The brawl between KSI and Logan Paul is the inevitable consequence of the YouTube algorithm’s race to the bottom

YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI.

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YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI.
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Logan Paul/YouTube

  • Two of the biggest YouTubers on the planet, KSI and Logan Paul, will fight each other in a boxing match on Saturday.
  • YouTube boxing matches are a weird new trend and it’s all because creators have to make ever-more extreme content for views and revenue.
  • KSI and Logan Paul are both controversial creators who have pushed the boundaries of taste, and their fame has only been possible because YouTube is so unregulated.
  • Digital culture expert Amelia Tait says there shouldn’t be a “moral panic” about the fight, but says the nature of YouTube fame means that it takes sex, violence, or hate to get noticed.

On Saturday 25 August, two YouTube stars will fight each other in a 21,000-capacity arena in Manchester, UK, despite neither being a professional fighter.

British vlogger KSI, real name Olajide Olatunji, will slug it out against American rival Logan Paul. They are two of the most famous YouTubers of all time, thought to be earning millions from ads against channels boasting hundreds of millions of views.

They’ll be adding to their wealth come Saturday, when they will be charging viewers £7/$8 to livestream the fight on YouTube, as well as charging real-life attendees up to £150 ($192) for tickets.

It’s insane to think that a platform once beloved for comical home videos is now the promotion vehicle for a Hunger Games-style battle. How did we get here?

YouTube’s algorithm rewards attention, and extreme content gets attention

A clip from Logan Paul's notorious video from Japan's suicide forest.

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A clip from Logan Paul’s notorious video from Japan’s suicide forest.
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YouTube/Logan Paul

As Amelia Tait, a digital culture journalist who has written extensively about YouTube, explained to us, this has come about because of the way YouTube rewards views.

She explained that the big early change to YouTube came when it delegated the responsibility of choosing the top videos on its site from humans to an algorithm.

“[It] only showcases the top ‘Trending’ videos,” she told us. “Trending videos have to gain a lot of views in a short period of time, so this algorithm has essentially encouraged people to get more extreme with their content.

“You’re no longer going to get famous for doing a science trick or a spoken word poem… Unless you’re already a celebrity releasing a new music video, sex, violence, and hate are the fastest ways to get noticed on YouTube.”

PewDiePie.

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PewDiePie.
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Getty

Understanding how boxing matches play into this involves understanding the evolution of another weird YouTube trend: Beef.

Beef involves two or more YouTubers getting into some kind of dispute, then playing that up with songs, or “diss tracks,” and, now, physical fights. More often than not, it’s all concocted drama.

Gaming site Polygon did some back-of-the-envelope calculation and it looks like beef is a pretty profitable enterprise. The site calculated that Jake Paul, brother of Logan Paul, probably made around $2 million from his diss track about fellow YouTuber PewDiePie, “It’s Everyday Bro,” because it had millions of views.

Imagine how many more millions both YouTubers would make if PewDiePie fought Jake Paul. Real-life boxing matches are the profitable, logical evolution of beef – and that might help explain the extreme theatrics that have preceded the fight. Paul stormed out of a press conference last month after KSI hurled insults about his actress girlfriend Chloe Bennet, and an accident in which Paul injured his testicles.

All of this is possible because YouTube is unregulated

KSI and Logan Paul, though huge, are also extremely controversial. If either worked a normal television job, both would have been fired instantly for their antics.

KSI’s entire persona centres on being abrasive. He even published a book titled “I Am a Bellend.” He was banned from the Eurogamer conference after making misogynistic jokes, and has been criticised for trivialising rape. In the normal, regulated entertainment world, he would be persona non grata.

Logan Paul, meanwhile, became notorious for filming himself next to an apparent suicide in Japan. It cost him in advertising and partnerships, but was far from a career-ender.

YouTube is fairly opaque and it’s hard to know definitively who watches KSI or Logan Paul videos. But there’s anecdotal evidence that the audience is very young – younger than YouTube technically allows.

A cursory search on Twitter shows one British parent trying to buy tickets to the Manchester fight for her eight-year-old son. YouTube stipulates that its viewers must be 13 years old, but that’s obviously not stopping some fans.

Children’s TV presenter Ed Petrie argued earlier this year that YouTube’s unregulated nature is “shocking.” The popularity of YouTubers with children coincided, he said, with underinvestment in kids’ TV. The result is that millions of young fans see unsuitable content like Logan Paul’s suicide body video before public pressure means it’s deleted.

In the case of the real-life fight, it’s probably too late for YouTube to step in.

“When it comes to the livestream, as YouTube is going to profit from that directly, there should definitely be some kind of viewer discretion warning,” Tait said.

She added: “Although on the whole I believe that YouTube fails in its responsibilities to regulate the platform, in this instance I would say the onus is with the parents to check what their kids are watching.”

Business Insider approached YouTube for comment.

YouTubers make for alarming role models

We’ve written before about how the trash talk between the two YouTubers may be overstepping the mark. KSI has hurled insults at Paul’s girlfriend and family, and encouraged fans at a press conference to chant “F**k the Pauls.” It’s not exactly sportsman-like behaviour.

According to Tait, there shouldn’t be “a moral panic” around the fight. And the real world event might even encourage some fans to bond over a shared interest.

But, she added: “It’s hard to see how a culture which rewards extreme behaviour with YouTube fame and money won’t encourage children to follow suit.

“It’s not so much that kids will physically fight each other for internet fame, it’s more that the internet now profits off hate… Something silly like 30% of children would like to be a YouTuber, so if being a YouTuber becomes associated with spreading hate, some children will certainly imitate that.”