make jokes at the expense of children like mine – because they saw a celebrity make it cool. And for children who have lost a parent/sibling/loved one to suicide, their pain has been made into a joke.”
She pleads with Logan to “meet with families who have experienced suicide,” and suggests he should “bow out of the limelight” and take some time to “grow up.”
Paul, 22, has approximately 15 million YouTube subscribers, and his fans are known as the “Logang.” Aside from the two apologies, he has not made any further comment.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), available 24/7, at 1-833-456-4566. For more information on suicide and to find help nearest you, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
— With files from The Associated Press