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Logan Paul and the murky standards of YouTube’s community guidelines

Logan Paul and PewDiePie’s controversial videos reflect YouTube’s crisis on content moderation.

Logan Paul Vlogs/YouTube.

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(UPDATED Jan. 12, 2 p.m.) Merely days into 2018, the Internet already found a new target for its outrage—and rightfully so.

YouTube star Logan Paul had his name all over headlines for the past few days due to a video about his trip to Aokigahara forest at the base of Mount Fuji (which he had confused with Fiji), notorious for its reputation among locals and tourists as Japan’s “suicide forest.”

In the since-deleted video, unsubtly titled We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…, Paul and his friends found a body of a suicide victim hanging from a tree just a few kilometers into Aokigahara; however, instead of respectfully turning his camera off (or even cutting the footage from the final video), Paul continued filming, even repeatedly zooming in on the corpse’s face.

“This was supposed to be a fun vlog,” he said, before making fun of the victim while wearing a cartoonish green headwarmer. The group laughed and cracked jokes beside the body.

Paul might have thought the whole ordeal was funny; after all, he amassed a following of nearly 20 million (and mostly young) subscribers for performing challenges, stunts, and pranks wrapped in his brand of rowdy shock humor, and the controversial video was supposed to be a part of his Tokyo Adventures series, where the 22-year-old vlogger obviously staged various pranks.

In the following video, Paul and his friends ran around Tokyo as they yelled at strangers and walked in the middle of the metropolis carrying a dead fish and an octopus tentacle.

 

 

In another, Paul engaged in downright cultural appropriation and disrespect (a fact he actually acknowledged during the video) by wearing traditional garbs and even going as far as washing his hands with holy water in a temple. The group was later kicked out of the temple, and their Japanese tour guide could be seen apologizing to authorities on their behalf.

 

 

These videos are still up on Paul’s channel. Nonetheless, the 22-year-old deleted the graphic video less than 24 hours after it was uploaded as outrage began pouring in from the YouTube community and the general public—but not before it was viewed 6.3 million times, even earning the 10th spot in YouTube’s trending list.

In a lengthy apology posted on his Twitter account, Paul said that he “didn’t do it for views” and that his intention was”to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention” (the controversial video was not monetized).

However, his efforts to “raise awareness” by including suicide prevention hotlines and disclaimers in the video were slammed by various netizens, YouTubers, and personalities as hypocritical at best and self-praising at worst, considering how Japan seriously deals with cultural norms and its high suicide rate.

Nonetheless, Paul’s video is not the first YouTuber to face outrage on the platform for producing content that explicitly violated community guidelines.

His rival, Felix Kjellberg, more popularly known as PewDiePie, also faced similar backlash February last year for paying two Indian freelancers to dance while holding a banner that read “Death to all Jews”—a clear violation of YouTube’s guidelines on hateful content.


Is YouTube slowly losing its grasp on the content being uploaded to the platform or are they no longer firm in safeguarding their audience?


Kjellberg retorted in an apology letter on Tumblr saying that the stunt was simply a joke overblown by the media and that it was only meant to show “how crazy the modern world is.” However, a report by The Wall Street Journal noted that anti-Semitic and Nazi imagery and references were present in at least nine of his videos since August 2016; neo-Nazi groups and white supremacist sites such as The Daily Stormer were already praising Kjellberg for his use of Nazi imagery, despite some of his followers defending his jokes as mere “satire.”

Both Paul and Kjellberg share almost the same brand of shock-inducing, absurdist humor masked as satire, which has become an increasingly ubiquitous part of YouTuber culture. While both of them faced consequences such as termination of partnerships and the removal of their channels from YouTube’s preferred-advertising service, it is safe to say that these controversies will only become mere blunders in their careers: Kjellberg continues to have a strong following, and Paul’s subscriber count had only increased by 600,000 in the past week.

Various users, during the time the video was still up, flagged the video as it obviously violated YouTube’s community standards and guidelines on violent and graphic content, which explicitly says “it’s not okay to post violent or gory content that’s primarily intended to be shocking, sensational, or disrespectful.”

A spokesperson from YouTube confirmed the violation but did not comment on whether Paul’s channel was given a strike or if they have manually reviewed the video (as of press time, Paul’s channel was already given one); other users who reposted Paul’s video in their own channels, however, were given strikes—and according to YouTube’s policies, channels that receive three strikes within three months are removed from the platform.

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While Paul has subsequently apologized again in a video, YouTube has seemingly addressed the backlash through a Twitter thread last Jan. 10, saying that they were taking steps “to ensure a video like this is never circulated again.” They did not, however, disclose the specific steps they would take.

However, it is now necessary to ask why the Internet’s leading video sharing platform allows content that violates its own guidelines to stay and proliferate within the platform. Is YouTube slowly losing its grasp on the content being uploaded to the platform or are they no longer firm in safeguarding their audience? On both questions, perhaps not—and, if anything, YouTube is very much as culpable as its creators.

It is important to note that while the video was repeatedly reported to YouTube, it was Paul who took it down eventually—not moderators. Furthermore, according to a member of YouTube’s Trusted Flagger program, the video was manually reviewed and moderators decided that it should remain on the platform—even without an age restriction.

Even Kjellberg’s video remained accessible during the height of the controversy according to a report by Time Magazine, despite initial reports that the video was already removed (it is now unavailable).

These controversies highlight YouTube’s long-running crisis on content moderation, on how it moderates and censors the content of its top creators (if YouTube actually does), and on how it plays favorites and double standards, and how the platform tacitly encourages the production of provocative, offensive, or extremist content that would surely garner millions of views—and these views would inevitably translate to advertising revenue.


… if anything, YouTube is very much as culpable as its creators.


For one, Kjellberg’s Nazi references staying under the radar for so long only goes to show how YouTube is willing to bend its own rules for creators that get millions of views and make profit for the platform. A piece from The New York Times puts it plainly: “The YouTube platform plainly incentivizes such attention-grabbing behavior.”

The piece also considered how YouTube “is considerably and deliberately less hands-on with its talents” and YouTube might be more than willing to use this to wash their hands from any responsibility; however, Paul is a high-profile collaborator. He is set to star in a film produced by YouTube’s premium tier, YouTube Red, much like how Kjellberg starred in the tier’s Scare PewDiePie series before its second season was cancelled following Kjellberg’s controversy.

While YouTube has put its collaborations with Paul on hold, his Tokyo Adventures videos are still reportedly making as much as 90,000 dollars from views, according to analysts, in stark contrast to how YouTube responded to Kjellberg and other creators—and it all comes down to advertisers.

Last year, advertisers threatened to boycott YouTube as they discovered that their advertisements ran in videos “promoting terrorism and anti-Semitism,” according to a report from TechCrunch. YouTube began demonetizing videos—including innocent channels—in what became known as the first “adpocalypse,” and these continued following the discovery of inappropriate content running in YouTube’s standalone children-oriented app, YouTube Kids, by taking advantage of the platform’s algorithms.

In order to combat the loopholes in its algorithms, YouTube announced just last month that it would hire 10,000 human moderators to police content, punish creators that violate guidelines, and make sure that advertisements run alongside content that advertisers deem appropriate for their brands.

The platform now seemed ready to come clean—but Paul’s controversial video showed that YouTube is still not ready after all.

Perhaps, unlike neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism, advertisers do not care about Paul’s insensitive mistake on making fun of suicide, he even allegedly monetized his own apology video (the controversial video was not), and there are no threats from advertisers to boycott the platform.

Ironically (or perhaps not), even Kjellberg called Paul a “jackass” and “a straight-up sociopath,” with the video “[encompassing] everything wrong with YouTube, the clickbait, the sensationalism”—and he is not entirely wrong: If anything, Kjellberg only echoed what other YouTubers have been saying all along (it is also important to note that Kjellberg does not want Paul’s channel to be taken down.

If YouTube cannot violate the editorial independence of its content creators, then this leaves the public to pressure YouTube to revise or clarify its community guidelines, uphold policies and strengthen their enforcement, and give more transparency in handling reports and complaints.

However, its complex ecosystem of algorithms, moderators, and corporate interests—and how they exactly work to enforce community guidelines despite their inherent contradictions—is still up for debate.

Nonetheless, the call still stands: YouTube needs to let go of its profitability for once and own up for its complicity in the mistakes of its creators—and, of course, punish them accordingly.

by Antoine Kyle Balo


EDITOR’S NOTE: The article has been updated to reflect YouTube’s responses and actions regarding the controversy.

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Continuing to break the silence

As we come near the end of Women’s Month, Danielle Baranda looks back on the continuing impact of the #MeToo movement.

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Photo courtesy of Mark Raslton/AFP.

This month is a celebration.

This month, women from all over the globe unite and stand together as one solid frontier. This month is a reminder of the change continuing to unfold right in front of us—we are reminded and we celebrate women of all races and skin color. We tip our hats off to those brave voices we heard just last year, and further elevate those who are still falling short.

All it took was one voice that mustered the courage to speak up. A voice that resonated among a mass of silenced victims, a voice that would point out its oppressor and lead to several others following suit—several voices crying out, “Me too!”

Just as 2017 ended, we at TomasinoWeb looked back at this movement in its entirety (READ: #TWenty: The 2017 TomasinoWeb Year-ender—#MeToo). The fast pace of how allegations surfaced left and right was overwhelming that attempting to summarize it in one whole article proved to be difficult, but that was a good thing and it still is.

Three months into the year and the stories still keep on coming. Come to think of it, it has become the new normal. In our first analysis of the #MeToo movement, the sad normal reality we had come to conclude at the time was that people were dismissing these stories as nothing out of the ordinary.

A lot has changed since then, and admittedly, not everyone is happy about it.

Last January, Taken actor Liam Neeson went on the record in defense of his friend Dustin Hoffman. He dismissed the still growing #MeToo movement as having turned into a witch hunt, but has it?

The idea of gray zone sex recently resurfaced after an online post regarding an uncomfortable sexual encounter involving Parks and Recreations actor Aziz Ansari went viral. According to an article from The New York Times, the gray zone is defined as a sexual encounter that cannot necessarily be filed under the tag of sexual assault but is also a little too disconcerting to be simply named as a bad date either.

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Another allegation that initially floated around last year which still found its way this year involved American Idol host Ryan Seacrest. Although coming out of the allegations relatively unscathed due to a two month investigation instigated by the E! Network which ended in favor of Seacrest, still there are persistent skeptics.

It is important to take note that Ryan Seacrest is the producer of everyone’s beloved Keeping Up With the Kardashians, making him a key stakeholder within the network which brings me to the very point of this little update—like everything else, the #MeToo movement is not perfect, but that does not mean that it is a witch hunt nor is it a trend that’ll one day just fade away.

It is our duty to listen to these voices still coming forward. Yes, there may be discrepancies when it comes to their stories, but let us not forget that these women are trying to recall and retell a story of how they were abused. And that will never be an easy one to share.

Let us make it easier for them and learn how to listen better. Let us continue to raise questions and look at things critically. Despite these movements, women still face great challenges when it comes to speaking out and taking a stand for themselves.

Before you question a woman’s authenticity, please take a moment to stop and think about how much she is risking to do what she is doing because I can assure you, she is probably risking more than she will be getting in return.

We left 2017 by starting something bigger than ourselves. As previously stated, it is far from perfect, but that cannot negate the giant leaps it has brought for women everywhere. The end goal was never to tip the scales entirely in our favor—it was, and always has been to merely balance those said scales. We are almost there, ladies. Keep fighting.

 

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Film Fridays: Enjoying films underneath the stars

Sometimes, a chill Friday after an exhausting week is all we need—a rest for the mind and feast for the eyes.

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Photo by Elizabeth Nicole Regudo/TomasinoWeb.

It was Friday… again.

It was the day where all responsibilities were crammed within the 24-hour period, with only caffeine and the thought of “weekend” to survive.

But it was not just any ordinary Friday.

Lounging at a grassy field underneath the starry night while watching good films, Thomasian Film Society’s Film Fridays gave me life.

Snacks were given to the first 150 participants and also you’d get to watch spectacular films under the night sky. Sitting on the grass, side by side with your friends or even your significant other—well, in my case, only just a bag of popcorn in my hand while The Blanks performed covers as well as their original songs.

We all know that the company of good food and good music could always make us feel better, right?

Sineng Sine Films like Bilang, Bakokang and Larawan were featured during the first Friday of the event. These three managed to make the viewers hold their tears as the audience was moved with each of the film’s stories. A plot involving death, betrayal, and lies within a family would always make everyone shift in their seats.

After the film showing, award-winning directors Nerisa Picadizo, Jaynus Olaivar and Marvin Cabangunay shared their experiences on filmmaking where their stories inspired the aspiring filmmakers.

“Go out there and do it!” Picadizo exclaimed. Her voice was filled with so much enthusiasm that everyone can’t help feeling the same way.

Well, have I mentioned that this was not a one-night thing? After the first day, everyone was ecstatic as the 2nd of March came knocking on our doors as Mikhail Red, the director of internationally-recognized and award-winning film Birdshot, came to town.

The director gave us the opportunity to look upon his journey as a filmmaker and shared to us the hell he—together with his crew—went through before, during and after every film.

Starting at a very young age, he started filmmaking at 15 years old and after a decade he’s still doing the very first thing he fell in love with—creating unique films with a touch of Western flavor.

Listening to his story wasn’t the only thing he prepared for the attendees of Film Fridays. He even generously shared to us the trailers for his films like Rekorder and Neomanila—and it didn’t stop there! Aside from sharing a secret with us (which you’ll never know until before the end of the year, he also teased us with his new film in the works, Eerie, a “not your typical Filipino horror film” as well as his future projects.

But with all the upcoming short films, wouldn’t you feel restless, too? Despite that, I know all of these were worth waiting for.

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The fate of Maria Clara and women empowerment

We are asked to be Maria Clara. Women are asked to act demurely and be meek, and when she acts not in the character of Maria Clara, she will always be reprimanded with the words: “Kababae mong tao”.

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Art by Baron Balaba/TomasinoWeb.

He called me pretty.

Sexy, beautiful or maybe even asked me to smile. I do not recall exactly what words those were. I did not take the time and pause to hear what he said, nor look at his face. But today, a man I did not know called me pretty.

My mother always reminded me to wear decent clothing and by decent, meaning clothes that do not reveal too much of my body. I do not blame her. Most mothers remind their daughters to do the same for their protection, specifically protection from our misogynistic society. She’d always say: “Wag mo sila bigyan ng rason para bastusin ka.”  I followed my mother’s advice; I dressed up as decent I can be and yet, even when I’m wearing my school uniform, strangers would catcall me in the streets.

It isn’t always just in the streets where I feel uncomfortable about my body. It also happens at family gatherings, when my relatives would joke about my weight. I am not a size 2 nor do I have a supermodel figure. I am a size 8 and I have a thick body frame, in which I have no problem with. But when the jokes about my weight are brought up, it makes me feel invalidated, that there is something wrong with me: “Uy, ang taba mo na!”, “Parang kailangan na natin magdiet ah”, “Gusto mo mag gym?” and the worst one yet, “Nako, walang manliligaw sayo pag ganyan katawan mo”. Again, I don’t blame my relatives; it is just something that we Filipinos are used to. Society has taught us to keep a figure that is slender, and not be fat or obese because to be fat or obese means there is something wrong with you and if you’re a woman, you are not appealing to a man as if your whole future depends on finding a man to marry.

But more than just the clothes every woman like me is asked to wear or our bodies, there is a social order in which each gender is assigned to follow. For women, specifically in the Philippines, we are asked to be Maria Clara. Women are asked to act demurely and be meek, and when she acts not in the character of Maria Clara, she will always be reprimanded with the words: “Kababae mong tao”.

Society has confined women in this social order: To follow, to be controlled and be quiet.

In comparison with the men in society, they are not asked to wear “decent” clothing for them to be respected, nor is their weight not a huge issue. Moreover, they are not asked to be quiet or to be meek, and there will always be an excuse for their actions, good or bad: “Boys will be boys”. Though there is still a social order that men follow, that they are not allowed to be soft or feminine, but it is not as suppressing as for women.

It is undeniable that our society is patriarchal. Men are believed to be more superior to women, making them secondary. The Philippines being a Catholic country, our beliefs are mostly based on the Catholic bible. According to St. Paul, women must become subjects to their husbands, which doesn’t mean entirely bad but implies women must follow their husbands as they are the head of the family. It isn’t only in religion women are seen as secondary to men. A lot of films, commercials and print ads revolve around narratives in which women are seen as subjects for the male gaze. One of which is the advertisement for beer, a woman is usually present, in which has no connection with the bottle of beer, but to give emphasis on the man’s masculinity.

This idea validates the power of men over women. The things we see on TV, the internet, films and so much more, that show women as secondary to men contributes to the still on-going misogyny present in our society.

Though times have been changing, and a lot of women fought for the discrimination that has been happening for the past years, it is uneasy to say patriarchy is still here. That is why a lot of people still fight against it, may it be in the streets or online. Social media has been a great avenue for voicing out ideas and opinions. It is also an avenue for reaching out to people and inform people of what is happening outside the online world. One of which is the recent #MeToo movement, wherein women shared their stories of being harassed and abused by men in particular.

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Social media has been a place where women empowerment is well talked about. A lot of posts and tweets that say, they are for women and believe women should be respected, and it gets a lot of shares and retweets, in which is a good thing as it could inform more people about women empowerment. But there are also tweets and posts that are women positive but the empowerment only lives in the post or tweet alone. I know a lot of people who tweet or post such things but when outside the online world, they do not stay true to their words. Moreover, there are also people who post and tweet that they support women but in fact they only support themselves or are only for women when it’s convenient. And lastly, there are also people who say that they empower women, when in fact they only empower women who are privileged.

I am not saying that those women whom I call privileged do not feel discrimination or harassment, nor see them as shallow. It is safe to say that I am one of those women, and many of my women friends are also privileged. There is nothing wrong with empowering ourselves. But then again, when we say women empowerment, it must include all women. What about the women at the lowest of the lowest? Who empowers them?

It is easy to say that you empower women by posting a tweet with hashtags such as #MeToo or #TimesUp, but women empowerment is more than that. It is more than sharing your own “I was catcalled” story, or your body positivity story. There are women who are constantly abused by their husbands but do not say anything out of fear. There are also marginalized women at the bottom of the bottom who are sold for sex, even girls as young as the age of seven who are abducted for slavery. There are young women who are unable to access education because they cannot afford it, and women in poverty who are hungry due to the unequal access to employment, resources and social services because women are seen to be weak. Who speaks for them?

Again, I am not saying that street harassment and catcalling, body negativity or the “kababae mong tao” problems are shallow. They are also problems that should be addressed. Because when we let these little things happen, we allow bigger things to follow. Those little things are what lead us to suppressing women as weak and subjects to be controlled by misogyny. When we teach society that we, women, should be quiet and be Maria Clara, we teach them to be silent and eventually not to speak for themselves. Maria Clara obeyed his father and all the men around her. Her decisions were made by the men around her, and in the end she ended up raped by Padre Salvi and she kept silent about it because she was taught that the ideal woman should be quiet.

Women empowerment is more than posting or tweeting that you are one with women, or wearing an H&M shirt that says “The Future is Female”, there is nothing wrong with it but it must not stop there. Women empowerment is about speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, which includes all women in all classes. It is speaking for those Maria Claras who remain silent about their suffering. It is for all women, not just for those who are convenient to empower.

In all honesty, I too question myself and what have I done for women. But I am still learning on what can I do and how can I empower them. Eventually, I hope that I, and everyone else, can contribute in empowering all women, so that in time no woman will be ever called pretty by a strange man in the streets.

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