YouTube star Logan Paul is back after a three-week break from the streaming service, officially launching his redemption tour with a video on suicide prevention in which he pledges to donate $1 million to organizations on the front lines.
"It's time to start a new chapter in my life as I continue to educate both myself and others on suicide," Paul says in the video posted Wednesday which by the end of the day had been viewed more than 6 million times.
The 22-year-old vlogger is trying to repair the damage to the mini digital empire he built out of his prank-and-stunt-filled daily missives on YouTube watched by millions of followers, many of them tweens, teens and kids. His video showing a dead body hanging from a tree in Aokigahara, the Japanese "suicide forest" where dozens of corpses are discovered every year, fetched millions of views before Paul took it down. Millions more viewers tuned into his apology.
Earlier this month Google lowered the boom on Paul with a punishment for the "suicide forest" video that limits his earning power and visibility on YouTube. Paul was dropped by Google Preferred, a special advertising program that connects top YouTube channels with brand advertisers, and from Foursome, a series on YouTube Red, the premium subscription service.
The backlash reverberated through his young fan base and with parents who blocked their kids from watching Paul. YouTube, too, came under fire for its lax approach to the billions of videos that stream through the service.
"I've never been so humbled in my life by a single event," Logan says, as he meets with a suicide survivor and experts in suicide prevention.
The tone of Paul's latest video is strikingly different and the message it sends far more positive and life-affirming, the result he says of three weeks spent understanding "the complexity" of suicide. He chalks up his lack of sensitivity during his visit to Aokigahara, in part, to having never known anyone who committed suicide even though he was raised in Ohio, where it's the second leading cause of death.
"We have to change the conversation publicly from just focusing on suicide and how something bad is happening and say: What do we do about it?" Dr. John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline tells Paul, who says he has earmarked $250,000 for the group. "One of the things that's so important about reducing stigma is getting stories out there about people positively coping with suicide."
One of those stories belongs to Kevin Hines, author of the memoir, Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, who in 2000 survived a suicide jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. He was 19 at the time.
"I am grateful today for every millisecond I get to breathe," he tells Paul. "Because it was almost all ripped from me by me."
Some fellow YouTubers applauded the new video as a good first step.
"Logan Paul has a long way to go and people are right to continue to question his motives but today's video was a thoughtful first step," Casey Neistat wrote on Twitter. "Hopefully this is part of a true effort to move on from sensationalist content."
Others were more skeptical.
Jimmy Wong took issue with Paul's track record of using other people "as props and accessories."
"When I get alerted that you've posted a new video after taking a long break to 'reflect,' I'm hoping you address the fact that you, in your infinite privilege and power, have little understanding of the consequences of your actions, treat others like props, and need to change," Wong wrote. "Instead, we get treated to a precisely formed and deliberately manipulative piece of content from your PR machine to show us you care. Hey Logan. You're not solving a real issue when you address the one thing you just happened to get caught about. You're just covering your a**."
For days, Paul's family teased his return on their own vlogging channels. Brother Jake Paul, a YouTube star in his own right, discussed his brother's glib suicide video for the first time, saying his brother had learned from his mistakes and would "bounce back."
Will he? Paul's young fans — who call themselves the "Logang" — never abandoned him. In fact, since his video in the suicide forest, he has gained subscribers.
According to Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, Paul returned to YouTube too soon. "He needed to stay dark and in a no WiFi cave. He’s too radioactive to do a re-entry right now," Schiffer said in an email.
But, Schiffer says, Logan stage a successful comeback, and probably bigger than ever, "with the right acts of compassion, humility, and time."