He’s faked his own murder, gifted his roommate a $20,000 Rolex for no reason, and kidnapped his brother’s girlfriend. Who is he? 22-year-old Logan Paul, a YouTube celebrity with 20 million subscribers across two YouTube channels and millions of dollars in influencer deals via big brands like Walmart, Dunkin Donuts, and more.
But now, Paul’s lucrative internet career is in disarray following a video he posted featuring a human corpse. Many believe that Paul’s career as an influencer is finished and that he represents the type of disastrous collaborator brands should avoid. Others argue that Paul, as a sensationalist, attracts enormous millennial and Gen Z audiences and is therefore worth the risk as a brand collaborator.
Here we’ll break down the fallout of Paul’s controversial video and analyze its implications for YouTube, brands, and the wider influencer industry.
December 21, 2017: Paul posts a video of a man’s body in Japan, inciting criticism across the internet. The video showed Paul and friends in the Aokigahara forest, a Japanese destination known to be a frequent site of suicides. Millions viewed the video and for a period, it appeared on YouTube’s trending page. Many described it as “disrespectful” and “disgusting.” Japan is also known for having one of the highest suicide rates among developed countries.
January 1, 2018: The following day Paul issues a multi-paragraph apology on Twitter. Within the tweet he states, “I intended to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention,” and also says, “It won’t happen again.”
January 2, 2018: Paul posts a second apology on YouTube with a 1-minute 44-second video entitled “So Sorry.” In the video he says, “I want to apologize to the internet, I want to apologize to anyone who’s seen the video, I want to apologize to anyone who has been affected or touched by mental illness, or depression or suicide. But most importantly I want to apologize to the victim and his family.”
January 2, 2018: On the same day, YouTube issues an official apology statement addressing the video. The statement is released via Twitter.
January 10, 2018: YouTube pulls Paul’s channels from Google Preferred, an ad revenue program exclusive to the platform’s most popular channels (top 5%). In addition, a YouTube representative reports that Paul won’t appear in season four of the YouTube Red Series “Foursome,” and his other YouTube Red project “The Thinning” is now on hold. YouTube receives backlash for waiting too long (11 days) to address Paul’s video.
January 24, 2018: Paul posts a video entitled, “Suicide: Be Here Tomorrow,” marking an end to his 22-day break from the platform. In the video, Paul speaks with a suicide survivor, the director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the founder of the Alo House Recovery Center. He also pledges to donate one million dollars to various suicide prevention organizations and outlines five steps to suicide prevention.
February 1, 2018: Paul participates in his first television interview following the incident. In the ABC News Good Morning America interview, he discusses the backlash, being dropped from Google Preferred and his plans moving forward.
February 5, 2018: Paul posts a second controversial vlog entitled, “THE PAULS RESPOND TO THE CSI FIGHT! **called out**,” in which he tasers two dead rats and removes a live fish from water in order to “perform CPR” on the animal. Critics remark the video demonstrates Paul’s failure to learn from his previous mistake.
February 8, 2018: PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment Animals) publishes a tweet condemning the video.
February 9, 2018: On its official YouTube Creators Twitter account, YouTube tweets that it has temporarily suspended ads on both of Paul’s channels due to his “recent pattern of behavior.”
In a second tweet, YouTube also leaves an apologetic open letter to its community that includes statements such as, “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.”
On the same day, a YouTube spokesperson also informs CNN that although the decision to suspend ads on Paul’s channels was one the company didn’t take lightly, “We believe he has exhibited a pattern of behavior in his videos that makes his channel not only unsuitable for advertisers but also potentially damaging to the broader creator community.”
February 20, 2018: Between February 9th and 20th, Paul returns to his daily vlogging schedule and posts 13 videos. On February 20, he posts a video, “Moving forward…” in which he informs fans that he will be off of YouTube for the next seven days to work on other projects.
Obviously, the Logan Paul controversy has negatively affected more than just Logan Paul’s reputation. YouTube was also criticized for taking so long to address the issue and penalize Paul. But this isn’t the first time (nor likely the last time) YouTube has experienced backlash for its failure to respond to creator controversies.
Nevertheless, the platform does appear to be working to respond more quickly to creator incidents and concerns. Case in point, YouTube acknowledged the time it took to respond to Paul’s video in an open letter, and Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl participated in a candid interview with Casey Neistat discussing the incident. Ultimately, this may have been the push that YouTube needed to improve its PR efforts, which serves to boost creator and advertising partner confidence in the platform.
Logan Paul is one of the biggest social media influencers who has built a highly successful career through extravagant and sensationalist social media content. Although almost all agree the suicide video crossed a moral line, some pragmatists point out that Paul and other popular influencers attract large audiences precisely because of their over-the-top stunts.
Notably, Paul’s audience hasn’t left him since this controversy: he published a video on March 11, 2018 that has garnered over 6.4 million views. The same video features a YouTube pre-roll ad, indicating that YouTube has lifted the ad suspension on his channel.
Evidently, Logan Paul continues to bring more gains, i.e., revenue, than losses for YouTube and collaborating brands. Despite the widespread backlash, Paul still attracts a large audience, maintaining his clout among specific demographics that brands are clamoring to reach.
Paul remains as popular as ever because of his divisive content. Clearly, people are drawn to experiences evoking a response akin to “I want to look away but I can’t.”
However, brands should proceed with extreme caution when working with controversial influencers. It’s crucial to be fully prepared with a media crisis plan. It’s also wise to include contract contingencies that provide for an easy dissolution should a controversy arise that has significant and lasting adverse effects on the influencer’s popularity. Lastly, brands should include legal protections in the event an influencer’s controversial actions result in civil or criminal litigation.