Insensitivity and different expectations for ethical standards
On Monday, January 1, YouTuber Logan Paul removed a video which involved the discovery of the remains of a man who had committed suicide in Aokigahara, a national forest in Japan. The video received major backlash on social media and resulted in a formal apology from Paul. One Twitter user, who goes by the name of “libby” (@flavordays), offered a detailed and thoughtful response which traced the rich history behind the forest, and concluded that his actions and his decision to post the video were “deplorable.” According to an article published in The Hollywood Reporter, Paul’s video had a strong negative impact in Japan, resulting in condemnation from citizens and even the Japanese suicide prevention group “Ova.”
However, a few people are standing behind him, arguing that the fiery response is just another instance of the media’s habit of collectively and excessively demonizing individuals for their bad behaviour.
In a recent article published in Independent, Sirena Bergman wrote that this situation is merely “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.” She argues that people set too high of ethical standards for vloggers, and claims that jokes about suicide rarely receive as much backlash in other forms of media. She writes, “I’ve been to comedy shows and watched sitcoms where suicide is the punchline of a joke.”
“A few people are standing behind him, arguing that the fiery response is just another instance of the media’s habit of collectively and excessively demonizing individuals for their bad behaviour.”
It is important, however, to make a distinction between fiction and reality. Logan Paul did not simply make a joke; he deliberately entered a space known internationally as a popular site for suicide, filmed the remains of a dead man, and laughed. There was no acting. It was the real thing.
Paul has since apologized for his video twice. In his first official apology, he wrote, “I do this sh*t every day. I’ve made a 15 minute TV show every single day for the past 460+ days.” This apology was met with further criticism for its self-centred attitude and its apparent lack of empathy for the suicide victim. Afterward, he apologized again, this time in a video, admitting that he “should have never posted the video” and that he “should have put the cameras down and stopped recording.”
Sirena Bergman’s response, while perhaps misguided, does bring up an important distinction between television and film personalities and YouTube personalities. Perhaps it is the intimate nature of vlogging that viewers love, the fact that one is able to track on a day by day basis the ‘true’ life and personality of a celebrity. Perhaps, then, it is felt as that much more of a betrayal when a vlogger does something morally unacceptable or out of character.
In the coming weeks, it will become more clear whether or not people will forgive Paul and if people are willing to continue watching his videos. However, since his last apology, he has not uploaded any videos.