It’s hardly surprising anymore to wake up to the news of another shamed internet celebrity, and the first casualty of 2018 is Logan Paul, a YouTuber who posted a video which appeared to show the body of someone who had taken their own life.
Paul’s subsequent flippant comment (“I don’t feel good,” says one of his friends in the footage, to which he replies: “What, you never stand dead to a dead guy?”) has especially caused outrage.
The anger towards him seems to be due to a combination of the fact that he showed the footage at all; that he made a joke (although it was one sentence amid a primarily reverent and clearly shaken response); and that he issued a poorly phrased, somewhat self-aggrandising apology in which he swears he “didn’t do it for the views”.
The title of his video – “We found a dead body” – probably didn’t help his case either.
The internet is now queueing up to crucify him, with celebrities calling him “disgusting”, “pure trash”, and hoping he “rots in hell” for being “amoral” and “horrifying”.
It’s yet another example of the irony of social media – the collective self-righteousness that leads us to respond to someone doing something we deem irresponsible or offensive by turning into an attack mob, hurling horrendous abuse, insults, judgments and often threats their way – displaying behaviour which is often crueller than the original offence.
This whole episode also shows yet again how the new forms of media, which have sprung from the internet in the past decade, are struggling to strike the right balance between being innovative while still maintaining the status quo, and how YouTube stars in particular seem to be held to completely new standards compared to more traditional forms of celebrity or media.
Up until this morning I (like many others) had no idea who Logan Paul was, despite him having 15 million YouTube subscribers.
For context, that’s more than the number of people who watched the Sex and the City series finale, more than those who viewed the Game Of Thrones season 6 finale, about double the number of people who tuned in to see who had won the most recent Great British Bake Off, and more than five times the number of people who watched the last episode of Love Island.
That’s the thing about the internet: the barrier to access is lower – but because there’s so much content out there, the metrics for success are much murkier and more demanding.
We expect a level of “authenticity” online, which is at odds with the reality that people are doing this as a career. The most common insults thrown at YouTubers in the comment sections underneath videos are that they’re “doing it for the views” or being “clickbaity”.
Essentially, that they’re trying to create entertainment which will be appealing to the widest possible online audience, and that they’re marketing it to look appealing. Except instead of interpreting this as good business acumen, we see it as somehow fraudulent.
It’s hard to know which standards we actually should hold YouTubers to because it’s such a recent phenomenon. In journalism, we have very specific guidelines on how we should report suicide responsibly – and Paul fell far below that standard. Yet I’ve been to comedy shows and watched sitcoms where suicide is the punchline of a joke.
Similarly, if you’ve ever watched procedural TV dramas you’ve surely seen suicide – as well as rape, murder and all manner of other violent crimes – depicted for your entertainment; if you’ve ever listened to hip hop (and indeed many other genres, often including pop music), you’ve heard the glorification of drugs and gang violence.
Paul’s instinct to keep the scene in the vlog is the same as any fiction writer or documentary producer’s decision to use a tragedy to draw in an audience. We can discuss the nuances of his choices (should he have pixelated out the body? Used more sensitive language? Censored his responses?), but if we want the internet to continue to be a space for creativity and innovation, we have to be careful about how we do it.
It is, after all, deeply unfair to push people like Paul towards ever higher standards which we have never imposed on their mainstream, offline counterparts.
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