It was less than a week after Logan Paul’s post-scandal return to regular vlogging that YouTube ”temporarily” suspended ads on his channel. The company’s decision reflects its promise to investigate further consequences for Paul specifically, as well as policies that would punish creators who do harm to the YouTube community. In a statement to The Verge, a spokesperson said the decision was not made lightly: “We believe he has exhibited a pattern of behavior in his videos that makes his channel not only unsuitable for advertisers but also potentially damaging to the broader creator community.”
It’s no surprise that YouTube would give Paul’s channel extra scrutiny following the blowup, and yet his inability to amend his behavior to prevent further sanctions is sheer stupidity. The worst of the Aokigahara forest controversy is over, and Logan Paul didn’t learn a damn thing. “Even though I fucked up, like I’m an idiot, it doesn’t feel good to have millions of people to tell you to go die,” Paul says in his first vlog this week. But he promptly switches from that rare moment of reflection to talking about “getting yoked” at the gym and the engagement his Instagram photos have been getting. “I am probably like the most soundbiteable motherfucker on planet Earth,” he boasts. “I am a walking soundbite.”
And Paul’s subsequent vlogs feature him kicking up trouble again. His February 4th comeback is a 12-minute video that opens with a Cast Away-like spoof, where he sits on a beach, sporting a giant beard, and says “I’m not disgraced!… What other YouTuber you know can take a three-week break and still get a million subscribers?” His self-aggrandizing return vlog runs the gamut from a hard push to buy his merch to a diatribe about how the media twists things. Paul apologizes for being “annoying” in foreign countries, but promptly proposes he and his brother Jake get sent to North Korea, “find Kim Jong Un, we poke him in his little chubby tummy until he giggles like a teddy bear, and agrees to disarm all of his nuclear warheads.”
Paul kicked off his week with a now-deleted joke about swallowing Tide Pods on Twitter. It’s an especially tone-deaf move, given that his viewers are mostly teenagers, the demographic who can apparently be peer-pressured into eating Tide Pods in the first place. In a video posted on February 5th, Paul discovers that one of his koi fish is sick. He pulls the gasping animal out of the water, pretends to give it CPR-style chest-pumps, then swishes it around in the water like a toy boat to “get oxygen circulating through his lungs.” Later, he tasers a dead rat. “No rat comes into my house without getting tased,” he says, while his on-screen companions scream. In another video, Paul puts on a different fake beard, makes jokes about looking like a pedophile, and briefly pretends to have a seizure, before running around and asking college kids for their opinions on Logan Paul. Again, this is week one of his return.
Paul has been met with widespread criticism, petitions to remove his YouTube channel, and even death threats over his Aokigahara forest video. But he has his defenders, even outside of his fan base. Professional commentator Dr. Phil offered a reasonable argument as to why people shouldn’t “bury” Paul over a bad choice: “This is a 22-year-old young man, and this is one thing, one time, one bad decision,” he told Entertainment Tonight. “Let’s not judge this young man’s whole life, his whole body of work, everything that he’s done, over one bad decision,” Dr. Phil said. “It was a terrible decision… but that doesn’t mean he’s a horrible person.” (Though it isn’t entirely true that Paul only made one bad decision — none of his other videos blew up in the same way, but his trip to Japan was full of racially and culturally problematic moments.)
Briefly, this appeared to be a teaching moment for Paul. He delivered several apologies, took a break from social media, and went on Good Morning America to tell the world how sorry he was. The first video he posted after the blowup focused on the seriousness of suicide, and he promised to donate $1 million to suicide-prevention organizations. He seemed genuinely remorseful for his actions, and said he could learn to use his platform in a more thoughtful way. But he’s instantly returned to the outlandish pranks and attitude that landed him in hot water in the first place.
This is a strange time for social media. It’s possible to do more than just earn a living by being popular online; young people with no real work experience can make millions of dollars. But it’s an entirely new field, the rules are ill-defined and constantly changing, and the systems reward provocateurs over creators who carefully consider and moderate their impact. The term “influencer” still prompts sneers; there’s a stigma associated with vloggers and social-media stars, a perception that they’re freeloaders with no work ethic, who tweet all day and have no real skills. But that stereotype doesn’t reflect how much time online celebrities spend creating or editing videos, building up their own brands, or making partnerships and ad deals that will help them pull in money. Some have used platforms like YouTube to score acting gigs, like Grace Helbig. Michelle Phan built a beauty empire. Even Justin Bieber was once just a kid singing on YouTube.
Being an influencer is a modern form of celebrity that’s no more vapid than any other kind. In some cases, it even exemplifies the old-school American dream of working hard and reaching for the stars. Influencer careers are creeping toward general acceptance, but there’s a double edge to their growing prominence: social media stars are being taken more seriously than ever, but they aren’t taught how to not screw up. It’s still a wild, uncharted career path, with little education for how to chase this life, and even less guidance for how to do so without hurting people, sometimes irreparably.
There’s nothing wrong with influencers gaining fame and followers as they demand more of the spotlight than ever before. Logan Paul currently has more than 16 million subscribers on his vlogging channel alone; he, like many other influencers, wants to be a celebrity. But as his fanbase grows, so does his social responsibility. If, as Paul put it, being “hated by the whole world” isn’t a hard lesson in how to behave, what else is there? The teary-eyed, remorseful Paul who pledged to do better is already failing. The apology tour is over. Logan Paul is back to being Logan Paul, his own worst enemy. YouTubers everywhere will be worse off for it.