Another Internet outrage campaign squashed by reality.
Ethan Klein of the popular YouTube channel H3H3 has been directing fury towards the Wall Street Journal over its reporting on prominent brands being upset to discover their advertisements playing alongside racist content on the video-sharing site. In response to the WSJ’s coverage, many large businesses have begun pulling their ads from YouTube’s platform entirely, potentially costing the company up to $750 million in revenue.
YouTube personalities like Klein that rely on YouTube for their livelihoods have criticized the Journal’s reporting and accused its reporters of embarking on a witch hunt. (Full disclosure: Heat Street is owned by Dow Jones, which is also the parent company of the Wall Street Journal.)
Entertainers like Klein argue that an overly broad definition of “objectionable” content leads to innocent channels getting “de-monitized” (ie YouTube pulling the advertising). They claim YouTube is being excessively cautious in order to quell marketers’ concerns.
Found strong evidence that the screenshots WSJ used were fake. PLEASE SHARE. THIS IS IMPORTANT https://t.co/pbjDcgY8wa
— Ethan Klein (@h3h3productions) April 2, 2017
This weekend, however, Klein took his crusade a step further and uploaded a video accusing Wall Street Journal reporter Jack Nicas of falsifying screenshots in his articles showing advertisements before racist content. In the video, which Klein now removed, he argues that it’s likely impossible for advertisements to have been shown because of revenue charts from the channel owner of the objectionable video.
In short, Klein asserted, if there were advertisements playing before the video the channel owner would still be receiving money. Klein also argued that having a racist word or phrase in a video title would automatically lead to YouTube pulling advertisements, and that Nicas’s screenshots, seen below, would show different view counts.
Update: Coca-Cola is pulling all non-search ads with Google in response to our story. Two separate Coke ads played before this racist video. pic.twitter.com/uY1pQ8FYlN
— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) March 24, 2017
Google showed many ads on videos with racial slurs in the title or description. Its software automatically screens for similar stuff. /7 pic.twitter.com/x1envFOPsH
— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) March 24, 2017
Shortly after the video was uploaded, a hashtag #boycottWSJ began surfacing on the Twitter accounts of prominent YouTubers like Keem Star, who said: “I Declare War on the Wall Street Journal!” Klein’s video quickly garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
In the midst of the Internet outrage and demands that Nicas get fired, Klein realized he might have jumped the gun. Internet dwellers on Reddit pointed out that one of the racist videos in question had a content ID claim on it, meaning the video contained a copyrighted song and thus received advertisements through a different method. The channel owner wouldn’t receive any cut of this revenue, just the owner of the copyright. Further, YouTube view counts don’t always update immediately, making it entirely likely that Nicas refreshed the page and saw different advertisements without a new view registering.
Presented with this evidence, Klein removed his initial video and released a new one saying this new evidence “threw too much doubt into [his] theory.” Klein admitted he “naively made the mistake” of not asking if there were any third-party claims on the video, but chastised the Wall Street Journal for not disclosing this fact.
In the future, Klein promised, he would be “more thorough” in his investigations and pointed out the irony of accusing the Wall Street Journal of not doing enough background reporting before printing their story. Despite his initial mistake, Klein maintained that the revenue earned from these videos was still negligible.
Why we removed our WSJ videohttps://t.co/0Xz1O53T8h
— Ethan Klein (@h3h3productions) April 3, 2017
On Monday morning, the WSJ officially commented on the drama with the following statement:
“The Wall Street Journal stands by its March 24th report that major brand advertisements were running alongside objectionable videos on YouTube. Any claim that the related screenshots or any other reporting was in any way fabricated or doctored is outrageous and false. The screenshots related to the article — which represent only some of those that were found — were captured on March 23rd and March 24th.
As of Monday afternoon, Klein hadn’t further publicly commented on the drama.