Staff Editorial: Sensationalism in social media trends

Content warning: suicide


In early January 2018, YouTube star Logan Paul faced intense backlash for posting a vlog in which he filmed a man who had committed suicide in Aokigahara forest, also known as the ‘suicide forest’ in Japan. In the video, Paul and a group of his friends appear to play off the situation with inappropriate humor and seemingly sarcastic comments, including a moment where Paul turned to a friend and said, “What, you never stand next to a dead guy?” He called it “a moment in YouTube history.”

Paul’s YouTube channel has 16 million subscribers, many of whom are young teens who look to Paul for mindless humor. This video was a grotesque display of the many ways modern entertainment, particularly on the Internet, can cross the line between documenting everyday experiences and using the suffering of others for views, subscribers and ad revenue.

Paul removed the video and initially published a lackluster apology on his Twitter account, where he primarily praised his own work as a YouTube star and the ‘integrity’ he has maintained, up until this point, as an entertainer. His “apology” also received an immense amount of backlash and was followed by a video apology, which many viewers found to be receiving ad revenue for the first few hours after it was posted. The apology is now demonetized, though this initial monetization proved to many that Paul was looking to benefit from the great amount of attention on his YouTube channel.

On Jan. 24, in Paul’s first reported sincere move surrounding the controversy, he posted a video where many survivors of suicide talked about their experiences as survivors with Paul. This video seemed to be an effort to educate him (and thus, his fans) about the importance of suicide awareness and prevention. In addition, Paul mentioned at the end of the video that he plans to donate $1 million to suicide prevention groups.

This situation, and similar controversial topics popping up on the Internet over the past month (Tide Pods, anyone?), are proving the power and reach of the Internet and further the discussion about social media’s role in shaping the ideas of a global community. A video that poked fun at a serious topic like suicide started a global conversation, which largely resulted in an agreement that more people need to be educated on suicide and suicide prevention. In the same way, a simple meme about Tide Pods being delicious snacks has resulted in 86 different consumption cases, as reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Such powerful spread of the Internet and social media calls for, more than ever, conscientious and ethical content creators and media consumers.

Both of these issues play into the idea that how we use and joke on the Internet can have consequences in matters of life or death. It is important to be conscious of the broad reach one person can have on different social media platforms and how that reach can be used for good and bad. Most importantly, there need to be more conversations about how the immense power of a global network fits into our society and how we can use this power to make significant change around the world.


Resources for help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline………………1-800-273-TALK (8255)