22 year-old Logan Paul is one of the biggest YouTube stars in the world. His channels, TheOfficialLoganPaul and Logan Paul Vlogs have 4.4 million and 15.9 million subscribers respectively. This massive popularity fetched him sponsorships from global brands, and enabled him to start his own clothing line. According to Forbes, Paul earned $12.5 million in 2017. He had everything going on for him, until his recent visit to Japan.
In Japan’s Aokigahara forest, Paul stumbled upon the corpse of a suicide victim during a vlog shoot. He had to make a decision – should he stop recording or should he continue? He decided to do the latter. His usually exaggerated and lighthearted reactions, which played a major role in earning him widespread popularity, was also evident in this video, although he was visibly shocked. This sparked a global outrage. Though Paul later removed the video (it had over six million views by then) and apologized publicly, YouTube dropped him from its Google Preferred Ad Platform, and put projects involving him on hold. More than two weeks into the issue, a renewed debate on censorship mechanisms on contents uploaded on social media platforms, primarily video-sharing platforms like YouTube, and the moral and ethical responsibilities of YouTube stars, continues
Platforms like YouTube struggle to impose an ironclad policy owing to the fact that user-uploaded contents generate its revenue.
The traditional electronic and print media only allows for a selected number of people to publish and reach the public after an editorial process. YouTube and similar platforms changed that by providing everyone the opportunity to be seen and heard by the world. There are various filters that automatically block brashly unacceptable contents containing excessive violence, gore etc. However, sometimes it becomes tricky for the platform itself to unambiguously determine which contents should be blocked. Platforms like YouTube struggle to impose an ironclad policy owing to the fact that user-uploaded contents generate its revenue. This is evident from YouTube’s delayed response in penalising the 20-million odd subscriber strong Logan Paul's channel for violating community guidelines. The dilemma of YouTube is understandable. Of course the content was unacceptable, but if that is so, which other contents are unacceptable, too? Income from YouTube is obviously reliant on the amount of viewership. To make their videos stand out from the clutter, many YouTubers tend to resort to sensationalism to get more hits, while also trying to ensure that the contents don't cause serious offence and provoke backlash. This makes the whole affair complicated. Logan Paul’s lighthearted videos were not offending enough number of people till now, which made him feel secure enough to push the limits of acceptability. Consequently, his latest video has finally taken things ‘too far’, and has proven to be a PR disaster for him, potentially jeopardising his career.
But how far is too far? This question is relevant to Bangladesh too. According to BTRC, the number of internet subscribers in Bangladesh stood at 80.166 million at the end of November, 2017 – a significant rise from 66.779 million at the end of January, 2017. YouTube has reached millions of Bangladeshis in the rapidly digitizing nation. Many Bangladeshi YouTubers have hundreds of thousands of loyal followers, and they are faced with the same challenges, some of which are especially relevant to Bangladesh. Asif bin Azad of Bhai Brothers LTD., a highly popular YouTube Channel with over 370,000 subscribers and counting, believes that YouTubers should regularly study the analytics of their respective channels to get a clear understanding of their audience. This will help them to be aware of the kind of audience they are catering their contents to, and would enable them to not only make content that the viewers would like, but also help them refrain from making content that the audience may find disrespectful or offensive. Avoiding issues related to politics and religion in case of Bangladesh is also wise. Shouvik Ahmed of Gaan Friendz, another rapidly growing YouTube Channel with approximately 420,000 subscribers and counting, has a similar stance. He also highlighted the importance of avoiding sensitive topics involving racism, politics and religion. Creating content that may be perceived to be making fun of sensitive issues is also not the best of ideas. Content creators can be funny themselves if they want to be funny, but they should not make fun of issues that may spark controversies. It is important for YouTubers to understand the audience and culture that they are catering their contents to, and be respectful to them when creating content.