Jake Paul is one of YouTube’s most controversial creators for many reasons, from outrageous stunts and pranks to allegations of abuse and bullying from former collaborators. Just last month, his tactics for selling merch to children were called into question by a fellow creator. Speaking to Shane Dawson, however, Paul calls claims of manipulation ridiculous. “Honestly, I think it’s fucking stupid that people think that’s manipulative,” Paul says in Dawson’s latest video. “I don’t see a problem with it at all.”
In the finale of his eight-part series on Paul, Dawson talks briefly with the notorious YouTuber about his practices, specifically citing a highly critical video from channel Nerd City. “You very much created a world of something that kids want to watch,” Dawson says. “You’re catering to children. Even tagging your videos family friendly, but also tagging them like, sexy girls, which is a little weird.”
Nerd City’s 43-minute video, posted in September, examines Paul’s content and how he serves both explicit or exploitative content and merch plugs to an admittedly young audience. On TV, the FCC regulates commercial time to children and stipulates that broadcasters cannot display website addresses “during or adjacent to a children’s program if products are sold featuring a character in the program, or a program character is used to sell products.” Although the FTC has installed some regulations to mitigate ethical problems on YouTube, they still remain miles behind traditional broadcast rules. Nerd City specifically points to moves like “pester power” — encouraging kids to ask their parents directly to buy something — a practice explicitly prohibited in the European Union by the Unfair Commercial Practices (UCP) Directive.
Paul, when pressed by Dawson, repeatedly dismisses the claim. “I think that’s, again, just people finding a reason to be like, ‘Fuck Jake Paul,’ to me, honestly,” he says. According to him, fans being younger doesn’t mean they’re easily manipulated. “It just bothers me that people would even try to make that connection,” Paul says, “like I’m trying to manipulate an 8-year-old kid to buy my shit.” Instead, he says, his content aims to “make someone’s day.” That includes being part of a community by wearing his merch. He adds that he’s been “doing that shit [his] whole life,” pointing to shirts he and his brother tried to sell as kids. “For people to try and say I’m just doing it to manipulate and try to make money off of kids: shut the fuck up.”
Nerd City praises Dawson for pushing Paul to speak about the advertising issue. In a DM with The Verge, he says that although he sent Dawson research before the first video’s release, he wasn’t sure if it would be covered in the series. “We spent weeks wondering if Shane would address some of our concerns in his videos, and he stayed tight-lipped on that until two days ago,” Nerd City says. “We held back on some of our work because we weren’t sure where this was going.”
However, there are still topics worth addressing regarding how Paul creates his content. In addition to calling out Paul’s constant merch calls to action, Nerd City also highlights videos in which Paul seems to terrorize young children and use kids ages seven or younger for collaboration or promotion. “I would have liked to see Jake held accountable for some of the abusive content he filmed with kids,” Nerd City tells The Verge. “You can’t ask a baby to ‘act’ terrified and cry.”
When asked about Paul’s response, Nerd City dismisses the idea that the YouTuber doesn’t understand the power of influencer marketing. “He runs multiple businesses related to connecting brand messaging to young audiences through influencers,” he says, pointing to Paul’s media conglomerate Teamdom, a business focused on teen entertainment.
Nerd City adds that Paul would do well to listen to his angry colleagues and community. “Pretty disingenuous of him to say he doesn’t think kids will believe what he’s saying, as an influencer,” Nerd City says. “It’s in the name. Jake saying our concerns were stupid implies that his own business model is stupid. It’s not. Influencer marketing has huge [return on investment], it’s incredibly powerful, and it’s the future, so we need to act responsibly with it.”