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YouTube videos’ reach discussed after a controversial suicide video trends

A video featuring close-up shots of the hanged corpse of a suicide victim was uploaded on Dec. 31 to YouTube, receiving 6.3 million views and reaching number ten on the front page “Trending” list before being removed the next day by the uploader.

Members of the Saint Vincent community gave their thoughts.

Robert Foschia, adjunct communication professor, said that uploading the video was insensitive.

“I think [the uploader] presented an insensitive attitude towards the problem in favor of exposure for himself, which causes some of the disgust over this terrible, personal moment caught on film for popular consumption,” Foschia said.

Foschia teaches Communication Ethics and Criticism of Media and Society.

The video in question was uploaded by the video blogger Logan Paul on his channel “Logan Paul Vlogs,” which has over 16 million subscribers. The channel describes Paul as a “22-year-old kid in Hollywood making crazy daily vlogs.”

In the approximately 15 minute video, Paul and several other individuals explore a forest at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji, known as a suicide forest due to the number of individuals who have taken their own lives there. Paul and company appear to come across a hanging corpse in the forest, with up close footage shown and the face blurred in the video.

During the video, Paul mentions that suicide is a serious issue.

“Suicide is not a joke, depression and mental illnesses are not a joke,” Paul said near the middle of the video. “We came here to focus on the ‘haunted’ aspect of the forest.”

The vlogger addressed his humor at the end of the video.

“Me smiling and laughing [during this video] is not a portrayal of how I feel about the circumstances,” Paul said, “I cope with things with humor.”

After receiving criticism, Paul removed the video and publicly apologized, and is apparently taking a break from uploading.

Foschia said Paul’s controversial video likely managed to become so widespread due to the video being watched by different groups, including Paul’s large fanbase, people wanting to “more accurately wag their finger” at Paul’s actions and those who wanted to see the video for “pure spectacle.”

“I don’t think this means that all YouTubers are voyeurs or problematic,” Forschia said, “but I do think it says something about how YouTube is constructed to virally present talked-about content.”

David Safin, assistant professor of communication, said Logan Paul’s video and its impact is a “good case study on how the YouTube community works.”

“A while back, a friend/colleague of mine and I conducted an experiment on YouTube,” Safin said. “We made a video that we claimed had footage of an alien, when in fact it was just me making a silly face in the woods. Based on our tags/keywords, the video received close to 80,000 views very quickly, but was removed from YouTube because it was flagged for having deceiving tags.”

Safin said their experimental video received many views because they tapped “into the supernatural phenomenon online” and “emphasized the authenticity of the footage.”

Safin created and ran the SVC YouTube page for five years and adds videos, such as short films, to his own Vimeo channel. He has also managed or helped manage three other YouTube channels, and helped produce the web series “The Mystery Wranglers” on YouTube.

“Usually [viral] videos are short, simple, involve music, and/or something surprising/unexpected. Production value is usually not a factor,” Safin said. “Viral videos, like anything, can be good or bad. There are viral videos that inspire others. There are some that make people feel happy. There are others that bully others and share offensive material.”

Edward Kunz, junior international business major, said that the kind of videos that get spread most on YouTube are “the weirdest and most controversial.”

“You have to make them unique, and have a broad appeal, and make it like something no one else has done before,” Kunz said. “In some cases, the goofier or just plain weirder the better.”

Kunz said he makes “goofy videos” for his own YouTube channel, “Krazyed13.”

“I started my YouTube channel in 2012 when I was 15,” Kunz said. “I began it as a way to make goofy videos for fun, hoping that my friends or even random people on YouTube might come across them and find them funny. I put up homemade videos shot from my phone, that usually feature a cast of characters that I’ve created from old toys or other miscellaneous items, and they are all voiced by me.”

“Krazyed13” has 37 subscribers and 94 videos uploaded, the most viewed video being watched over four thousand times.

“I think that YouTube is a great place for anyone to make whatever types of videos they would like, but we should remember that we post videos there not to harm or scare viewers but rather to entertain and help with the spread of new ideas,” Kunz said. “This should be kept in the mind of any YouTuber before they make or post any video.”

Foschia described the ethical responsibility a creator has when uploading to YouTube.

“On a human level, in which you consider how every response might affect those around you and, taking into account Logan Paul’s younger viewers - be cognizant of what you show or say.”

While YouTube does a good job of spreading videos, Foschia said, it has other improvements to make.

“I don’t think enough attention has been paid to the ramifications of getting all this content ‘out there.’ YouTube has hired hundreds of humans to help monitor content, as well as take technical steps towards curbing offensiveness, but it is so tied up with being a user-generated content community that steps towards becoming more of a digital gatekeeper go against this spirit,” Foschia said. “[Our] task now is to use YouTube in positive ways, both as consumers and the braintrust […] Today, cat videos, tomorrow - who knows?”

Photo: Youtube, David Safin

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