Logan Paul Tries to Build the Perfect Platform for Free Speech

Logan Paul hasn’t posted a new video to YouTube in over six months. His last two uploads were titled “I’m fighting Floyd Mayweather this week” and “My last words to Floyd Mayweather.” Then silence. If you didn’t know better, you would think he died in the ring.

After all, what else but a fatal boxing incident could have caused one of the most famous YouTubers in the world — a controversial but charismatic network spokesperson who helped shape the template for today’s electronic celebrity — to leave his 23. 2 million subscribers on radio silence. for half a year and all?

demonetization; being blacklisted; “shadowban,” says Paul, 26, mumbling about how YouTube and other popular social networks pushed him away. “It’s really demotivating when you’re being yourself and the platform you’re on – because of the advertisers, because of the public sentiment, whatever it is – doesn’t want to support you anymore.”

Looking for a place on the Internet where he can be himself, without filters, Paul traded YouTube for Subify, the company that manages the backend technology of its Maverick Club boutique chain. Part of Subify’s offering is that there are almost no restrictions on what Paul can post on the Maverick Club or what other celebrities can post through their own Subify-enabled channels.

“It looks like freedom of speech is dead in America right now because the platform can literally turn you off and take your microphone away,” said co-founder Zach Folkman. “At Subify, we literally never do this to a creator unless they promote terrorist acts or child pornography.”

In an age where social media censorship is a top concern for everyone, including content creators and members of Congress, this vision may appeal to some. But it also raises a lot of confusing, ethical questions – as a recent discussion between Paul, Folkman, and Subify co-founder Chase Hiro showed.

“If we had a Nazi on the platform who just wanted to talk about his beliefs,” Folkman said at one point during a Zoom call, “it would personally be very difficult for me to tell them, ‘You are not allowed to do this. ., “unless they incite violence.”

This must have been news to Paul.

“Look, I like your mood,” he said. “But as another creator on the platform, you would have heard of me.”

“The real answer is: I think we just accept everything as it is,” Hero said. “All these people are going to have different beliefs… and giving them a platform to connect with their people is really all we care about. Right? And obviously I’m kind of [Paul]; It would be very hard for me if someone was a Nazi.”

“Obviously we don’t support…,” Folkman said before Paul interrupted him by stating that this was a terrible example.

Folkman continued: “We will consider this on a case-by-case basis. But I really don’t see too many creators for us to be uncomfortable supporting their right to free speech.”

Paul didn’t look convinced. “I’m screwing with a Nazi,” he said.

“Bad example,” Folkman said. “Bad example”.

After the call, the company told The Times that Folkman misspoke. “We absolutely do not tolerate hate speech of any kind – for example, no Nazis or anything like that,” an emailed statement attributed to Folkman said. “We pride ourselves on providing a platform for creators of all kinds. We believe that everyone has the right to have their voice and opinion heard.”

If Subify’s leaders don’t agree on what creating a free speech haven really entails, they’re not alone. The Internet has seen a long time ago as a haven for unfettered self-expression, but as major social media platforms have come to dominate the internet, this ethos has faced concerns about extremism, misinformation, and user safety. What moderation steps tech platforms take have become controversial and highly politicized.

Subify isn’t the first tech company to brand on the promise of near-total free speech, but it’s different from many such applications in its focus on the creative freedom of influencers rather than the culture wars of the Trump era.

“Just the fact that no company in their right mind will ever raise their hands and cede control of their product solely to the users of that product,” said Sarah T. Roberts, assistant professor at UCLA and co-founder of its Center for Critical Internet research.

Because social media companies in America enjoy broad legal immunity to moderate what their users post, Roberts said, “so it becomes a matter of tolerance from a business standpoint. This is why I consider content moderation primarily a brand management tool for firms; it is up to the firms themselves to assess how much risk they are willing to take by posting obnoxious, disgusting material on their website.”

For Paul, these are not abstract questions. When he was primarily known as a YouTuber, this platform demonetized him — or prevented him from making money from his videos — after he posted a series of controversial clips of him tasering dead rats, endorsing the “Tide Pod Challenge” and, most infamously, filmed a suicide victim in Japanese Aokigahara forest. .

Other scandals caught Paul speaking he “became gay” for a month; using women as a “human bicycle”; and in one video appearance lasso unsuspecting women.

Paul hasn’t completely abandoned YouTube these days — his podcast Impaulsive has his own channel with 3.53 million subscribers and is still updated regularly — but he’s moved much of his creative output, including his autobiographical vlogs, to Subify. .

“You create it for an ecosystem of people who really like you,” Paul said of the Maverick Club. “It’s not for the masses to judge, give judgments or make malicious comments… As a person who has been polarized in the past, there are people who don’t like me; there are people who like me. I really like the idea of ​​leaning on people who like me.”

“Oops! The All Logan Pauls social network may sound hellish to those who find Paul’s patented mixture of gimmicks and self-documentation disgusting. But superfans are willing to pay $19.95 a month for access, and Paul is happy to do it for them.

Despite the security of the paywall on its own platform, Paul says he can post “a little more explicit content; slightly more risky content.”

“It’s those 10% of me,” he said, “whether for legal reasons or because of public opinion, whatever, I don’t want to show the world.”

Subify declined to say how it would handle the “suicide forest” and stun rat videos, instead citing “adult content, conservative and other alternative viewpoints” and “hunting and firearms content” as areas where it more forgiving than YouTube. .

As Paul was getting frustrated with mainstream social media, Subify offered him a way out. Folkman and Hiro, who have a background in e-commerce, initially prototyped Subify for personal use: “It was done so that we could manage our own brands,” Hiro said.

But one day, while walking with Paul – Hero and Paul’s manager are longtime friends – the YouTuber suggested that they open up wider.

“He’s like, ‘Dude, I think that would be really good for a human. What do you think? ”, – recalled the Hero. “I said, ‘If you want to be that person, we would try.’

The result was Maverick Club, Subify’s first foray into celebrity fan platforms; According to Paul, he has been working for about a year and a half. (Paul is one of the lead creators of Subify, but according to a rep, he has no other financial interests in the company.)

Meanwhile, Subify expanded its feature set and began looking for new celebrities to work with: rapper Flo Rida, Jackass stuntman Steve-O, NASCAR driver Hayley Deegan. Hero said that “tens and tens of thousands of creators” have applied to join, and that he and Folkman are “constantly checking, asking questions, and then doing due diligence” to filter out the unsuitable.

While Subify promises near-total freedom of speech, not everyone is selected.

“There’s a guy who wanted to come in and revive the old bum fights, if you remember that… make the homeless fight,” Hero said. “We thought, ‘Yeah, that just won’t work here. I love you to death, but that’s not something we really justify.”

companies non-intervention the ratio also does not extend to its unknown subscriber base. Celebrities may have wide freedom to post things they couldn’t post elsewhere, but in the interest of creating an environment that the co-founders call a “safe space” and “echo chamber” for content creators, their fans are being subjected to more scrutiny.

“We have moderators … so if we see someone who is actively negative or something like that, it’s actually a breach of the terms,” Folkman said. “Usually we send a warning if it’s pretty mild, and then from there, if they break it again, they get banned and blacklisted.”

There is an entrance fee to this walled garden. In exchange for building a self-contained platform for each customer that supports multimedia messaging, live streaming, prompts, direct messaging, mobile apps, and push notifications, the company, which a spokesman said third parties valued at about $100 million, is a fraction of each’s earnings. The specific percentage “depends on the size and functionality of the individual platform,” the spokesperson said.

As paywalls on the Internet proliferate, this business model is becoming more and more popular. Startups like Patreon, Substack, Cameo and Bandcamp are now helping influencers, artists and other online entrepreneurs. mint dollar from content they might otherwise release for free. Fanfix offers monetization tools similar to Subify, but follows a more traditional moderation policy, including no nudity, according to co-founder Simon Pompan.

OnlyFans is another such competitor. Although it is best known for selling amateur and independent pornography, the platform has thwarted ambitions to become a more general-purpose content monetization platform; this summer for a while moved to ban sexual content, only for reverse course days later.

Subify also allows pornography, but its co-founders hope they don’t get labeled as a sexually explicit platform.

“I was recruited into OnlyFans,” Paul said. “The business model is great. But the platform has a stigma… I’m not interested in being a part of it.”

Subify proved to be a suitable alternative. By combining OnlyFans’ monetization features, YouTube’s more flexible branding, and its own free speech ethos, the company helped Paul create his own little internet oasis, free from the censors, haters, and trolls that annoyed him on the open web.

“Subify stole me from YouTube!” he exclaimed at one point during a Zoom call.

“It was a magnificent kidnapping,” Hero said.