Many parents of young people have been in touch asking for advice on how to talk to their children about YouTuber Logan Paul’s video in the Aokigahara ‘suicide’ forest in Japan which showed a man who had died by suicide. High school teacher and counsellor Louisa Woods has some tips for parents.
Content warning: This post contains discussions of mental health and suicide.
Up until a couple of days ago I was unaware of the existence of Logan Paul, YouTuber extraordinaire. Apparently, my ignorance is more due to my status as a village elder than anything else: he has 15 million followers on YouTube and even more on Facebook. Most of them are tweens or teens. His appeal, according to his young fans, is his goofy, light-hearted approach to the world.
Scrolling through the vlogs on his YouTube channel, it’s indeed clear Logan Paul doesn’t take life too seriously. The 483 videos feature him pulling stunts and pranking his friends, playing with his dog, spending money on outrageous (or outrageously expensive) things, rapping, and talking an awful lot about himself and his merchandise. It’s an attitude that’s making him millions and has landed him at third on the Forbes list of the top 10 influencers of 2017.
There are some things, though, that need to be taken seriously. There are some places where it is inappropriate to play out a stunt. Some events that do not need to be shared – in full colour and edited for impact – so all the world can see. Logan, at 22, has had a sharp lesson in this since posting his final vlog for 2017, a video of himself and his friends coming across the body of a man who had died by suicide in the Aokigahara Forest in Japan.
The video received a flurry of negative reactions online for its inclusion of images of the man’s body and for the way the group responded. Close-ups show several members of the group laughing, there are jokes, some almost slapstick behaviour from Logan himself, and a general feeling of excitement rather than sorrow or sympathy for the deceased man.
While he’s removed the video now, it had six million views before he did so. That’s six million people who watched the group as they made light of finding someone who had ended their own life.
Six million mostly young people.
I’m not going to debate whether or not the video should have been posted. It should not. Apart from the utter disrespect shown to the man and his family, the lack of any content warnings exhibited a complete disregard for those viewers whose lives have been affected by suicide. There’s also a considerable body of research to support the fact media coverage of suicide, when presented in certain ways – including sensationalising the events, showing or discussing in detail the method used to end the person’s life, and sharing the information in a prominent forum (all of which apply to Logan Paul’s video) – can increase suicidal ideation and behaviours.
The ‘Werther Effect’ (or suicide contagion) has particular impact on young people, especially those already at risk.
It’s worth discussing the content of the video with the young people in your life purely to check how they are. The original video is gone, but adapted versions are being posted all over the place and there is a lot of discussion on various social media platforms about the video itself but also about suicide. If you already have concerns about the wellbeing of the young people in your life, it’s even more important to give them the opportunity to talk. The Mental Health Foundation have some excellent guidelines about how to support someone who is feeling suicidal; their suggestions for how to talk about suicide are useful when approaching the topic in general.
The video and the response it has garnered also present an opportunity to discuss media consumption and use of social media with your teenager or young person. Because the thing is, Logan Paul is not a bad guy. He’s a 22 year old, living the dream of internet fame and fortune in a youth culture where everything is shared, the lines between fiction and reality are blurred, and having the ability to shock, entertain, and harvest clicks and likes and shares is something to aspire to.
Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” and there’s a certain amount of performativity in all of our lives. We have roles we take on and actions we play out, conscious we’re representing what we want to be seen, or what others expect to see, rather than what is real. For young people, with their lives online for others to weigh and measure, appraise, and comment on, this is even more the case. One of the challenges of adolescence is tightroping the line between being an independent individual and fitting in with your peers. There are countless choices to be made to help you keep your balance, and sometimes young people are truly at a loss as how best to respond to new situations. Now there’s the added pressure to share those responses through social media.
When I watch the Logan Paul video, I can see those kids wobbling on the tightrope. The fear in their eyes is partly about the situation they’re in, but more due to the fact they are desperately trying to work out how they should be reacting. There are cameras on them. They’re supposed to be the cool kids. They don’t want to be the weirdo who does something odd. You can see them casting furtive glances at one another, trying to measure their friends’ reactions and adjust their behaviour accordingly. And because Logan is their leader, the most stable on the tightrope, they all follow his lead. He uses humour as his balancing pole most of the time and so in this unfamiliar, difficult situation, he grabs it tight and doesn’t look down. Once he starts, he can’t stop – he gets more inappropriate as the video progresses and is almost hyper by its end.
So, I’m not judging those kids (and I’ll tell you what, they might be in their early twenties, but they all became kids again in that forest) for their reactions – despite them being inappropriate and ugly. In an unprecedented situation, it’s hard to know how we’ll react, and reverting to form is as common reaction as any.
My issue is with the decision to post the video, with the lack of insight into why doing so would be disrespectful and potentially dangerous. Logan Paul had time to reflect on the footage and edit it, but did not think to include any content warnings or information about how viewers might seek support if they needed it. He has a manager, an agent, and an entourage of other YouTubers and vloggers – none of them advised him to ditch the footage.
He’s either as goofy as he makes himself out to be, and surrounded by the similarly clueless, or he and his people are so focussed on those all-important clicks and follows that they don’t stop to think about the appropriateness of their actions.
I’m cynical enough to believe it’s the second – ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ after all – but I’m hopeful he’s made an error of judgement, one he won’t repeat.
Regardless of which it is, clueless or conniving, it’s worth talking about both readings of the video with the young people in your life. Logan Paul is a product of the world we’re living in, the same world inhabited by our young people. They’re just as likely as he is to be sharing inappropriate content – either out of ignorance or in the quest for likes and shares – and they need guidance around their social media presence and posts.
Perhaps if he’d had similar conversations with the adults in his life, Logan Paul wouldn’t have created and shared his latest video at all.
Encourage the young people in your life to be critical consumers of media. Don’t disregard their viewing as bad or stupid or meaningless (as tempting as it may be when they’re onto their fifth haul video of the evening) because as soon as you do, they’re not going to be keen to engage in conversation. Ask them questions that encourage them to analyse their viewing choices and examine the motivation of the people posting the videos and writing the blogs.
‘I wonder’ questions are great. They don’t position you as the expert – always off-putting for a young person – and they promote discussion. You can use them to invite people to put themselves in others’ shoes (“I wonder what it would be like seeing that video if you’d had a family member who had died from suicide?”) or do some problem solving (“I wonder what he could have done to raise awareness of suicide instead of posting this video?”)
It’s unrealistic to think our young people aren’t going to watch these sorts of videos, and likely worse. It’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to be internet watchdogs, always aware of the content our children have access to. It’s unrealistic to think the backlash to Logan Paul’s video will create any widespread change. What is realistic, is educating and supporting our children and young people so they are not mindless consumers of media content. We want them to be able to think for themselves and make informed choices about what they watch, share, and post. That is what will make the internet a safer place for everyone in the long term.
Louisa Woods is a high school teacher and counsellor, currently filling her days looking after her own three children, writing a bit, singing a bit, and reading as much as she can.
Where to get help
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland.
Samaritans – 0800 726 666.
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). Open 24/7
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202. This service is staffed 24/7 by trained counsellors
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Counselling for children and young people
What’s Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.
Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.
For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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