Commentary: YouTube stars make bad role models and it’s all our fault

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SINGAPORE: For all the fears that parents have about their children spending too much time on the internet on their smartphones, the news this week has highlighted one threat that can be dangerous but is often ignored.

In the early days of web anonymity and the rise of chatrooms, the danger to look out for was your teenager meeting up with a stranger who turned out to be a sexual predator.

More recently, parents worry their kids are giving out too much personal information online at a time when scammers and hackers can take advantage of them to steal their hard-earned pocket money.

But news this week spotlighting on YouTube star Logan Paul suggests the threat is not an obviously sinister figure lurking in the shadows and waiting to strike.

Indeed, it might be more insidious, taking the form of a bright-eyed, good-looking 22-year old adolescent who has amassed an enormous following and equally huge fortune over YouTube for his thoughtless antics.

IN THE NEWS FOR THE WRONG REASONS

With 15 million followers on YouTube, Logan Paul was in the news for the wrong reasons this week. 

Paul had posted a video he made showing an actual dead body hanging from a tree during his trip to Japan. The video was seen by six million viewers before it was deleted.

While he quickly apologised, it seems the problem with his actions had not really sunk in when he tried to explain his position.

“One may understand it’s easy to get caught up in the moment without fully weighing the possible ramifications”, Paul said in his apology. “I do this s*** every day. I’ve made a 15-minute TV show EVERY SINGLE DAY for the past 460+ days.”

Bad enough as it is, he really should have stopped right there but added in his reply: “I did it because I thought I could make a positive ripple on the Internet … I intended to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention.”

 

One might be inclined to accept he had well-intended motivations for filming in a forest well known to be a place many go to end their lives. 

But it’s hard to believe so when in the video, Paul was seen laughing off the encounter and asking his friends: “What? You never stand next to a dead guy (before)?”

WE SHOULD HAVE HIGER STANDARDS

Some say Paul’s reaction in encountering a dead body was crass but ignorant, and the actions of an immature star who didn’t know the right way to deal with a difficult situation. 

After all, he did issue a fuller, unqualified apology subsequently.

That may be so, but for an individual with a huge following of mostly young, impressionable teenagers on YouTube, should we not have higher standards for these social media celebrities who our children watch each day?

And after he has been chastised by many over the Internet, what does he do? Blame it on his video workload and his supposedly good intentions. 

Doesn’t that suggest a willfulness in not accepting full responsibility for the consequences of his actions? 

A benign view of Paul is surely misguided, when his track record suggest that a more accurate interpretation is a man who has capitalised on his stardom to leverage pointless pranks and acts of shock for greater financial profit and personal gain.

Paul had once faked his own murder standing in front of a full-length window in clear view of young adoring fans – and then posted it online.

This is a person whose videos frequently show him doing something mean-spirited (like throwing a shovel full of snow onto his brother who was still in bed) or even dangerous (like clinging onto the side of a car as it moves at high speed).

And what was the point of him dressing up as Pikachu and throwing a huge pokeball at Japanese pedestrians in Tokyo apart from making a childish statement?

Screen grab of Logan Paul’s video blog on his trip to Japan. Dressed as Pikachu, he hurls a huge pokeball at pedestrians minding their own business.

It seems curious that Paul has attracted millions of young viewers who seem to think his actions are nothing but a bit of harmless fun that they would like to vicariously live through. Where is the fun in tormenting other people or putting yourself in alarming situations no parents would wish their kids try out?

The fact that he has been defended by adoring fans suggest something even more troubling – that they have not only come to see him as an engaging entertainer, but a role model to be admired and perhaps even emulated.

Do young viewers revere how much admiration from fans he has managed to amass, or the amount of money he seems to be making from doing nothing much apart from getting up to no good each day and filming it with his smartphone?

Worse, are kids aspiring to become YouTube stars as a substitute for hard work and a career that contributes to the betterment of society? What does that say about what YouTube stars are doing to our kids?

HOLD MORE TO ACCOUNT

It is worrying that it took YouTube a full 11 days to respond, suggesting that there was even anything debatable about how morally bankrupt Paul’s actions and his sorry-not-sorry apology were.

Even then, they’ve only dealt him a slap on the wrist after cancelling his involvement in a YouTube series but left his account active.

Where it has been widely admitted that YouTube’s business model, driven by clicks, views and comments, has motivated users to post increasingly shocking videos, should YouTube not be held to account?

Paul isn’t the only YouTube star to have done something questionable and gotten away scot-free. 

Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, has posted videos where he mutters racist slurs and shows anti-Semitic images but all that has earned him are millions more subscribers.

Even more troubling is how many fans Kjellberg has glued to his channel where he’s often seen playing hours of video games and giving his loud, abrasive and sometimes obnoxious reactions – not quite a productive member of society by any stretch of the imagination, yet held up by his fans as being genuine, unfiltered and even charismatic.

PewDiePie’s channels comprise videos of him playing computer games or ranting about other YouTube stars. (Photo: AFP/Ben Stansall)

Another YouTube star put on a pedestal is Zoe Sugg, better known as Zoella, whose most widely viewed videos are of her going through her shopping each day and squealing over why she loves each item, or her demonstrating how to achieve the perfect smoky eye look.

In a world where young girls are trying to find their footing, do we really want our kids to think happiness can come in a shopping bag or through spending hours improving how deep-set our eyes look?

PARENTS MUST BE BLAMED

It seems long exposure to social media celebrities is the one threat parents should be concerned about but often overlook.

Might it be that parents are compensating to some degree in giving their teenagers freedom over whatever they choose to watch and thinking this makes up for the time they don’t spend with them because of a hectic career?

It is quite understandable even that sometimes busy parents want nothing else but to come home and tune out instead of having to attend to familial responsibilities after a hard day’s work.

But this trend is surely shaping our kids and turning them into the kinds of people that worship YouTube stars like Logan Paul.

The trouble is when parents don’t look over what kinds of online entertainment and activity their kids get up to, never mind in the second instance whether they discuss when disturbing images and issues crop up.

Where many parents can be seen leaving YouTube channels to babysit their children over lunch at the food court instead of sparing some quality time to engage them, there is no doubt the root of the problem starts much earlier when our kids are still toddlers.

In this context, it’s hard to blame Paul entirely for his actions, much as they are reprehensible. 

Perhaps we should turn the spotlight instead on the parents of all those kids who support him on YouTube for letting them make an idol out of him.

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