My mom is an expert at writing finally crafted letters of customer dissatisfaction. Throughout my childhood and beyond whenever my mom received poor service, she would sit down and compose a letter (these days it’s an email) and send it off to whatever corporate giant had failed to deliver on its promise of quality service. More often than not she would receive a reply, printed on corporate letterhead apologizing and enclosing a voucher or a coupon or some other token of appreciation for her business.
I’ve been thinking about that traditional relationship between consumers and businesses as I have watched the Logan Paul YouTube debacle play out.
Logan Paul is Internet famous. He stars in his own YouTube channel that boasts over 15 million followers. He and his brother Jake are this generation’s version of Jackass, bros who film themselves doing stupid and oftentimes dangerous stunts and pranks for the amusement of others.
Over the holidays, Logan went for a walk with his film crew through Japan’s Aokigahara Forest, which is colloquially known as ‘the suicide forest’ and to his great excitement, he and his crew found the body of someone who had killed themselves by hanging. The world knows this because rather than turn off the camera, he filmed both the body and his reaction, giggling about the scene, and then posted it to his YouTube channel where it immediately started gathering likes – over 500,000 by the time Paul took it down just over 24 hours after it had gone up.
Because of his great popularity, YouTube automatically added Paul’s video to its recommended list, which is where my 12-year-old daughter saw it promoted, while watching one of her favourite YouTube stars Alex Wassabi on New Year’s Eve. The thumbnail that she saw included the headline “We found a dead body in the Japanese suicide forest…” and a screenshot of Logan, looking shocked, in front of the dead man, his face blurred. Vox grabbed a screenshot and you can see it here.
“Yeah, I saw it but don’t worry Mom, I didn’t click on it,” she said when I asked about it on New Year’s Day after I read about it.
Now, if my daughter had been exposed to a disturbing image in the physical world my recourse as a parent would be both clear and respected. I would be able to write or speak with a company representative and that representative would feel a responsibility to respond. A parent’s concern for their child normally moves you to the front of the complaints line.
But that’s not how it works with social media giants like YouTube. Click on the ‘Feedback’ link at the bottom of the page and YouTube gives you a feedback box, an ability to highlight via a screenshot the offending content and a ‘send’ button. The reply is short and to the point: thank you for your feedback. Period. Will anyone reply? Provide me with an answer to my question? I simply don’t know.
In this instance, the Internet – or more precisely the Internet economy – has done precisely the opposite of what the techno-optimists preach. In attempting to be a vigilant advocate for my child’s interests, YouTube has left me feeling disconnected and powerless.
YouTube’s official response to suicide voyeur Logan Paul isn’t helping.
On January 10th YouTube announced – on Twitter – it was removing Logan Paul from its Google Preferred service, which aggregates its top content creators for advertisers, and it has also put on hold development of future projects with him via its subscription service Red.
Yet the next day when I checked out Alex Wassabi’s channel, there was Logan Paul’s mug looking out at me, still being promoted by YouTube.
No amount of teachable moments, social media conversations or parental monitoring of social media can allow me to prevent this from happening. That’s not within my control – it’s in YouTube’s control and in its parent company Google. They choose who they endorse and promote, not me.
And therein lies the problem. The great promise of the World Wide Web is to throw open the doors of information and provide equitable access to everyone, anytime. But with that access should come the power for individuals to choose what they access and when.
In pushing out preferred content regardless of what that content is, YouTube and other social media channels deny us that choice.
For a list of suicide prevention and mental health supports across Canada please click here to visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
If at immediate risk, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.