Two recent social media stories have broken the internet, both involving 22-year-old video bloggers or vloggers: U.K.-based Elle Darby and American YouTube star Logan Paul.
Logan Paul is a social-media superstar who had amassed a huge almost cult-like following of millions, known as the Logang. Elle Darby is a self-described social media influencer. With a much more modest following than Paul (96,000 YouTube and 88,000 Instagram followers), Darby blogs about lifestyle, beauty and travel from her home in England.
Darby's foray into controversy began when she requested a five-night complimentary stay at a Dublin hotel in exchange for promoting her stay on her social media feeds. Paul Stenson, the hotel's owner proceeded to publicly attack what he perceived as her sense of entitlement and lack of dignity. The public response seemed to split the internet with half attacking Darby and the other half attacking Stenson.
Paul's controversy was much more serious. Filming in Japan's Aokigahara forest (known as suicide forest), Paul allegedly stumbled across and filmed the lifeless body of a man who had taken his own life. He shared the video. Needless to say, the public response was dramatic and immediate. He faced a negative backlash from sponsors, YouTube and many fans.
This type of self-absorbed, narcissistic view is the dark side of social media MEfluencers.
Both vloggers showed a serious lapse in judgment. For Ms. Darby, it was her lack of research about the hotel she was hoping to partner with. Her naive and simplistic email request didn't illustrate that she had a marketing strategy or understood Stenson's target market, and didn't offer concrete details how they could collaborate. She came across as a kid hoping for a free hotel stay in exchange for posting some selfies.
I think Paul's actions were much more malicious. He abused his platform and clearly stepped across a line of basic decency and humanity. If he has any moral sense of right and wrong, or being part of a larger community beyond himself, he clearly didn't show it by uploading that video. I question whether he "stumbled" across that tragic, lifeless body. Or was it a deliberate attempt at shock value to get more click throughs from his followers?
Words and images matter, and should be chosen and shared carefully. They can tear people down or lift them up. The man who took his own life in that forest should never have been filmed, let alone shared. It showed a shocking disregard for another human being. I wonder if Paul had any concept about the global damage that his video did for millions of people suffering with mental illness or still grieving the loss of loved ones who took their own life.
You can't deny that social media platforms are becoming stronger platforms for editorial and advertising content. It begs the question whether there should be more stringent standards to ensure quality content. Should there be a social media content standards similar to what the Canadian Code for Advertising Standards does for advertising or the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council does for radio and television broadcasting? It's certainly worth exploring.
The first words in Paul's Japan suicide video were, "This is a first for me." Similarly, in Darby's emotional and sometimes rambling video defending her career choice, she said, "I'm just trying to live my best life." This type of self-absorbed, narcissistic view is the dark side of social media MEfluencers.
After the release of that despicable video, Logan went silent, no doubt licking his wounds. After a three-week absence, he recently posted a video focusing on suicide prevention. Was it a last-ditch effort to save his career? Or a heartfelt attempt to learn from his mistakes? I guess only Paul himself can answer that question. I hope it's the latter, but I have my doubts.
They need to grow up.
The value of YouTuber personalities as credible and relevant information sources is coming into question. Recently, another high-profile YouTube personality, Casey Neistat, made the news. Hoping to attract a younger audience and convert Neistat's 8.8 million YouTube subscribers into viewers, CNN bought Neistat's video sharing app Beme for $25 million and merged it and Neistat into their organization. Less than two years later, they've parted ways. The experiment didn't work.
If social media influencers and internet personalities really want to be respected by the mainstream, they need to evolve beyond a sophomoric sense of self. They need to grow up.
What's your sense of social media influencers? Should there be a social media standards council? Tweet me @NatashaNKPR or leave a comment below.
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