Logan Paul (IMAGE: © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons)

What are we going to do with the Logan Pauls of this world?

The case of Logan Paul, the latest YouTuber to hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, prompted me to think about self-regulation on social networks.

Paul is a classic example of a generation that grew up with social media: he started making videos on YouTube’s Zoosh channel aged 10, but rose to fame with Vine, those six-second loop videos that Twitter acquired in 2012 and closed in 2016 after failing to provide its creators a solid way to make money.

Like most other creators on Vine, Paul returned to YouTube with his own channel, and over time has accumulated several million followers, most of them young, who enjoy his videos in which he often makes jokes in bad taste. This search for notoriety has led him to push the boundaries, a phenomenon seen around the world, sadly including my home country, Spain. On a recent trip to Japan, Paul visited Aokigahara, the so-called suicide forest on Mount Fuji, where he filmed the body of a man who had hanged himself and then made several insensitive comments. On the same trip, he went out of his way to breach Japanese society’s rules on intimacy by hassling people in the street and generally behaving like a grade-A schmuck.

The video has been removed, and Paul was forced to apologize; but too late: yesterday, YouTube decided to make an example of Paul, removing his personal channel from YouTube’s premium advertisement lineup, Google Preferred, as well as cancelling a series lined up with YouTube Red.

Paul’s behavior is largely a symptom of an ecosystem that puts pressure on people who are usually very young and with little common sense, encouraging them to explore increasingly transgressive content in search of subscribers, fame and advertising revenue. The sanctions imposed by YouTube, caught in a conflict of interest since it profits from that advertising revenue, might eventually work, but in the meantime, we can expect other cases like Paul’s, and of course a trail of victims.

This is a common enough phenomenon in the digital age: email started out as a wonderful communication tool and quickly became a spam nightmare. Legislation has done little to help, and only the development of better filters using artificial intelligence has partially resolved the problem. Online advertising is more and more intrusive, and again, it remains to be seen if the law can do much: in my opinion, companies like Apple, or Germany’s Eyeo have done more by developing ways to avoid third party cookies or smarter ad blockers.

Should there be laws governing the creation and dissemination of content like Paul’s and other YouTubers? Again, I would say that a better solution is likely to come from improved technologies and automated detection systems, as well as by paying more attention to users’ complaints, or simply using existing legislation that already applies to television. This would require platforms such as YouTube to apply self-regulation and develop long-term sustainable strategies rather than the current short-term approach. Sanctions can be applied through laws used on other channels for years and that are the result of a social consensus, but to over-legislate based on the idea that the internet is different would be a mistake in my view.

Sadly, Logan Paul, like PewDiePie and many others around the world over recent years, are part of a process, like measles, one which hopefully we will emerge from. In the meantime, as soon as we see this kind of behavior, we need to put a brake on it, cutting off the revenue flow.

Collaboration between corresponding platforms, which in many cases are interested in delaying change, along with the work of citizen associations, civil rights, advertisers and other stakeholders is fundamental, as is the prompt application of existing laws. But new laws, often passed without proper scrutiny, end up either imposing absurd restrictions or are simply impossible to apply. Positive change takes time: as does the spread of usage protocols.


(En español, aquí)