When Logan Paul got walloped by criticism from across the internet, his devoted fans sought to calm the waters.
The star, who has 15 million subscribers and gets up to 5 million views on nearly every one of his videos,in recent days after he uploaded a video titled "We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest."
The clip showed Paul and a group of companions venturing into the Aokigahara Forest, a region infamous for a high number of suicides. In the video, he finds a dead body hanging from a tree, approaches and talks to the unidentified corpse, and asks if its presence there is a gag.
Paul, known for his light-hearted and unfiltered touch, faced massive backlash for the video. People on Twitter and YouTube criticized him for making light of suicide and for filming in the forest. Even so, Philip DeFranco, another YouTube personality, pointed out that the video initially had positive reactions from Paul's fan base.
Before the outrage, the video had a "seemingly uncontested 550-600,000 likes on it," DeFranco tweeted, adding that Paul's core audience doesn't care and that "unless YouTube does something, this doesn't hurt him."
Think of it as the YouTube double standard. While a controversy like this could torpedo the career of a traditional Hollywood movie star, YouTubers are able to get away relatively scot free. They've spent years cultivating a loyal following, and to many fans, luminaries like Paul appear more accessible and authentic than traditional celebrities. As a result, they're more likely to forgive and come to his defense.
"Once you have a lot of fans like that, it does change the way you can act," said Zoe Fraade-Blanar, the co-author of the book "Superfandom," noting that these YouTubers tend to enjoy serious fandom followings. "Fans buffer you from your mistakes. They're much more forgiving."
Feeling the heat, the 22-year-old Paul deleted the video and sent out an apology on Twitter, along with a video titled "So sorry" on YouTube. In the comments for his apology video, which was No. 1 on YouTube's trending list within an hour of its upload, fans flooded the comments section, defending Paul and arguing he did nothing wrong.
One commenter told Paul he shouldn't have to apologize for the video:
Young fans have also posted videos defending Paul, some of which attracted nearly half a million views. That defensive reaction from devoted fans could help shield a YouTuber like Paul from fallout that might otherwise be a career-ender.
"If this happened on broadcast, you'd just lose your show; it'd be all over," said Jennifer Grygiel, a professor of social media at Syracuse University. "But on YouTube, there's blowback, there's a slap on the wrist, the dust settles, and then they're back in action."
YouTube stars' massive fan bases allow them to stay on Google-owned YouTube and avoid consequences, Grygiel said, even when they've clearly broken the website's rules.
"They don't actually have any loss of privileges," Grygiel said.
But Paul's channel did suffer consequences. YouTube said Paul's account was marked with a strike, an in-house record of misbehavior, because the video violated the website's policies on violent or graphic content. A strike lasts for three months, and it can mean a loss of ad money from videos and links to crowdfunding and merchandising websites, according to YouTube's community guidelines.
In a statement, YouTube said its staff's "hearts go out to the family of the person featured in the video" and that the company prohibits violent or gory material "posted in a shocking, sensational or disrespectful manner."
In scandals, YouTubers often play by different rules than do Hollywood celebrities. In July, for instance, the Disney Channel fired Logan Paul's brother, Jake Paul, from its "Bizaardvark" TV show after residents of Jake's Los Angeles neighborhood complained he was turning the upscale area into a "war zone." He had performed several loud stunts at his home and attracted fans to the area.
Jake Paul lost his show, but he's still a prolific YouTuber. Fans defend his actions, too, telling the publication Mic in July that he was "just trying to do his job" by appealing to people who showed up in his neighborhood. Disney also took a show away from wildly popular YouTube star last February, when he posted anti-Semitic videos, but he's still the highest-earning YouTuber and brazen enough to give The Wall Street Journal the middle finger.
It's a different story for traditional celebrities, who often all but vanish after massive scandals. Movie star Mel Gibson kept a low profile for nearly a decade after a video surfaced of him in 2006 making anti-Semitic remarks. YouTube fans are more likely to defend their beloved stars because the online personalities are more connected to their audiences, Fraade-Blanar said.
"When you've made something a part of yourself, whether it's a Yankees shirt or subscribing to a certain YouTube celebrity, you have a huge incentive to make that thing look good," she said. "Because when they look bad, you look like a fool for following them."
Hard-core fans can help determine how YouTube's performers will fare after a controversy. Logan Paul's legion of subscribers apparently don't have an issue with his suicide forest video, and for now they're keeping him afloat.
"He video tapes his life," wrote a commenter named Justus Adams. "That's something that happened in his life. He apologized, ok?"
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