Ethics Dunce: Logan Paul

I was blissfully unaware of the existence of Logan Paul until this morning. He’s a unique creation of the cyber-age, a 22-year-old college drop-out whose occupation is “social media entertainer.” He makes daily videos–“vlogs”—that he posts on his YouTube channel. It has 15 million followers, along with his hundreds of thousands of others across social media, and is regarded as major cultural force, for what, I have no clue. He is, of course, rich.

In pursuit of more followers and cash, he posted a video, since  removed from YouTube available elsewhere online, that features a dead young man, lying in a Japanese forest known as the “Suicide Forest,” which lies at the base of Mount Fuji. Paul began by telling his YouTube fans,

“This definitely marks a moment in YouTube history Because I’m pretty sure that this has never hopefully happened to anyone on YouTube ever. Now with that said, buckle up!”

With that titillating intro, Paul described the reputation of the Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji. It is a popular site for distraught Japanese to end their lives, and is thus known as “the Suicide Forest.”  Locals also say the forest is haunted, another exiting feature that Paul and his companions hyped as they walked along. Then they come across the dead body. The video blurred his face. “Yo, are you alive?” Paul shouted at the dead man. As a camera zoomed in, Paul described the body’s condition, and speculated that the death was recent.

After making the obligatory observation that depression and mental illness are not a joke, Paul’s group left the scene and he began joking, with the mugging and giggling his fans are accustomed to seeing on his vlogs. At the end of the video he encountered a young fan and told him, smirking and pointing the way, “I have one piece of advice. Don’t go over there!”

And yes, he was wearing that hat (above) the whole time.

 The video was posted over the weekend, and did not receive the desired response. Many expressed horror that a young man’s body would be used a a prop, and that Paul would be cavalier about mental illness, depression and suicide. Now the Cyber Furies are after him, and threatening to turn him from web star into a web pariah.

Naturally, he apologized, via Twitter (of course):

Not bad. On the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, being generous, I’ll give it a 6:

“A forced or compelled version of 1-4, when the individual (or organization) apologizing knows that an apology is appropriate but would have avoided making one if he or she could have gotten away with it.”

Not bad for someone who obviously has inadequate experience, education, wisdom and values for the influence he wields, and completely predictably stepped on a landmine that someone with functioning ethics alarms and an emotional maturity above a 7th grade level would have easily seen and avoided. The apology is sincere, but it is tone-deaf, ethics deaf, and self-deluding. He can’t promise that he won’t mishandle his power again, because he has inadequate intellectual and emotional resources to have such power, or avoid such pitfalls and bad decisions. His apology proves it, just as his conduct on the video proved it. It’s unethical to take on great responsibility without the skills to handle such responsibility.

The apology begins with the hoary rationalization, “Everybody makes mistakes.” Yeah, but everybody doesn’t use a dead body to get video views and as a prop for juvenile wisecracks. Then he lies: of course he did it “for views.”  That his business, that’s what he does. Yes, we know he didn’t want to set a cyber-fire that threatens to burn up his income stream. But he also intended to use a suicide’s tragedy to “get views.”

Next he tries virtue-signaling. This was really an attempt at suicide awareness and prevention! Riiiiight. How stupid does he think his fans are? This was a serious video, and he dressed for it like that?

[You know what? As I write this, I’m changing that Apology Scale rating to a #10:

10. An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.

The more I read his tweet, the transparently dishonest  it is.]

No, Logan, it isn’t easy to get “caught up in a moment” involving a dead stranger unless you are a callous, self-absorbed, juvenile and irresponsible  jerk, and that’s what your fans have suddenly figured out.


Better late than never.


 If you want to read an ethically obtuse commentary on Logan’s fall—and who wouldn’t?–read this by Serena Bergman in the Independent. This should give you a sense of her keen analytical powers:

In journalism, we have very specific guidelines on how we should report suicide responsibly – and Paul fell far below that standard. Yet I’ve been to comedy shows and watched sitcoms where suicide is the punchline of a joke. Similarly, if you’ve ever watched procedural TV dramas you’ve surely seen suicide – as well as rape, murder and all manner of other violent crimes – depicted for your entertainment; if you’ve ever listened to hip hop (and indeed many other genres, often including pop music), you’ve heard the glorification of drugs and gang violence.

Should I tell her, or do you want to? None of those things involve using an actual suicide victim’s physical body for entertainment value, you idiot.


Sources: New York Times, CNN

20 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Logan Paul

  1. The damning element of this is that Paul chose to post the video. I think his apology carries some weight to explain his actions in the moment. The suicide forest somewhat internet famous, and its unsettling reputation and history fit perfectly into the niche of quasi-documentary reaction video that YouTube loves. From what I’ve seen of Paul his outfit is par for the course, while he certainly didn’t dress with proper solemnity he also doesn’t seem to have deliberately dressed to trivialize- he just wore what he wears (Julie principle, perhaps? Paul’s gonna dress like Paul?).

    I can even understand the jokes. I think we’ve all been there- taken aback by something unsettling, trying to recover our equilibrium, we force a joke to force normalcy. I’ve certainly done it myself, cracking a joke out of shock that I’d never repeat once calm, and that I’d cringe to have publicized. And there’s the rub. Paul made a dumb choice and his “check out this spooky place” video turned into a “oh shit that’s a corpse” video, and his own shock reaction was caught on video. A forgivable event, a moment to realize that some things are serious. Then he chose to make that video public, and all his benefit of the doubt for making mistakes and reacting poorly under stress was lost.

    • Nonsense. The damning element is the faux shock as he continued filming. The smirks on his douchestain friends’ faces gives them away. His demeanor which doesn’t even try to be solemn though that’s what he wants us to think he’s pretending to be adds to it.

      No, he might have been able to save face if he’d stopped filming once he realized there was a dead person there.

      But he didn’t.

      • I didn’t see the video before it came down, so I can’t comment on the details. I just have seen (and had) enough weird reactions to stress or shock that I’m not so quick to judge- I seem to always involuntarily smile in a crisis and have to fight off the urge to tell sick jokes.

        Of course I could be wrong, maybe they’re just jerks- but I humbly suggest that maybe you’re seeing the video through your own lens of dislike for the people in it, and what you see as a smirk and a deliberate attempt to fake seriousness while laughing into his sleeve could just as easily be the confused reaction of a self-centered fool whose instinct is to be funny and normalize things, while his conscious mind knows he shouldn’t do that.

        His reactions are childish, to be sure- but shock and stress can deal vicious blows to our ability to act in a considered and appropriate manner. When the starting point is a childish and self-centered clown, it’s no surprise to me that the reaction is to be more childish and more clownish. The ethics alarms failed to ring when planning the trip, and when posting the video, but it’s hard to hold someone too responsible for the finer points of tone and expression in such a disconcerting moment.

  2. “This is really attempt at suicide awareness and prevention. . . “ Such bullshit!!! I think he should go into the forest at night without a camera crew naked, alone, and afraid.

  3. Let’s hear it for the IQ-80s who are just smart enough to make money with only internet technical knowledge and no instinct (taught or otherwise) about ethics, kindness, or responsibility. His hat says it all.

    I hope he loses his “viewership” and his ad contracts and has to give up that $6 million home he’s bought off the ignorance and venality of his viewers. Worse than stopping to see a bloody car wreck on the road: his viewers actually seek him out.

    I give up. The ‘coarsening of America’ discussion is nothing compared to this bit of horror.

  4. What concerned me most about this was the response from Logan’s viewership. Before the degeneracy was lambasted on Twitter, it sat for hours on YouTube, where it racked up 7 figured in views and six hundred thousands likes.

    Logan Paul’s fanbase, mostly young, was subjected in graphic detail (and I’m not sure what you saw, Jack, because it wasn’t pixellated, and the guy was still hanging from the tree in Logan’s version) to exactly what a real corpse looks like, and they took time out of their day to thumbs up the damn vid.

    • I have a more than passing familiarity with what a corpse looks like, from a year in ‘the killing fields’ to watching and being unable to stop suicides to my beloved wife dying in my arms. At 72, I would prefer never to repeat this sensory and emotional assault. My suggestion is that these young idiots join the Army and watch their best friend get his face blown off by an IED. Welcome to the real world, I’m sorry for the apparent vitriol of this comment, but I just lost my wife in September, and this CALLOUSNESS to death angers me, probably more than it should. I’d love to see his response if (when) he loses a parent, or both.

      • I didn’t know dd. How terrible. This is a part of life no one can prepare you for. I discovered my Dad’s body, and had to give the order to disconnect my mom from life support. I’m so sorry.

        • I hadn’t advertised it, Jack. Slickwilly knew, but I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m grieving, but I’m getting through it. My point was that a dead body must be treated with respect, no matter who it is, or was, and this idiot seems not to know that. Thanks for the thoughts, though.

        • I guess…I’ve had too many people die while I was there. In most cases…hell, in all of them…I couldn’t do anything to stop it. Finding a body hanging from a tree, to me, is instantly stop filming, notify the authorities and try to be respectful as the body is removed. This idiot, and his followers, need to be out of the gene pool, before they reproduce. But there’s a lot of folks like that.

        • I’ll add one final comment…this was not at all horrible…as I said, she died in my arms, knowing she was not alone, and I think, I believe, that the last words she heard were “I love you”. I miss her, but that’s not a bad way to go.

          • (sigh) I was there when my mom died, in a hospital, and that was bad enough. I can’t imagine being with your spouse as she breathes her last.

  5. I think this builds on the ethics of photography, which we’ve talked about elsewhere. I’m an amateur photographer and also a bit of an emergency services buff. I see no problem with photographing speeding emergency vehicles or emergency services personnel in action…up to a point. It’s one thing to photograph firemen with the ladders up and the water spraying, or SWAT cops forcing a door. It’s quite another to photograph some guy who’s innocent until proven guilty getting slammed up against the bricks by the cops, or some other poor unfortunate soul being dragged unconscious from a burning building or groaning in pain as the paramedics treat him.

    I was actually involved in an emergency last Christmas when an escalator suddenly sped up and threw a bunch of people to the floor. I managed to stand up unhurt, not so about five other people. I ran to get the police and EMS and they were there in fairly short order. As they worked it wasn’t lost on me that the injured people were all black and the first responders were all white. I thought of shooting a picture with my cell phone and posting it with some pithy comment about color not mattering when someone needs help, but balked, it would not be fair to the victims to show them lying helpless on the floor.

    This guy seeks out that kind of stuff and broadcasts it? At least this other idiot named Coyote Peterson only broadcasts himself getting hurt (stung by insects with notably painful stings, pinched by a huge crab, etc.) Dead ethics alarms.

  6. I am of the belief that empathy is dying. It just seems that so many are so miserable that that they make themselves feel less of a wretch by seeking out and enjoying the pain of others. It may be a byproduct of when an entitlement mentality meets the realization that the world truly owes them nothing and everything must be earned

    This goes way beyond schadenfreude.

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