On Monday, a vlogger uploaded footage to YouTube of what appeared to be the blurred body of a dead man.
I don’t mean Logan Paul. Paul is the Vine star turned internet sensation who on Sunday had uploaded the original footage of the body, which he and his video crew had discovered inside Japan’s so-called suicide forest amid their own nervous cackles and bizarre wisecracks. That video had caused righteous and widespread outrage. But this wasn’t that.
This was a 10-minute rant titled “Logan Paul Just Ended His Career,” created by a YouTube personality named Kavos. Staring into his webcam, Kavos attacked Paul relentlessly and ruthlessly for the video, calling him “a massive piece of shit” and an “obnoxious, inconsiderate fuck.”
(Curious readers can view his whole video on his YouTube page, but we have opted not to embed the video for reasons that will become clear.)
“How far is Logan Paul willing to go for some views?” Kavos asked. “You’re literally exploiting a man’s suicide and his death,” he said at another point. Like Paul’s upload, it was a reaction video, this one a reaction to the reaction, through which the internet could embrace its collective anger at Paul’s tasteless response to death ― and it worked. “Logan Paul Just Ended His Career” has received more than 11 million views, or almost double what Paul had garnered on the original video when Kavos decided to create his.
“Let me know what you think down below,” Kavos says at the end of his anti-Paul screed. “Please like the video. Share it around ― and let’s expose Logan and the people who think this is right.”
Search for Paul’s video on YouTube right now and you won’t find the original. That has been deleted, and Paul has since apologized both in writing and over YouTube. In its place: an ever-growing number of webcam-based reactions to Paul’s actions ― quickly spliced together and often earnest condemnations. To people who didn’t grow up on YouTube, they can look like unappealing wastes of time. But these easy-to-make videos have become the basis of a popular and occasionally profitable corner of the YouTube economy ― a primary reason why so many of them overwhelm YouTube’s search engines at the sound of a trending topic.
“This is the first video I’ve seen of you but I agree with everything you said. I like how you analyze everything, you have a new subscriber,” one commenter wrote to another anti-Paul vlogger.
This is how the YouTube economy works. Reactions are the stock-in-trade, subscribers and views the coin of the realm ― so much so that a comedy duo reportedly tried to trademark the term “react” last year. One of the earliest versions of the form came back in 2007 in response to a porn trailer unofficially titled “2 Girls 1 Cup,” which, if you haven’t heard of it before, I will not be explaining. “The resulting videos were like a social periscope,” Sam Anderson later wrote in The New York Times. “They allowed people to watch this taboo thing by proxy, to experience its dangerous thrill without having to encounter it directly.”
These reaction videos, psychologists say, allow us to fill up on one of the most basic of human emotions: empathy. “When you watch someone react to something with a big response, it’s much easier to empathize with them because you know exactly what they’re feeling,” a clinical psychologist told Ars Technica last year. That feels good. But over time these vloggers have come to so intimately understand the relationship between empathy and engagement that the form has become exploited ― transformed into something else entirely.
Now reaction videos often come not from an innocent bystander watching in horror as Paul treks through the woods for the first time but from a fleet of professionalized vloggers ready and willing to create carefully crafted and well-edited videos they know will resonate with YouTube’s audience, leading, if all goes well, to clicking, button-pressing, engagement and an improved personal brand.
Paul’s video became another moment for these vloggers, however earnest, to grow their name by working within the same incentive system that caused Paul’s own horrible decision to walk into the Aokigahara forest for clicks. These vloggers aren’t the problem, however. They are simply working in accordance with the incentives set up for them by the platform Paul himself had used to perfection with videos like “REACTING TO JAKE PAUL’S DISS TRACK AGAINST ME!” and “REACTING TO MYSELF BEFORE I WAS FAMOUS!” for his 15 million-plus subscribers. Select All’s Madison Malone Kircher argues that something like Paul’s reaction video was always going to be the endpoint of YouTube culture, but maybe that’s not quite right. The endpoint was always going to be YouTube reacting to something like Paul’s reaction video.
Kavos’ video, however, proved much more successful than any of the other reactions to Paul’s mistake, likely because of one significant difference between his and theirs. Interspersed with the vlogger’s morally sound vitriol was a not insignificant portion of the exact video Kavos was criticizing ― nearly raw footage of Paul and his friends belittling a death.
“I need to show this next part of the vlog,” Kavos says. “And it’s a horrible, horrible thing to see, and I’m going to blur it a lot more ― I’m going to blur it way more than Logan did because he didn’t blur it enough. But you get it ― it’s a dead body. Just have a look at what he does.”
YouTube explained in a statement about Paul’s original video that graphic footage “can only remain on the site when supported by appropriate educational or documentary information.” That’s no doubt why YouTube has blocked people who have tried to upload the version of Paul’s video full stop, and why at least some of the vloggers opted not to include it (another clear reason: genuine sensitivity). But Kavos walked a fine line, unfurling his disgust while providing the hard-to-find original footage — the disgusting stuff.
Wrote one commenter: “From 3k average sub’s a day to 75k yesterday... Good to see Kavos finally getting some decent recognition. Kudos and keep up the good work!”
“[S]omeone did bad and time for you to make money.congrats 10M,” another wrote.
But others weren’t so impressed, calling Kavos “disgusting” for creating a video that included the footage of a blurred dead body “for the same reason, views.”
“What is Youtube coming to,” ask one commenter. “It makes me laugh as soon as someone does something wrong everyone creates a video about it to gain views and subs unbelievable.”
The reaction must have not been intense enough to make Kavos think twice, however, or to ignore the golden vlogger rule of “react first, think later.” Because on Wednesday, he returned to YouTube to upload another video.
This time he titled it, “Do Not Forgive Logan Paul.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.