On Dec. 31, YouTube star Logan Paul uploaded a video titled, “We Found a Dead Body in Japan’s Suicide Forest,” which caught the attention of viewers from around the world. It featured what appeared to be a dead body during his trip into Aokigahara, a forest widely known as Japan’s “suicide forest.”
The camera had zoomed in briefly, the face blurred, and Paul was heard shouting, “Yo, are you alive?” Paul and his friends were shown reacting with nervous laughter and jokes, and later in the video, he said that, “Suicide is not a joke,” and that comedy was his coping mechanism.
The video gained millions of views within its first day. Two days later, it was taken down from YouTube and Paul had released both a written and video apology.
“I didn’t do it for views,” Paul wrote. “I get views. I did it because I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet, not cause a monsoon of negativity.”
Lillie Younkins, a biological sciences major, said that Paul’s mockery of the body was disrespectful.
“It’s kind of appalling. I’ve never seen a dead person but still, that’s not right,” Younkins said.
The video began with Paul warning viewers of its graphic content and saying, “This definitely marks a moment in YouTube history.” Still, people took to social media to express disapproval about his disregard for a sensitive issue.
Public figures, such as other YouTube creators and even celebrities have commented on the controversy. Actor Aaron Paul said that he could not believe young people looked up to the vlogger. Sophie Turner claimed that the apology was “self-praising,” and Philip DeFranco, one of YouTube’s top creators, wanted Paul’s video to be a “teachable moment.”
Though the original video has been taken down, other clips remain on the internet,including footage from other parts of Paul’s trip to Japan. He’s shown to be in Tokyo, wearing Japanese attire and then dressing up as Pokemon characters with friends, pulling various pranks and tricks on strangers. There are a few moments when Japanese police are present.
Hiroko Harada is the director of the Montgomery Dickson Center for Japanese Language and Culture. She says that, while she did not see the video and only read about Paul, she didn’t want to watch it.
“I don’t understand his popularity. He appears to be a careless thinker,” Harada said.
She also mentioned that many Japanese people do not appreciate foreigners that visit and behave as they want.
“I think he is not only annoying to Japanese, but also to many other decent foreigners who come to Japan to appreciate the culture,” Harada said.
Over the next several days, the backlash continued. Online petitions circulated, pushing for Paul’s ban from YouTube and gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures. On Jan. 10, more than a week after the video’s initial upload, YouTube released an official statement, acknowledging that people had been angry about the company’s silence and that suicide “is not a joke.”
“We expect more of the creators who build their community on @YouTube, as we’re sure you do too,” YouTube tweeted.
The company further explained that it was looking at more consequences for Paul, who has already had projects put on hold and removed from the Google Preferred program, an advertising network, and his YouTube Red series.
“It’s shocking to think that he’s misconstrued the idea of social media… and that people would watch that and support that,” Sophie Jones, languages major, said.
Despite the public criticism towards Paul’s video, Eric Boyer, a training coordinator with the Alaska Training Cooperative through UAA’s Center for Human Development, says that talking about suicide publicly is tough.
“If people just are aware of the impact that videos, pictures, articles have, they can be really, really helpful or they can be really, really damaging,” Boyer said.
Part of Boyer’s job is to provide education in public health, which comprises of suicide and mental health. Suicide should be discussed, he says, but it’s also important to “point people to where help is.”
Though Paul has already faced repercussions, there are some people who think more needs to be done.
Ihro Raguindin, who is frequently on YouTube and has his own channel, hopes this will be an example for others.
“I’m just hoping that eventually, this serves as a lesson for him and other big, influential people on the internet to be a better example and not go over certain boundaries of the internet and society,” Raguindin said.
“He should stop posting anything,” Harada said. “Even his apology.”
The following are a number of resources for concerns about mental health and suicide prevention.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: available 24/7 and help can be offered in English and Spanish (1-800-273-TALK and www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org)
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (1-800-985-5990)
- The Compassionate Friends (www.compassionatefriends.org)