YouTube star Logan Paul made the biggest mistake of his young life when he shared his grim discovery in a Japanese forest with millions of children.
Parents are routinely warned about the dangers lurking on the internet for children. It is a warning made with good reason and taken to heart by many parents who do their utmost to ensure their kids don’t stray onto unsuitable or unsafe sites.
But what are parents to do when a much-loved “YouTuber” who has 15 million subscribers and is immensely popular with children and teenagers, who is himself just 22, becomes the conduit to content that would shock many adults let alone children?
For parents who thought their children were safe in the company of fresh-faced US YouTube sensation Logan Paul, the breach of trust could not have been greater.
Mr Paul attracted immediate and universal condemnation for a video post recorded in Japan showing a dead man hanging from a tree in a forest known to be a suicide hotspot.
The video – entitled ‘We found a dead body in the Japanese suicide forest’ – was shot by Mr Paul and friends in Japan’s notorious Aokigahara forest. It has been since taken down but not before it had been viewed millions of times. One can only estimate how many children saw the video and what impact it had on them, and may yet have.
For all the exposure that children have to violent death and graphic carnage via games and movies, the sight of a real body can be deeply upsetting, particularly when it is the confronting image of someone who has hanged himself. While the unidentified man’s face was blurred viewers were shown the body in close-up shot from various angles over an extended period.
Mr Paul immediately apologised as the extent of the outrage became clear but in the original video he boasted that the video “marks a moment in YouTube history” and promised that his legion of viewers are “never gonna see a video like this again”. He was probably right on both counts, but his celebration was misplaced and short-lived.
Even accepting that this was a well-intentioned attempt, as Mr Paul claims, to “raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention”, the end result was testament to the young celebrity’s naiveté, immaturity and poor judgement. And we shouldn’t leave out stupidity.
Suicide is a confronting and vexed issue. For anyone contemplating suicide the depths of despair and desolation can only be guessed at; for friends and family the loss of a loved one through suicide is a scarring experience of loss, guilt and reproachfulness. To actually see someone who has died by suicide – as this writer has – is a shattering experience. The questions, the what-ifs, swirl around in an unrelenting vortex of sorrow.
No child should see the image of a dead man hanging from a tree; no child should have to wonder what distresses led this man, a real human being, to take such a harrowing course.
Mr Paul reflected on none of this as he set his camera on the grim discovery; he saw the victim as little more than a prop. When one of his friends expressed discomfort at the sight of the corpse, Mr Paul laughed, “What, you never stand next to a dead guy [before]?”
Suicide is a problem in many countries, including Australia, but in Japan it is a crisis of epidemic proportions, with almost 22,000 taking their lives in 2016.
Suicide in Japan, and the role of Aokigahara forest, are legitimate matters for examination, but not by Mr Paul. Faced with the same grim discovery an experienced documentary maker or photojournalist would no doubt go through a process of conflicting emotions and ethical considerations before deciding on whether to film the dead man. Mr Paul just bowled in without a moment’s hesitation, not only filming the man but doing so with unseemly thoroughness.
The problem is not just Mr Paul’s poor judgement, but the fact that his mistake was aired to millions of viewers around the world, many if not most of them being impressionable children.
To give Mr Paul his due, his apology on discovering the offence his video had caused was swift and heartfelt: “I should have never posted the video. I should have put the cameras down and stopped recording… I’m ashamed of myself.”
This episode once again brings to the fore the issue of deregulated and unfiltered content being broadcast on YouTube. It’s especially an issue when it is content aimed at children.
The ABC, the most prominent and trusted television broadcaster of free-to-air children’s content in Australia, faces extensive regulation and broadcasting standards. It does not seem unreasonable for YouTube to be submitted to the same level of scrutiny and regulation. What self-regulation is applied by YouTube is clearly inadequate, as demonstrated by the Logan Paul video.
Parents are entitled to expect that YouTube will be taking steps to ensure that this never happens again.
Anyone needing support can call Lifeline on 13 11 14