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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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7 Filipino children shows we surely miss

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Art by Justice Gravador/TomasinoWeb.

Kuya Bodjie, Kiko Matsing, Agatom, Ms. Math Tinik—these are just some of the iconic characters every 90s kid almost, if not totally, considered as the “second teacher” of his or her days. But now, it seems the road to becoming “forgotten men” instead is unblocked and all clear for them.

Despite its mission to “inform, inspire and empower our people and nation,” the state-run People’s Television Network agreed to showcase Chinese shows to “better understand its people and their history, culture and endeavour,” thus, creating a clear look at other’s culture while ours is thrown to the muds.

Although there had been decline in terms of ratings and sponsorship in these Filipino shows before, no one can contest that nothing can beat this way of learning!

1. Batibot

 Photo from When In Manila.

Inspired by American children’s show Sesame Street, Batibot made the childhood of the 80s and the 90s generation truly fun and educational with various dance and song numbers, role playing of characters—Ate Sienna (Sienna Olaso), Kuya Bodjie (Bodjie Pascua), Pong Pagong, Kiko Matsing (Pocholo Gonzales), among others—and its successful trademark, puppets! The incomparable show, which discussed almost anything under the sun, inevitably won the hearts of many as it lasted for more than a decade.

2. Sineskwela

Screenshot grabbed from a Sineskwela video uploaded in the official YouTube account of Knowledge Channel.

“Tayo na sa Sineskwela. Tuklasin natin ang siyensiya!”

Who can forget this iconic song?

In collaboration with the Department of Education and the Department of Science and Technology, Sineskwela made the biology, chemistry, sound energies, travel of light, astronomy, energy transformation, principles of electricity—need I say more?—easy for viewers to understand! With its easy-to-digest visuals, one-of-a-kind experiments and creative dramatizations, the scientific show became a vital addition to every school’s list of movies to watch. Nothing’s more exciting than the “viewing day” especially when the teacher holds up the school’s (somewhat-aging) copy of Sineskwela.

3. Epol Apple

Photo from When In Manila.

Focusing on basic and conversational English, Epol Apple was designed to improve a child’s skills in listening, speaking and, most especially, grammar. The show taught the proper usage of the language, like the “in,” “on” and “at” of writing a home address. The show made the learning interactive as Bodjie Pascual as Tito Luis did entertaining stories and fun activities with his horn-bill friend, Porfirio.

4. Bayani

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Photo from When In Manila.

With ABS-CBN’s Bayani, who will dare to say that learning history is boring?

As the title stated, it is a children’s show presenting the life of our heroes and their contributions to the country. With the show’s protagonists, Noli and Ana, they leapt through time where they had the opportunity to meet  and interact with the heroes and relive historical events. Aside from narrating and discovering Philippine history, the show also highlighted the value of Filipino identity and heroism.

5. Hiraya Manawari

Photo from The Filipino Channel.

Hiraya Manawari, which figuratively means “reach your dreams,” is a show that uses different legends to incorporate values such as honesty, humility, courage, love, and respect. Each episode highlighted one virtue. Just like today’s fantasy anthology, Wansapanataym, the show creatively used myths as a way to infuse morals on its viewers.

6. Math Tinik

Photo from When In Manila.

Some students tremble upon hearing the word  “Mathematics” but thanks to Math Tinik, 90s kids now know how to multiply by simply just aligning their fingers! Counting and solving numeration, addition, multiplication, decimals, and fractions will never be fun without Charlie, Patricia and their cool teacher, Ms. Math Tinik.

7. Art Angel

Photo from PEP.ph.

It’s Saturday. Armed with bond paper, crayola, and scissors, the children are brimming with excitement as they wait for the Art Angel to play on those television screens.

With hosts Kuya Tonipet and Ate Pia, and their trusty friend, Pintado, they turned every kid’s 30 minutes filled with beauty of colors and creativity. Running for a total of 370 episodes, it gained numerous recognitions, and also the hearts of the people.

Cartoons are one of the avenues where children start to learn since the playful themes make learning less intimidating and more interactive. During these early stages of learning, children are quick to absorb information through language, graphics and values being presented.

With the decision of PTV to showcase Chinese cartoons, will the upcoming generation ever have the chance to experience the beauty of our own culture before anyone else’s anymore?

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Blackpink is back in your area with ‘Square Up’

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Photo from BLACKPINK's ‘뚜두뚜두 (DDU-DU DDU-DU)’ official music video.

After various false alarms and 10 years of being locked up in YG Entertainment’s dungeons, Blackpink is finally back in our area with a brand new music video and a mini-album with four new songs…which is a bit of a let-down to say the least, especially for fans who eagerly waited for the quartet’s long-overdue comeback.

With that out of the way, Square Up comes nearly a year after Blackpink’s last comeback, As If It’s Your Last, and while the single saw the group veering  into poppier territory than their previous releases, Square Up fully commits itself to a more hip-hop and trap-heavy sound typical of YG releases.

Title track Ddu-du Ddu-du best exemplifies this sound. Reading like a diss track to Blackpink’s haters, the song indulges in trap beats as well as stronger and sharper rapping lines from Jennie and Lisa, with lyrics laced with in-your-face braggadocio, showcasing the quarter in a fiercer image reminiscent of their debut singles Boombayah and Whistle, and perhaps even senior labelmates 2NE1.

While the track also turns the spotlight on the group’s vocal chops as Rosé and Jisoo take turns in belting out the song’s soaring pre-chorus, the best part of Ddu-du Ddu-du, however, is its raga-inspired dance break in the outro, giving the song its much needed climax.

The album’s second track, Forever Young, is arguably the strongest cut from the album. The track kicks off with Jennie’s soulful vocals and trades the swagger of Ddu-du Ddu-du for a euphoric us-against-the-world dancehall anthem that recalls As If It’s Your Last.

Just as when the song’s romantic tone begins to feel a bit cloying, Forever Young abruptly shifts gears as it transitions to a sultry revolutionary call-to-arms before exploding into a full-blown dance party, complete with horns, chants, and hints of oriental synths buried in the background. Almost every element of the song makes perfect sense, and it stands out as one of Blackpink’s best efforts so far.

Nonetheless, growing pains emerge with the mini album’s latter half, as the last two tracks simply do not possess the energy of the first half.

Breezy trap ballad Really slows things down following Forever Young’s high-octane dance break, which only highlights the song’s blandness and middle-of-the-road quality. It has its charms, nonetheless, and it takes numerous listens to be fully appreciated – like Jisoo trying a bit of rap-singing in the verses to Lisa’s romantic bars – but it lacks charisma and swagger that would’ve otherwise turned the song into an empowering love song. It also painfully sounds like a 2NE1 outtake; as much as the song fits nicely with Blackpink’s concept, it’s hard not to imagine the song being sung by their seniors who could probably pull off the song’s innate swagger without much effort.

The mini album’s closing kiss-off track, See U Later, shows promise in its night-drive moody verses but its abrupt shift to a trap chorus makes the song messy and disjointed, and is ultimately forgettable for a closing track.

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Photo from BLACKPINK’s ‘뚜두뚜두 (DDU-DU DDU-DU)’ official music video.

It is, perhaps, understandable why opinion on Square Up is noticeably divided even among fans, as the mini album sees Blackpink move further into merely emulating the “YG sound” without letting them explore a musical and artistic identity that would otherwise set the quartet apart not only from their contemporaries but also from their predecessors.

Tempering the aggressive swagger of their seniors, Blackpink’s braggadocio in tracks like Ddu-du Ddu-du is an attempt to differentiate the group from the dominantly cute and sexy concepts of other popular girl groups, but their bragging feels empty – they haven’t exactly proven that much to brag about, and their attempts to execute fierceness during live performances feels awfully forced.

What has worked for Blackpink so far are dramatic songs like Playing With Fire, As If It’s Your Last and Forever Young which saw Blackpink flirting less with hip-hop and more with poppier sounds and genres not usually associated with YG or Teddy Park’s production.

However, much of the group’s oeuvre would show that they still exist in the shadows of 2NE1 – and it is disappointing that, two years into their career, YG is still holding them back from releasing a full album and is purposefully grooming them to fill the niche carved and left by 2NE1.

Nonetheless, Square Up is quality material, and it shows strong promise and potential: It allows Blackpink to put one feet on an already successful but unoriginal formula and another on trying new sounds and concepts that could otherwise cement their place in K-pop as a standalone group.

Perhaps, Square Up is a beta test – which could probably explain why YG only allows Blackpink to release only few songs every once in a while: To evaluate and tap into current and emerging trends that the group could incorporate in the future. Only time can tell when Blackpink will finally be the revolution they proudly proclaimed.

 

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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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