Stumbling across a video by popular YouTuber Logan Paul, a 13-year-old boy thinks nothing of hitting play.
Paul is a 22-year-old vlogger from Ohio in the US with 15 million YouTube subscribers. He also sells merchandise with the slogan Be A Maverick. This is a blogger who targets teens with mostly inoffensive, albeit slightly obnoxious, reality TV-style content – the 13-year-old’s not breaking any house rules by playing the video.
The 13-year-old knows Paul’s currently in Japan – he wished his followers a ‘Happy New Year’ from Tokyo via Twitter – and the latest video is sure to show something exciting, worlds away from a teenager’s dimly lit bedroom. Perhaps something to talk about at school.
What happened, though, was nothing like that. Instead, the video caused this kid – alongside millions of others – extreme distress in its depiction of suicide in a Japanese forest infamous as a frequent suicide spot.
“To give you a little history with my son, he has had the hardest time dealing with his father’s death, as he felt that it was his fault,” the London mother of this particular 13-year-old, who used the alias Joan Conrick, wrote in an open letter to Paul, The Mirror reports.
She explained her husband, her children’s father, suicided in 2008 after the financial crisis.
"[My son] had disagreed with his father about something on the day his father walked out of the house for the last time. Not only that, he also will make jokes about killing himself. Consequently, he has been in and out of therapy."
She said she "couldn't believe it" when her son told her about Paul's video. The clip had millions of views on YouTube before it was taken down, AAP reports, and it showed the vlogger and his friends discovering - and joking about - a dead body in Aokigahara Forest in Japan.
"[My son] kept saying how he could see how the hands were all purple," Conrick wrote. "So now I am worried for him on several levels. I am worried he will regain his fixation with the concept of suicide, especially as he has seen a popular figure consider it to be a joke."
"Children could potentially make jokes at the expense of children like mine – because they saw a celebrity make it cool. And, for children who have lost a parent/sibling/loved one to suicide, their pain has been made into a joke."
Celebrities including Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul and Game of Throne's Sophie Turner have been quick to publicly condemn Paul for the video.
How dare you! You disgust me. I can't believe that so many young people look up to you. So sad. Hopefully this latest video woke them up. You are pure trash. Plain and simple. Suicide is not a joke. Go rot in hell.
— Aaron Paul (@aaronpaul_8) January 2, 2018
@LoganPaul You’re an idiot. You’re not raising awareness. You’re mocking. I can’t believe how self-praising your “apology” is. You don’t deserve the success (views) you have. I pray to God you never have to experience anything like that man did.
— Sophie Turner (@SophieT) January 2, 2018
And Paul himself aplogised after the video was taken down. He wrote to Twitter: "This is a first for me. I've never faced criticism like this before, because I've never made a mistake like this before. I'm surrounded by good people and believe I make good decisions, but I'm still a human being. I can be wrong."
He added he "didn't do it for views" saying: "I intended to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention and while I thought 'if this video saves just ONE life, it'll be worth it', I was misguided by shock and awe, as portrayed in the video. I still am."
However, his apology is somewhat dampened when you see that he knew - must have known - the effect his video would have. Yesterday, he posted to twitter: "Tomorrow’s vlog will be the craziest and most real video I’ve ever uploaded."
tomorrow’s vlog will be the craziest and most real video I’ve ever uploaded
— Logan Paul (@LoganPaul) December 31, 2017
There are laws in Australia around reporting suicide. There are reasons for these laws.
Evidence from more than 100 international studies, as detailed in Mindframe's National Media Initiative, shows that stories about suicide are associated with an increased rate of suicide and suicide attempts after the reporting.
"Risk generally increases where the reporting focuses on an individual who has died (especially celebrities); where the reporting is prominent and repeated; where the death is glamourised or glorified; and where the method and location is detailed," the Mindframe document states.
Look to, for example, the aftermath of the 2017 Netflix special 13 Reasons Why, which told the story of a teenage girl who suicided and left behind tapes explaining her 'reasons'.
A report published in JAMA International Medicine in August, four months after the show's release, detailed how the 13-part series led to an increase in Google searches for specific suicide methods. That suicide queries were higher than the norm by 19 per cent following the show's airing, and this accounted for anywhere between 900,000 and 1.5 million additional searches relating to suicide.
LISTEN: Was 13 Reasons Why helpful in raising awareness, or dangerous? We discuss, on The Binge. Post continues after audio.
In Paul's video we have a pseudo-celebrity, portraying suicide via a specific method and in a specific location, in a cavalier manner that could be equated to glorification. He broke all the rules - if only YouTube had some - and, in doing so, put millions of people at risk.
As the mother of that 13-year-old boy wrote: "Already my children struggle to explain to others how their father died, when they ask. Suicide isn’t an easy thing to explain."
Of course. There is grief, compounded with confusion and guilt and the constant questioning of oneself and one's past. A 22-year-old YouTube vlogger from Ohio has no right to intrude upon that grief. To make fun of it. Even worse, to commoditise it.
And yet he could and he has because the internet and fame and clicks and likes make everything so easy.
As he wrote in his apology: "I have made a 15 minute TV show every day for the past 460+ days. One may understand that it's easy to get caught up in the moment without fully understanding the ramifications" - implying the volume and speed of YouTube fame is partly to blame for his mistake.
One might consider that. But, if it was so easy to get something so important so, so wrong, one might also consider stopping all together. There are some things the world doesn't need to see, even if you're a YouTuber.
If you, or a young person you know, is struggling with symptoms of mental illness please contact your local headspace centre or chat to them online here. If you are over the age of 25 and suffering from symptoms of mental illness please contact your local GP for a Mental Health Assessment Plan or call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.