A YouTuber is backing away from his claim that the Wall Street Journal faked evidence to bring down the video platform and its creators.
Ethan Klein — one half of the H3H3 Productions — apologized Sunday for posting a video over the weekend bashing the media publication.
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
The video, one of two H3H3 videos about the Journal, has since been removed. But with or without the apology, it’s obvious that the damage to the media company’s brand— and journalists in general — is here to stay.
How it began
Last week, advertisers began pulling their ads from YouTube videos promoting terrorism, extremism, and other violent forms of hate.
Many journalists did their jobs and —gasp — even broke some news. The Wall Street Journal published a big report (Mashable also investigated), led by Jack Nicas.
Google also showed ads for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Amazon, P&G, Geico & Toyota on racist videos. Some didn’t comment; some keeping spending./2
— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) March 24, 2017
Still, some YouTubers really couldn’t believe it. They began trolling Nicas and spreading conspiracy theories around Reddit.
Klein, whose h3h3 productions channel has over 3 million subscribers, was among those in disbelief. He uploaded a video over the weekend where he said he had "evidence" that "the images of brands advertisements on racist videos are Photoshopped, doctored, they’re fake." His "proof" was based on the word of GulagBear, the creator of a video called "Chief Keef Dancing to Alabama N****." The video ran coke ads. He told Klein that he hadn’t made money since September 2016.
Klein jumped to the conclusion that it would be impossible for footage to have ads on it because YouTube "doesn’t monetize videos with the word ‘n*****’ in the title therefore Nicas’ tweeted images were suspicious.
“Seems like some simple fact-checks could have gone out to it before you completely demonized and destroyed a platform and the income of all their users,” Klein said.
And so began the backlash toward the Journal.
The PewDiePie effect
Image: youtube red
PewDiePie in a "Scare PewDiePie" promotional pic from season one.
A few months ago one of YouTube’s biggest stars PewDiePie, whose real name Felix Kjellberg, found himself at the center of controversy after The Wall Street Journal published an extensive review of his recent videos and found found a handful contained anti-Semitic "jokes" and Nazi imagery.
Maker Studios dropped PewDiepie and YouTube subsequently canceled season two of its Red series Scare PewDiePie, and removed the star from the Google Preferred advertising program.
Though PewDiePie did indeed apologize and said his joking went "too far," the video quickly veered into harsh critique of the media, pointing a finger (and crassly giving the finger) at the Journal and several other outlets for what he felt was a sustained campaign of twisting his words and taking his jokes out of context.
PewDiePie’s most fervent fans were angered by YouTube and Maker Studios decision. They immediately came to his defense, and continued to hate on the media for covering the topic.
The YouTube star’s refusal to take full responsibility — coupled with the ride or die fanbase that comes with most YouTube stars — suddenly normalized hatred of media among the YouTube community.
Now, a few months later, Nicas is facing that same hate.
The "sorry not sorry"
Another thing we can thank PewDiePie for: Mastering the art of the sorry not sorry.
Klein did apologize, noting he was naive in jumping to the conclusions.
"Upon further investigation we realized that video was actually claimed which threw too much doubt into our theory," Klein explained in a video titled "Why We Removed our WSJ Video."
That means a different company had claimed the video — not GulagBear — made earnings off any ads from the footage, aka yes, the video could display ads long after September 2016.
“I had assumed [GulagBear] would tell me if the video was claimed, and it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask him that question,” Klein said after admitting he made his video in error.
But then he blamed his mistake on the Journal for failing to report that in its story.
"I found it extremely interesting by the way that in the Wall Street Journal’s reporting they never mentioned that the video itself was claimed."
This type of media blame has a ripple affect.
A "war" on WSJ began almost immediately after Klein’s video went up. He posted a second video, which has not been removed, that’s amassed over 2 million views.
Klein encouraged viewers to share the video on Twitter, where over 17,000 people retweeted it including other prominent YouTuber stars. On Reddit, the video was reposted by 30 additional subreddits.
Both YouTube and Klein didn’t immediately respond to Mashable’s request for comment.
Meanwhile, the Journal stands by its report.
"Any claim that the related screenshots or any other reporting was in any way fabricated or doctored is outrageous and false," the publication said in a statement. "The screenshots related to the article — which represent only some of those that were found — were captured on March 23rd and March 24th … The Journal is proud of its reporting and the high standards it brings to its journalism. We go to considerable lengths to ensure its accuracy and fairness, and that is why we are among the most trusted sources of news in the world."
Still, Klein’s admission to his error may have come too late. It seems to Team Internet, the Journal is already fake news.