From the moment it was brought online, YouTube had the potential to revolutionize the way that people sought out and interacted with video content.
As the years went on, YouTube proved that it could not only be an incredible way for viewers to consume content, but that it could be an industry disrupting force in user-created content. Now, the red-bubble of a logo is synonymous with YouTube channels that cover just about any topic under the sun. But there is an encroaching dark side.
The recent controversy over Logan Paul’s Japan videos are only the tip of the iceberg, but they have served to draw the public’s attention to the concept of YouTube personalities monetizing off their ethically questionable antics. For those unaware, YouTube personality Logan Paul – a 22-year-old white American male who rose to popularity over his “goofy and silly antics” has come under fire for his video that featured a corpse found in Japan’s famous “suicide forest.”
Logan Paul has since “apologized” over twitter, claiming that he uploaded the video not to get views, but to spread suicide awareness. Yet the most troubling part of the story remains, staring us stark in the eyes: Logan Paul is profiting off the entire situation. The controversy has led to a massive influx of individuals hunting down the footage to loop themselves into the story, which means one thing: more views means more moolah for Mr. Paul.
This comes only months after YouTube made sweeping changes to its monetization policy, drastically affecting the viability of making a living to some YouTubers. While YouTube has claimed that all the changes were all implemented in favor of promoting original, high quality content, the rule still holds that clicks are king. Just take a moment and peel back the veil of what lies behind the “trending” section of YouTube, and witness what type of culture is beginning to brew.
A culture where the loudest and most obnoxious is the most popular. True to the subject matter, the largest demographic of viewers that these sorts of channels attract are impressionable adolescents. While doses of vapid humor can bring levity to anyone’s day, a culture that consumes solely it will find itself inevitably craving for more depraved acts of entertainment. To say that Logan Paul’s video was a “spur of the moment” decision made at the time by the filmmakers is ridiculous. Despite our desire to not call it what it is, the entire film crew new that such images uploaded online would spark a massive reaction.
We are in a very bizarre place when it comes to content marketing and audience identification. The hyper-aggressive marketing tactics of the past have only improved through the addition of data-gathering and processing practices that nearly every major company has adopted. Now, companies, marketers, and everyone in between can create picture-perfect profiles of what precisely their ideal customer and audience looks like.
Microtargeting firms and narrative-changing practices are operating with brutal efficiency and have been for some time now. Many factors enmesh with others, and its tempting to see limit our worldviews to achieve a comfortable sense of living – but ultimately it is the wrong one.
Despite our best wishes, we are still animals. On some level, the base, the simple, and the controversial will always sink their tendrils in and find a way to stimulate us. But when systems are enacted that allow those who stoop to the lowest possible rung to profit, the system must be reworked. And yet, we all know that this is merely a pattern that has existed for as long as we have walked upright. The most callous, loud, and boisterous always find a way to play the crowd to their advantage – and they do.
While we should hold YouTube accountable for the content which they allow to remain online and monetized, they are only a small factor in the grand issue. The rest of the equation is us. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we create the demand for this type of content, and in turn drive and lead content creators to believe that this sort of behavior is socially acceptable. Unfortunately, when the individual in question is lavishly rewarded in the form of monetary compensation, that is precisely the image that it sends.
There is no question that the moral integrity of Logan Paul and his cohort are under suspect for the fact such an abominable video remains, and while there exists a sliver of hope that some sort of justice can be done within this situation, the reality is that Logan Paul and his channel are likely to receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
It falls to each one of us, then, to take a stand for the sort of content that we wish to see out there on the world wide web. YouTube channels are no different than the companies which produce much of our culture in the forms of television shows and films – sure, they may be independent from any sort of large corporate structure, but their potential for influence is huge.
As we move forward into an age fraught with uncertainty and threatened by the very tools which we’ve developed, we must remain vigilant that we do not become the victims of our own making. A massive part of that is going to be the realization that we cannot depend on algorithms to do our work for us. The more that we attempt to pawn off responsibility onto autonomous software, the more we risk ushering in a generation of individuals that don’t know how to do anything but react to the stimulus that they are given.
While such a person would be invaluable to the doctrine of an authoritarian government, the reality is that we are, for as long as we remain within this mortal coil, the masters of our own fates. And we’re better than allowing idiotic and sophomoric pranks to reign atop one of the most interesting innovations to come from the Age of the Internet.