Technology can better the world. But, if it is not used responsibly, technology can negatively impact society.
A recent example of this is a video uploaded by a YouTube star on Dec. 31, which shows his crew walking into the Aokigahara — the Japanese forest where dozens of people commit suicide every year. The video, which many called exploitative, included footage of a dead body and warnings about “suicide not being the answer” interspersed with jokes typical to the YouTuber’s irreverent style.
Many condemned the insensitive video, which was especially jarring for people who had experienced the loss of a loved one or had contemplated suicide. The YouTuber took down the video after 24 hours amid the backlash, having been viewed 6.3 million times. During his second apology, Logan Paul, the YouTuber, posted a contrite video where he asked for forgiveness from the victim and his family.
“I should have never posted the video; I should have put the cameras down,” he said. “For my fans who are defending my actions, please don’t. They do not deserve to be defended.”
I sincerely hope the young man learns and grows from this experience. Suicide is nothing to make light of, and studies show that sensationalizing it can be dangerous. (If you saw the video and were disturbed by it, you can talk to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in either English 1-800-273-8255 or Spanish 1-888-628-9454.)
What this incident represents is worrisome. It seems like this everything-must-be-shocking culture has desensitized us to expect things to be surprising and “entertaining,” without considering its effects on others.
According to a 2015 study by Variety, eight out of 10 influencers for 13- to 17-year-olds are YouTubers. With young teenagers looking up to “vloggers” (video bloggers) more than traditional celebrities, YouTubers have a huge responsibility to those who follow, trust and want to emulate them.
But viewers also have the responsibility to reject content they consider cruel, harmful or disrespectful. Otherwise, we blur the line and fail to keep them accountable.
In the case of Logan Paul, he took it several steps too far. But, when defending him, many of his young fans seemed not to realize what was wrong with the video. It almost felt like — as long as he went back to vlogging daily — everything would be forgiven.
The problem with our happily partaking in a “cult of the shocking” is that we encourage YouTubers to make everything a spectacle, be it for the views, attention or, often, money. “People may want to punish Paul’s crassness and disrespect, but he, like every other social-media star, was responding to the incentives we’ve set up,” said The Atlantic. (Paul did not attempt to make money off the first video.)
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of videos where people risk their safety or mock something really serious, like suicide or abuse or violence. The cult of shock also can make people bystanders focused on filming unfortunate events before helping, or turn an otherwise peaceful fan into someone who sends threatening comments to anyone attacking their favorite YouTuber. Don’t fall into the trap of mob mentality.
If your friend or younger sibling is a loyal fan of a YouTuber who is problematic, help them to realize the difference between authentically surprising and exploitative or unethical.
There is tons of tasteful content in YouTube: music, documentaries, tutorials and positive role models. Find it and spread positivity. Technology can empower people to find a community and a sense of belonging, to learn more from people from all over the world and to enact positive change.
Maria-Pia Negro Chin is bilingual associate editor at Maryknoll Magazine.