YouTube is again facing criticism after it responded to a controversial video by vlogger Logan Paul.
On Dec. 31, the vlogger published a YouTube video filmed in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, also known as “suicide forest” due to the large number of suicides that occur within its boundaries. The video depicted him and his crew reacting to a dead body hanging from a tree, and showed close-up shots of the body.
On Jan. 1, Paul apologized. The next day, he took down the video and issued a longer apology—which many criticized for displaying ads—and on Jan. 3, Paul said he was taking a break from YouTube “to reflect.”
In the week following Paul’s apologies, YouTube has largely remained silent.
“The company issued a short statement to YouTuber Philip DeFranco at the height of the outrage against Paul, one that many observers felt didn't really say much at all,” Syracuse.com reported.
Now, more than a week later, it issued an apology that many say lacked transparency and action.
On Tuesday, YouTube tweeted the following thread:
An open letter to our community:— YouTube (@YouTube) January 9, 2018
Many of you have been frustrated with our lack of communication recently. You’re right to be. You deserve to know what's going on.
Like many others, we were upset by the video that was shared last week.— YouTube (@YouTube) January 9, 2018
Suicide is not a joke, nor should it ever be a driving force for views. As Anna Akana put it perfectly: "That body was a person someone loved. You do not walk into a suicide forest with a camera and claim mental health awareness."— YouTube (@YouTube) January 9, 2018
We expect more of the creators who build their community on @YouTube, as we’re sure you do too. The channel violated our community guidelines, we acted accordingly, and we are looking at further consequences.— YouTube (@YouTube) January 9, 2018
It’s taken us a long time to respond, but we’ve been listening to everything you’ve been saying. We know that the actions of one creator can affect the entire community, so we’ll have more to share soon on steps we’re taking to ensure a video like this is never circulated again.— YouTube (@YouTube) January 9, 2018
The statement didn’t do much to quell the controversy. Journalists criticized YouTube for not taking responsibility for the situation—along with not outlining its plans to improve.
[FREE DOWNLOAD: 13 tips for preparing for a crisis]
In an article titled, “ YouTube offers non-apology over Logan Paul controversy,” TechCrunch’s managing editor Matt Burns wrote:
The statement spans five tweets and ends by saying the site will reveal steps it’s taking to prevent this from happening again. But as of publication, Logan Paul’s channel is still on YouTube, so whatever.
Polygon’s senior culture reporter, Julia Alexander, wrote an article titled, “YouTube’s open letter regarding Logan Paul is full of excuses, notownership.” In it, she wrote:
Between when Paul’s original video was published on Dec. 31, and the time it was taken down on Jan. 2, there were a series of events that occurred that had little to do with YouTube. An age-gate was reportedly instituted on the video by Paul; the YouTube moderation team allegedly reviewed the video after receiving a flag and deemed it OK; Paul’s video reached number 10 on trending without anyone from YouTube taking notice; and then Paul finally took the video down, not YouTube.
Many YouTube vloggers and viewers attacked the platform’s statement, as well:
You acted accordingly? Did you?— Jacksepticeye (@Jack_Septic_Eye) January 9, 2018
I really wish you guys were more competent in handling situations. 2017 was the worst year for YouTube. It's not too late to make 2018 the best!— Matt 📷 YouTube (@RowlWool) January 10, 2018
You guys need a new PR team. Why don’t you specify which creator it was that disappointed you? Tell us that it was Logan Paul. Admit to your mistake! There’s no harm in admitting!— Guinivere Clark (@GuinivereClark) January 10, 2018
While it’s good that they have said something not auto generated, we need more responses to Youtuber issues. Maybe then will the bond between platform and creators be restored. Otherwise, you’re keeping everyone in the dark. And that’ll only make things worse @YouTube— 🧀 FatCatSatSad 🧀 (@how2shitpost) January 10, 2018
You answered 10 days after the outrage, and Logan Paul's channel is still up.— the guy who knoes da wae (@dioksys) January 10, 2018
This isn't a lack of communication. You purposely waited for the issue to die out so you can make a blanket statement and pray that everything will be forgotten.
The recent controversy over Paul’s video isn’t a new crisis for YouTube, which continues to struggle with enforcing its community guidelines. The recent incident highlights the issue that both the platform and brand managers face when working with social media influencers.
YouTube's upload-anything-anytime ethos is constantly being challenged by the posting of videos containing inappropriate content and even depicting potentially illegal conduct. The company has at times struggled to enforce its policies prohibiting violent and gory videos.
"If a video is graphic, it can only remain on the site when supported by appropriate educational or documentary information and in some cases it will be age-gated," YouTube told CNN Tech when the Paul video first garnered attention.
So, what should be the next steps for a platform facing content controversy and a struggle with enforcing its policies?
Some say the proper action is to remove Paul from the platform. At time of publishing, a Change.org petition calling for YouTube to delete Paul’s channel has garnered nearly 468,000 signatures.
Others say YouTube must strive to be more transparent with how it doles out consequences and enforces its rules, which now seem to be arbitrarily handed out depending on the vlogger.
YouTube has a strict set of guidelines that come with clear consequences if those guidelines are broken. In the case of Logan Paul, because YouTube deemed his video to be in violation of community guidelines, he should have received a strike against his channel. This could result in monetization problems down the road and essentially put Paul on probation in YouTube’s eyes.
… The most common comparison being used right now is between PewDiePie, YouTube’s most popular creator, and Paul. When PewDiePie was discovered to have anti-Semitic imagery in a video, YouTube canceled the second season of his show, Scare PewDiePie, and doled out a number of other consequences. In the span of more than a week, YouTube seemingly hasn’t done anything to Paul’s channel, despite the company’s rules stating otherwise.
Along with setting a more transparent and fair system of punishment for breaking its rules, YouTube also can rebuild trust with its community of creators and viewers by clearly outlining its steps to “ensure a video like this is never circulated again.”
However, Burns and Alexander said the first step YouTube should take is owning up to its mistake—which includes explaining how and why it approved Paul’s video in the first place, and allowed it to garner more than 6 million views before Paul took it down.
“Paul has since apologized a second time, but now the focus must be on how and why YouTube did not remove the video,” Burns wrote.
“YouTube didn’t “act accordingly” — it didn’t act at all — but the company will never admit to it,” wrote Alexander.
How would you advise the platform to handle this continuing controversy, PR Daily readers?