For YouTube personality Logan Paul, I think the answer is yes.
In a video uploaded on the first day of 2018, titled “We Found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide forest…,” Paul and several friends visit and “vlog,” or video blog, in the Aokigahara Forest in Koshu, Japan.
This forest is infamously known as the “Suicide Forest,” as it is an extremely popular place to commit suicide, second only to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
The trails of the forest feature signs that plead individuals to seek help before committing suicide and remind them that their lives are precious gifts.
With suicide being such a serious matter and the forest’s dark reputation, most would think it wouldn’t be the appropriate place for a group of 20-somethings to carelessly traipse around with a camera.
Nearly half way into the now-deleted vlog, Paul and others stumble upon what appears to be a young man hanging from a tree.
With the camera trained on themselves, they make their way toward the body, making various remarks of disbelief and flashing surprised faces into the viewfinder.
Though the young man’s face is blurred out, you can still see his entire body, the coat he wore and his clenched fists just peeking out from below the sleeves.
You can even see his feet dangling several inches above the Earth.
Watching this part of the video, I felt my stomach doing somersaults. I nearly exited out of YouTube entirely.
Seeing this young man filled me with sadness and confusion, and I didn’t even know his identity. It made me wonder how his family must have felt. Or if they even knew. I had to put these thoughts out of my mind in order to even finish the video.
Paul ends the video having a sit-down with the camera, reiterating his thoughts about suicide and how it’s truly a sad thing. He said he believes everyone has a place on this Earth, and how you should seek help if you’re feeling suicidal.
But he still managed to squeeze in a self-advertisement at the end, asking those viewers who were not already following him to subscribe to his channel.
What truly made this experience so surreal to me was the thumbnail of the video. To the left, you could clearly see the body of a man hanging from a tree. To the right, a comically slack-jawed Paul was edited in.
It’s hard to imagine what I would have done in a situation in which I found the body of someone who committed suicide. To imagine what that person went through in the moments leading up to that point — the pain they must have felt, the darkness that was consuming them to commit such a dire act.
However, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made a spectacle of said person, invading such a personal moment with a camera, gawking and making morbid jokes. I would not have made that moment about me.
But that’s exactly what Paul did.
Paul exploited the death of a tortured individual in an egregious attempt to gain views on his YouTube channel. What was most baffling to me was that his tactic worked; the video made it to the No. 6 spot on YouTube’s trending video list with over six million views before it was ultimately taken down by Paul later on Monday.
In his initial written apology, Paul tried to walk back on his video, saying he did it to bring awareness to suicide and his intention was to help people.
I can think of plenty of ways to have a serious conversation about suicide and bring awareness to the topic; however, none of those ways involve filming and joking about a victim of suicide.
Paul’s vlog channel had just more than 15.3 million subscribers before uploading the suicide forest vlog.
After the video backlash started on Monday, Paul actually gained 98,225 subscribers. Between his two channels, Logan Paul Vlogs and TheOfficialLoganPaul, he amassed nearly 20 million subscribers total.
Needless to say, he has a huge audience, and YouTube has taken notice.
Paul starred in a YouTube Red movie, ‘The Thinning,’ and has been featured regularly in YouTube’s annual ‘YouTube Rewind,’ which features prominent YouTubers reveling in the past year’s trends and memes.
Despite the astronomically tone-deaf video Paul uploaded, it seems YouTube still loves him, and has no plans to punish the YouTuber for his actions.
On Tuesday, YouTuber Philip DeFranco announced on Twitter that he received an “official statement” from YouTube about Paul’s video. Google, Youtube’s parent company, confirmed the authenticity of the statement via email on Friday. However, there is no written indication Paul will face any backlash from the platform.
The generic and evasive statement failed to answer the one question people want answered: What will happen to Paul?
While Paul’s utter lack of empathy and common sense seem jarring, using sensitive subjects and outrageous clickbait to gain internet notoriety is not a new trend.
DaddyoFive, a former YouTuber, was accused of abusing his five children on video. In one instance, he would accuse one of his sons of doing something wrong and then would show him emotionally and physically punishing the child.
DaddyoFive claimed the videos were harmless pranks, but ultimately, he was taken to court by his ex-wife and lost custody of two of the aforementioned children. While his YouTube channel was still in use, he had over 800,000 subscribers.
Wu Yongning, a Chinese daredevil who filmed himself atop skyscrapers he scaled, uploaded videos that gained millions of views across the globe. Viewers watched as Yongning skillfully climbed dizzying heights and put himself in immediate danger by doing stunts on the ledges of the buildings he climbed. However, in an attempt to do pull-ups on the top of a 62-story building, he fell to his death on Nov. 8.
These instances follow a trend of clickbaiting, or creating a headline or thumbnail that uses interesting buzzwords or imagery to try to get viewers to watch or read content.
While most clickbait is harmless at best and annoying at worst, content creators like Paul are blurring the lines between trying to stay relevant in an ever-changing internet climate and abandoning all morals in an attempt to create the most shocking and buzz-worthy content.
However, the content of videos that aim to push the envelope and end up crossing a moral “line in the sand” are troubling for another reason.
Millions of people log onto YouTube every day to watch videos from channels they’re subscribed to. When content creators put out videos that include shocking, violent or dangerous content, millions of viewers are subject to it. Normalizing harmful behaviors and subjects on a platform that is easily accessible can be incredibly detrimental.
Of YouTube’s visitors, 30 million are between the ages of 18 to 24. During these formative years of a young adult’s life, exposure to precarious themes can desensitize viewers and alter their perception of sensitive subjects.
Internet personalities have a responsibility to their viewers to frame their content in a moral way and should take their audience’s well-being into consideration when deciding what to put out into the vast landscape that is the internet.
The internet is a fun and informative place. It’s a breeding ground for new and interesting ideas. Although posting the most outrageous content might generate many clicks, how someone handles the responsibility of being in the internet’s public eye is more telling of a person’s character.