How YouTube stars send the wrong message to their impressionable fans

In 2018 Tech Issue, Business & Tech, Opinion
(Dalia Quiroz / Daily Titan)

YouTube started its new year of content on a low note with the release of Logan Paul’s video titled, “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…”

In the video, Paul and his “squad” acted like utter buffoons when they found the body of a man who had recently committed suicide. They laughed (albeit uncomfortably), made disrespectful jokes (“What, you’ve never stood next to a dead guy?”) and ultimately didn’t turn the camera off as soon as they found the body.

YouTube has promised recently, as it has many times before, that they are taking steps to prevent further incidents from happening; guided only by the risk of losing their most valuable advertising deals if they fail.

Unless YouTube guarantees children can’t stumble onto disturbing content, regardless of whether or not their intentions are in the right place, parents need to pay closer attention to what their children are watching.

YouTube has been trying for almost a year to push content that is more suitable for advertisers and in turn, will reach a larger and possibly younger audience. But Paul’s video is one of many that prove it has been doing a miserable job at catching videos that are potentially harmful to children and adolescents, not to mention upsetting even for adults.

In the past year alone, YouTube has been dealing with controversies like the DaddyOFive channel, where two parents pulled cruel pranks on their children in order to amass a following.

The YouTube Kids app faced serious scrutiny last November over violent and inappropriate skits and cartoons featuring popular children’s show characters that were slipping past the safety filters that had been in place since 2015.

But beyond these troubling instances, YouTube content and the rise of social media stars still has a significant effect on children and young adults.

Cynthia King, CSUF communications professor, says that a rewards and punishments system plays a big part in how people react to social media of all types, not just YouTube.

“Social learning theory suggests that we watch things and if things are being rewarded that makes us more likely to do them,” King said. “We see all these people becoming famous and getting all these accolades for what they do on social media, so we think, ‘I want to do that too, because look what it gets me. It gets me attention, it gets me what I want.’”

What does it say to kids when a well-known content creator releases an inappropriate video and it does very little in hurting his channel?

Paul did eventually receive financial backlash from YouTube through the removal of his upcoming YouTube Red Series and from Google Prefered premium advertising, but not until after the suicide video made it to the trending page, eventually being taken down by Paul himself, not YouTube.

In his original apology, which was posted on Twitter, Paul describes his daily vlogging as the equivalent to producing a fifteen-minute TV show every day. If this were true, then his equivalent to a board of producers should all be fired and the show cancelled.  

The sheer amount of flippancy that goes into releasing a video of the likes is ridiculous. First, there’s the actual event where the level of disrespect and lack of awareness for the situation is unmatched, regardless of Paul’s discomfort.

Second, the video had to be edited either by Paul himself or an outside editor, reviewed, and then uploaded to YouTube, and because Paul uploads daily, this was probably done without sufficient thought.

King says part of the problem lies with the fact that the process behind YouTube videos is so much faster than traditional platforms.

At the same time, if YouTube were to quit its dependency on computers and algorithms to catch potentially unsafe content and put actual humans on the job, it would take up time and money and in turn might change the way its users interface with YouTube’s now free content.

“There’s a concern that you don’t know what you’re going to stumble on,” King said. “It’s not the same as a movie where they put all the ratings up there and you know coming into it, this is what’s happening. You just click on something and there it is.”

Parents need to know that YouTube is not the equivalent to watching traditional media such as movies or TV and should be not be treated as such, and until YouTube can do a better job at regulating content specifically targeted at kids and adolescents it needs to stop promoting that it’s fit for families.

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