Sunday Mornings with Rania: The Logan Paul Debate

To be honest, I didn't know who he was until news broke. Logan Paul, the famous YouTube star with 15 million subscribers, was nowhere on my radar. But then he made a decision that erupted in a national debate. The unraveling of it all was fascinating to me and one I encourage you to think about as well.

Backstory

Paul, a young, handsome social media star was not just followed by millions but also starring in TV series and films produced by Red, YouTube's ad-free subscription streaming service. He was a revenue generating magnet for the mega-media platform with a promising future. But while Paul simultaneously made his living out of bold, live, online living, his decision to share an image of a dead man while he was walking through Japan's Aokigahara Forest on December 31, 2017 ultimately led to his demise.

The national reaction was positive and negative, settling and dizzying. The positive (not in my opinion, mind you) - in a media-driven world where any media, good or bad, is good, Paul is now more famous than ever. The negative - Paul's horrible decision, his lack of understanding the complexities of mental health and of the deep sadness suicide means for so many, led to the cancelling of his programs by YouTube. Settling because we saw a corporate giant respond and reprimand appropriately but dizzying because the very nature and essence of that corporate giant is to encourage and reward bold, raw, real-time, and live-at-all-times streaming.

As a grown woman and mother, I'm confused. It's no wonder that Paul, a young man, is confused too.

Am I defending him? No. But do I blame him alone? NO.

Irony

Here's the deal. I'm tired of overlooking the irony. YouTube encourages increased viewership. The more views you get, the more YouTube wants to support and feature you. You see parents forcing kids into the spotlight with the hope of millions of subscribers and a YouTube deal. The more sensational, the more outrageous, the more outlandish, the greater your viewership will be... 

Sure, in the aftermath of a bad decision, YouTube is up in arms saying: "Paul's video violated the company's "policy" [which] prohibits violent or gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner. We partner with safety groups such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to provide educational resources that are incorporated in our YouTube Safety Center." 

The policy is great on paper but very frustrating. These platforms make extremely lucrative earnings off users who are bold, shocking and continuous. These platforms are also employing developers who study the habits of men, women and children to ensure (ENSURE) that they will continually come back for more. Developers who understand:

  • Our need for social validation. A Facebook like or YouTube subscriber or Instagram follower makes us happy. Many of us chase that feeling and will engage in more to get more online traction. 
  • Our fear of missing out. In a study by Dr. Stephanie Rutledge, a person's desire to collaborate drives online engagement with 67 percent of users say that they're afraid they'll "miss something". 
  • Our ego. 80 percent of our online conversations are about self-disclosure, compared to 30 to 40 percent of offline conversations. Think of how many times we update our status or post pictures of ourselves! And,
  • Our brain chemistry. Social networks are physically and psychologically addictive. A Harvard University study indicates that self-satisfying online engagement fires up the same part of the brain as does an addictive substance. 

And the developers are right on. Look at the numbers... There are:

  • Over 2 billion social network users
  • Over 500 million tweets sent every day
  • Over 70 million images uploaded on Instagram every day and
  • Well over 300 hours of video uploaded per minute on YouTube 

Now What?

It's time these major social media platforms, companies that are thriving financially and gaining market share by the second, stop creating the problem and then punishing users for falling right into a trap almost inevitably set for them.

These companies, along with us, the community, must be talking about (especially with our children) responsible posting. We must talk and talk again about mental health issues, especially what to do if we see them popping up online; about the repercussions to others when posting gets out of hand or is inappropriate; about short-and long-term consequences for minors who live their lives online and so much more.

We owe this to ourselves and to our kids. Sharing the lesson will help someone else make the right decision and that's a win-win for all of us.

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston