YouTube executives further explained their decision to distance themselves—but not cut ties with—one of its biggest stars, Logan Paul, following the widespread criticism after he uploaded a voyeuristic video of a dead body hanging from a tree in Japan’s “suicide forest.”
Three days ago, YouTube announced that it had dropped Paul from its Google Preferred Ad Platform—its premium advertising program that aggregates “the top five percent of YouTube content” targeting users in the 18-34 demo—and put his original shows on hold, announcing he won’t appear in Season 4 of the YouTube Red comedy series Foursome. (All 10 episodes of Season 3 debuted on Nov. 1.) However, the statement stopped short of cutting ties with Logan entirely.
“We believe he’s made unfortunate missteps. He’s expressed remorse very quickly and is learning from the experience,” YouTube’s chief business officer Robert Kyncl said at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour. “The most important thing to focus on is that actions should speak louder than words, and Logan has the opportunity to prove that.”
Last month, Paul uploaded a video called “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…” to his 15 million subscribers. The video, which Paul initially called “a moment in YouTube history,” quickly drew sharp criticism for its offensive, voyeuristic treatment of a dead body hanging in a tree, and was removed by Paul on Jan. 1. After apologizing for the video, Paul announced he would temporarily suspend his channel to “take time to reflect.”
While all of Paul’s YouTube projects are “on hold indefinitely,” Kyncl left the door open to working with him in the future. “I really couldn’t answer that,” he said when asked if any of those on hold projects will see the light of day. “Everything is evolving so fast.”
Kyncl explained that “we work with lots of YouTube stars, all of whom are incredibly talented. Some of them are very young and sometimes get themselves in hot water. I want to make sure that we recognize that a few missteps don’t spoil the work of all of the hardworking creators who are doing incredible things on YouTube.”
YouTube’s actions earlier this week regarding Paul reflected the company’s attempt to “protect the community of users, creators and advertisers,” said Kyncl. Paul has not been suspended or removed from YouTube, or its ordinary monetization network.
The exec was asked how the company is trying to reassure advertisers, who have already become increasingly concerned about the content that their ads appear next to on YouTube. Kyncl pointed to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s blog post last month, which said that the video site’s goal is to have more than 10,000 people across Google “working to address content that might violate our policies” in 2018. On the advertiser side, Wojcicki said YouTube will “apply stricter criteria” when determining which videos and channels are eligible for advertising in order to avoid brands seeing their ads running alongside objectionable content. YouTube also plans to add to its team of ad reviewers.
Kyncl and Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s global head of original content, were asked repeatedly whether the Paul controversy—and a previous controversy with YouTube star PewDiePie, who last year had posted videos with anti-Semitic comments—had prompted them to reexamine their platform’s Wild Wild West atmosphere, and whether they should give their creators as much free reign as they currently do. But neither Kyncl or Daniels gave concrete indications that they’ll be subjecting those creators to any additional scrutiny.
An “open ecosystem” like YouTube “can generate a tremendous amount of creativity and a tremendous economic engine,” said Kyncl, noting that the number of entrepreneurs on the platform making at least six-figures annually has increased 60 percent year over year. “We need to have the right community guidelines, and we have to have the right incentive to have the right behavior for that relationship to continue.”
He said that YouTube has “millions” of content partners. “This is a very active, two-way street, and we continue to improve that relationship,” he said.