On January 1st, 2018, popular YouTuber Logan Paul released a video in which he went into Japan’s Aokigahara, commonly known as the ‘Suicide Forest’. In the video, he filmed a dead body, presumed to be a victim of suicide. After seeing the body, Paul did not stop filming, and even made jokes about the victim. As expected, this video drew immediate and strong backlash, and after six million views in less than a day, Paul deleted it. YouTube did not delete the video, even though according to its Community Guidelines, they do not allow “violent or gory content that’s primarily intended to be shocking, sensational, or disrespectful”. Though YouTube did publicly criticize Paul after the video, they were not directly responsible for its removal despite the violation of their guidelines. This video, and YouTube’s reaction, have prompted its viewers to wonder whether such content should be censored more strongly.
In my opinion, no content like this should exist on YouTube. To publish content that trivializes suicide, and to portray it sensationally, would only further the already great stigma against suicide and mental health issues. Even though the treatment of suicide as a joke is already rampant in our society, there is no reason YouTube should aim to protect that attitude. Even if the platform does not support this type of content, it is ultimately its job to examine all uploaded videos, especially by channels with many subscribers, and determine whether they are appropriate. Allowing a large channel to publish a video effectively communicates that the website is comfortable with its content. In this case, one of the largest social media platforms in the world is sending a message that it is acceptable to treat suicide in an insensitive way, which it clearly should not.
Despite nearly universal negative reception, there are still some sentiments in support of Logan Paul: mainly “he made a mistake, but everybody makes mistakes”, and “I’m not offended by this content, so I still support him”. While it is incredibly clear that the video was misguided, it was not a mistake: Paul went into the ‘Suicide Forest’ on purpose, he filmed the body on purpose, and he uploaded the video on purpose, not by mistake. While everybody does make mistakes, not everybody chooses to publish footage of a victim of suicide, and not everybody has millions of people seeing their poor choices. Those who have large followings need to be especially aware of the impact their content can make. As for supporters who did not take offense to the video, their support and lack of reaction does not mean everybody will react in the same way. Supporters of Logan Paul are forgetting why a humorous attitude towards suicide is harmful to others. Content that turns suicide into a casual video might not offend viewers who have never contemplated suicide or had a connection to it, but for those who battle suicidal thoughts, depression, or other mental health problems, seeing videos like this could have disastrous repercussions. It is up to YouTube to protect all of its viewers from another “mistake”.