Suicide prevention group slams YouTube celebrity Logan Paul over controversial video

Staff Report, AP

A video shot in a forest near Mount Fuji infamous for suicides has triggered a firestorm of criticism, including from a suicide prevention group in Japan.

The video was posted online Sunday by American celebrity YouTuber Logan Paul.

Paul, whose YouTube channel has over 15 million subscribers and who enjoys a huge following among young people, has apologized after getting slammed for a video he shared that appeared to show a dead body in a well-known suicide spot in a Yamanashi Prefecture forest. He took down the video on Tuesday.

Critics say what was offensive was Paul’s giggling and joking about the body.

The video shows Paul on a trek with friends in the expansive forest at the foot of Mount Fuji. He seems aware that the site is sometimes chosen for suicides, but acts surprised to come across what appears to be a victim.

He posted an apology on his Twitter account Tuesday, saying, “Where do I begin. Let’s start with this. I’m sorry.”

By the time the video was removed, however, the damage had been done. The clip had been reportedly viewed by 6 million people.

Jiro Ito, who runs the Tokyo-based youth suicide prevention group Ova, told The Japan Times on Wednesday that Paul’s act “raises serious issues from the point of suicide prevention” and is in clear violation of the World Heath Organization guidelines on how the media should report on the issue.

The WHO urges members of the media to show restraint when covering suicides, both committed or attempted.

Though Paul is not part of the news media, he should have acted more prudently given his huge influence on YouTube, Ito said by email.

“It is totally unacceptable to show someone who was driven to suicide as if it’s humorous content,” he said.

In his apology, Paul said he had wanted to raise awareness about suicide and possibly save lives, and denied his goal was to drive clicks.

“I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet, not cause a monsoon of negativity,” he said in his Twitter post.

Ito criticized Paul’s statement following the uproar, too, saying “it is Logan Paul himself, not other members of society, whose level of awareness about suicide prevention should be raised.”

A spokesperson at Google, which owns YouTube, confirmed to The Japan Times on Wednesday that Paul’s video “does violate” the video-sharing site’s policies, adding that it was taken down by the YouTuber himself.

“Our hearts go out to the family of the person featured in the video,” the Google press team said. “YouTube prohibits violent or gory content posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner. If a video is graphic, it can only remain on the site when supported by appropriate educational or documentary information and in some cases it will be age-gated.”

Japan’s suicide rate is among the highest in the world, according to the latest government white paper on suicide measures released in May 2017. However, the rate has been in decline since peaking in 2003.

In 2016, the number of people who took their own life declined to 21,897, the lowest total in 22 years. But the figures also show that suicide was the top cause of death among people in five age groups from 15 to 39, a trend that stands out amid a decline in other generations.

The number of suicides surged in the late 1990s and remained above 30,000 for more than 10 years, including a high of 34,427 in 2003. The figure has remained below 30,000 since 2012.

Since mapping out its first policy principles on suicide countermeasures in 2007, the government has taken a series of steps, including strengthening research on the medical and social causes of suicide, setting up more hotlines, holding seminars for municipal leaders, and beefing up support for people who attempted suicide and for their next of kin.

Paul posted a more sanguine video on YouTube on Monday, showing him romping through a Tokyo park, talking about his apparel brand, visiting gadget stores and running around city streets wearing a Pokemon outfit.