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Logan Paul filmed a dead body – on YouTube, there is no line that cannot be crossed

Like cockroaches after a nuclear explosion, YouTube stars will always survive. 

Celebrity YouTuber Logan Paul has apologised after sharing footage of an apparent suicide victim’s dead body with his 15 million YouTube subscribers. The 22-year-old filmed himself joking, laughing, and drinking after finding the body in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, an area where many people have died by suicide.  

Wearing a green hat featuring an alien character from the children’s film Toy Story, Logan can be seen supressing laughter after filming the body, clothes, and personal items of the victim (their face was blurred out). “Buckle the fuck up because you are never going to see a video like this again,” were the words the vlogger used to introduce the video, which has now been deleted.

Nearly 600,000 people “liked” the video after it was uploaded on Sunday and before it was deleted (either by YouTube or by Logan) today. The footage was removed after a backlash which saw the video branded “disgusting” and “disrespectful” by the wider public, but YouTuber Philip DeFranco points out that Logan’s core audience seemed unperturbed by the vlog. Celebrities and other prominent YouTubers are now calling for Logan to be banned from the site, with Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul branding the vlogger “pure trash”. Yet although YouTube’s guidelines mean it is happy to take down a video, taking down a star seems to be an entirely different matter.

There is no such thing as a disgraced YouTuber. In the 11 years the site has operated, many YouTubers have been disgraced, obviously, but they rarely remain so. Last year, family vloggers Michael and Heather Martin lost custody of two of their children when the wider public discovered their abusive “prank” videos. In September, the pair were sentenced to five years of probation for child neglect. In October, YouTube gifted Heather a Silver Play Button, a framed trophy awarded to YouTubers who surpass 100,000 subscribers.

The Martins aren’t alone in continuing to thrive on YouTube after a scandal (Michael still has nearly one and a half million subscribers on his main channel, DaddyOFive). On separate occasions in February and September 2017, the owner of the most-subscribed YouTube channel, PewDiePie, was condemned by the public for his anti-Semitic content and use of racial slurs. By the end of last year, he was the sixth highest paid star on the site.

Alex Day, a British vlogger and musician who admitted to having “manipulative relationships with women” after 14 women and teenage girls accused him of manipulation and abuse also continues to make videos, and additionally earns £536 a month from fans on the subscription platform Patreon. Sam Pepper, who denied allegations of rape in 2014 but apologised for a prank that saw him promoting sexual harassment by pinching actresses' behinds, currently has 2.3 million subscribers. His most recent video is entitled “HOW TO BUY ALCOHOL UNDERAGE *IT WORKED*”.

Logan Paul’s video is not a watershed for YouTube – it is just another day on the site. Last month, New Statesman reported on amateur detectives on YouTube who unethically delve into the personal lives of murderers and their victims in order to “solve” crimes. Some of these videos involve CCTV footage of murders, while others expose the names, locations, and occupations of victims before gruesomely describing their deaths.

It remains to be seen whether Logan Paul’s actions will provoke real change on YouTube. Jackie Newton is a journalism lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University who researches the ethics of tragedy reporting and authored the book Reporting Bad News: Negotiating the Boundaries between Intrusion and Fair Representation. Newton hopes Logan’s transgression will prompt YouTube to act.

“This underlines the need for YouTubers and all with a social media audience to have some basic grasp of the ethics of communication,” she says. “Journalism is a profession which grew up with a public interest role and tradition, so there are codes and benchmarks for all those practicing. By contrast YouTube ‘trusts’ its content providers to be respectful and offers ‘guidance’. That’s a big ask for a young person operating outside the norms of professional communication.”

YouTube’s guidelines have repeatedly failed the YouTube community and the public at large. For years, videos of child abuse have garnered millions of views on the site, with real change only occurring in November 2017, after New Statesman and other mainstream media outlets reported on the trend. Only then did YouTube tighten its child endangerment policies, banning the channel ToyFreaks, in which a father filmed his daughters in pain. It seems unlikely that YouTube was unaware of this channel before the backlash, as it was among one of the 100 most-viewed on the site.

And while YouTube’s policies may say one thing, their algorithms say another. Sensationalised content is among the most popular on the site, with Logan Paul’s video featured on YouTube’s “Trending” page before it was deleted. A decade ago, YouTube had a “Featured Videos” page where it showcased high-quality videos that it felt deserved to reach a wider audience. Now, quantity is valued over quality, and YouTubers have to resort to clickbait in order to garner enough views to be shown off on the site’s homepage.

Yet even if YouTube does act in regards to Logan Paul, it is unlikely the star will disappear. While YouTube can delete, ban, and demonetise, this new breed of social media star is nothing if not resilient. When YouTuber Endrit Ferizolli was jailed for staging a heist at the National Portrait Gallery, he took to Snapchat to give a tour of his cell. Logan Paul’s young fans still staunchly defend their hero, with comments on his most recent video reading: “you can support the youtuber, but not his act” and “I know what he did was purely Disrespectful but I can’t hate this man over that after loving him for so much longer I hope his other true fans will stay with him”. On Twitter, replies to his apology statement read: “U did nothing wrong ppl r taking it too far”, “Come on guys give him another chance”, and “you did the right thing logan”. Like a decapitated cockroach after a nuclear explosion, perhaps YouTube stars can never truly die.

YouTube did not respond to multiple requests to comment, but a statement it allegedly gave to YouTuber Phillip DeFranco expresses sympathy for the suicide victim’s family. “YouTube prohibits violent or gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner,” it says, focusing on the video – not its creator. Logan Paul’s apology, tweeted this morning, promises that: “It won’t happen again.”

On YouTube, there is no line that cannot be crossed. No matter their transgressions, the disgraced YouTubers of the last five years all have one crucial thing in common – they continue to make videos on the site. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

Image: Getty
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Man makes $4bn in two days explaining Facebook to old people

Mark Zuckerberg's supposed blockbuster grilling by Congress was the bust it was always going to be, and he went home victorious largely by default.

On Tuesday a crowd gathered on social media for what promised to be a generation-defining moment, like the moon landing, or the OJ bronco chase. There was an air of tension. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, was about to be dragged before the public and made to answer the Questions Of The People.

Many tuned in expecting a spectacle: namely, that of a socially awkward – albeit spectatularly wealthy – geek (like the one portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network) get absolutely tarred and feathered. Twitter filled with jokes as the crowd grew impatient. Some of them were even good.

They underestimated Zuckerberg. Expectations for his performance before a series of committees of both houses of the US congress started out lower than subterranean. Yet even at the start, the 33-year-old billionaire did look absolutely terrified. Blinking vacantly in the strobe-flashes of the cameras, his expression while he sat listening to the senators’ seemingly-endless introductory remarks was not so much lost as “404 not found”.

But over the course of an often-agonising ten total hours of testimony before a joint sitting of the Senate commerce, science, and transportation committee, and the judiciary committee on Tuesday, and the House energy and commerce committee on Wednesday, Zuckerberg managed to come out not just unscathed but victorious.

In recent years, the Facebook CEO has made an effort to learn to be a more disciplined public speaker and a more responsive interviewee. On top of that, in preparation for this appearance Zuckerberg hired a crack team of outside consultants and lawyers to coach him, and even held mock hearings to hone his answers and manner, the New York Times reported. His investment paid dividends: Zuckerberg spoke with a glossy confidence and gave an effective and assured – though somewhat robotic – performance which left many of the lawmakers visibly charmed. He largely avoided answering questions he didn’t want to, and no lawmaker was able to press him to the point where he became visibly physically uncomfortable, as he has in the past.

It was possible to watch the Zuckerberg charm offensive play out in real time, not just on social media but on the financial markets. As soon as he began to talk, Facebook stock began to rise, and apart from a bit of a dip on Wednesday morning it pretty much never stopped. On Tuesday Zuckerberg’s confidence before the Senate committee gave Facebook shares their best single day of trading in two years, closing 4.5 per cent up. By the time Zuckerberg finished answering questions on Wednesday afternoon the stock price increase meant his own personal net worth had gone up by just under $4bn.

Far from the meltdown that many tuned in expecting to see, viewers were treated to Zuckerberg dealing patiently and even-temperedly with questions that occasionally betrayed a lack of even a basic conception of how the internet works, let alone Facebook. Some of his interrogators, especially in the Senate hearing on Tuesday, barely seemed to understand their own prepared questions even as they read them aloud.

This allowed Zuckerberg to get off considerably more lightly than he appears to have been expecting. A tantalising glimpse into the hearing we could have had was given to us when Zuckerberg accidentally left his sheet of notes open on the table when he left the hearing-room for a break. The notes, which were photographed, show that he was prepared for broader existential questions on subjects like workplace diversity and European privacy regulation which sadly, in the end, went largely unasked.

Instead, some lawmakers used their time to throw dozens of redundant questions to which we already knew the answers. Zuckerberg at times looked like he was struggling to suppress his obvious delight at answering questions which contained fundamental errors, causing howls of frustration on Twitter from the watching tech press, who understood the opportunity missed. Other times, lawmakers threw softballs, leading to such scintillating exchanges as the following, between Zuckerberg and Dan Sullivan, a Republican senator from Alaska:

SULLIVAN: Mr Zuckerberg, quite a story, right? Dorm room to the global behemoth that you guys are. Only in America, would you agree with that?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, mostly in America.

SULLIVAN: You couldn't – you couldn't do this in China, right? Or, what you did in 10 years.

ZUCKERBERG: Well – well, Senator, there are – there are some very strong Chinese Internet companies.

SULLIVAN: Right, but you're supposed to answer “yes” to this question.

The main problem was the format didn't lend itself to a genuine search for insight. That's because any time it got half-way interesting, such as in an early exchange with South Dakota senator John Thune on the technical and linguistic difficulties involved in teaching AI bots how to accurately spot hate-speech, the dialogue would be abruptly cut off as each successive legislator ran up against their four-minute time limit.

Some legislators didn’t even bother trying to ask key questions about privacy and data protection, but instead decided to fawn or grandstand. Ted Cruz took an audaciously pompous line of questioning about how he felt Facebook was biased against the political right – without mentioning, of course that he actually ranked among Cambridge Analytica’s political clients.

The lack of coordination and preparation among his interlocutors allowed Zuckerberg time and again to cast Facebook as a company exists only to make people's lives better now and forever, rather than as a for-profit surveillance organisation. Time was wasted explaining over and over that, no, Facebook does not literally “sell data”, though John Cornyn, a senator from Texas, did pull off probably Tuesday night’s only true zinger with his muttered riposte: “well, you clearly rent it”.

There were some exceptions. California Democratic senator Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, almost drew blood with a searing, sustained enquiry into whether there had been, when the company learned that user data had been shared with Cambridge Analytica, “a discussion that resulted in a decision not to inform your users”. In one of the few moments of the entire proceeding in which Zuckerberg found himself on the back foot, Harris pressed home the question a brutal seven times before her allotted four minutes were up.

His appearance before the House committee on Wednesday was testier in general but not much more enlightening. Anna Eshoo, a Democratic representative from California, scolded Zuckerberg for the opacity of the site’s terms and conditions, telling him: “you have to make it transparent, clear, in pedestrian language, just once, ‘This is what we will do with your data. Do you want this to happen, or not?’” Others pressed Zuckerberg for action controlling the sale of opioids on the Facebook platform. Zuckerberg nodded, smiled, and made the correct engaging noises at the appropriate times.

Despite his polish, the moments when Zuckerberg came closest to slipping up his mistakes were largely own goals rather than the result of incisive questioning. One particularly embarassing slip-up came during the Senate hearing when he accidentally answered “yes” to the question of whether the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election had served Facebook with subpoenas. Scrambling, he hastily muddied the waters a few moments later with: “actually, let me clarify that. I actually am not aware of a subpoena. I believe that there may be, but I know we're working with them.”

Mostly, though, Zuckerberg was poised enough to avoid any question he didn’t want to answer either by promising to “have people look into it and get back to you” or with a robotically careful line like “I am not specifically aware of that.” If faced with a tough question, he could simply run down the clock for four minutes until the questioner's time ran out. And the more he talked, the more Facebook stock soared.

In the end, the most interesting part of the hearing wasn’t what was said in the room itself but in watching it all play out on social media, where commentators from the two different worlds of technology and politics collided at the same real-time event. The conversation was split right down the middle into two distinct groups: those mainly frustrated and confused by Zuckerberg’s jargon-laden technobabble, and those mainly frustrated and confused by the lawmakers’ inability to understand the basic working principles of Facebook or even the internet – though mostly they agreed with each other on their distaste for Ted Cruz.

If nothing else, it was illuminating to see just how wide the gulf between those two worlds was.

Nicky Woolf is a freelance writer based in the US who has formerly worked for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.