In Their War With The Wall Street Journal, Top YouTubers Just Played Themselves

In Their War With The Wall Street Journal, Top YouTubers Just Played Themselves

Ethan Klein, aka h3h3Productions

Over the last couple of weeks, anger has been bubbling on YouTube over the news that major brands pulled advertisements on the platform in an effort to avoid being matched with objectionable content. The reports, which were published by the Wall Street Journal, were met with such scepticism that they sparked scandalous conspiracy theories among YouTube’s top creators.

In late March, the Wall Street Journal reported that it found ads from major companies playing before distasteful footage, such as “videos that dub a racist song over videos of former first lady Michelle Obama or Chicago rapper Chief Keef.”

As is common practice for journalistic outlets, the newspaper reached out to the companies involved in the story, which prompted the brands to announce that they were “suspending spending on all Google advertising except targeted search ads.” YouTube, for its part, stated that it was working to “[strengthen] technology to automatically screen videos and adding more reviewers to pull ads from problematic videos and websites.”

Around the same time some content creators on YouTube reported that they saw a drop in advertising profits from recent videos. It wasn’t just racists who were hit. Even small YouTubers claimed that their revenue was “tanking faster than ever before,” though it’s hard to prove that pulled ads are directly responsible for any dips people experienced last month. There was also a short-term bug that demonetised videos en-masse.

Predictably, these changes angered video creators who depend on the video platform for their livelihoods. Many felt it was unfair for the platform as a whole to suffer based on a few awful videos.

On Twitter, the author of the Wall Street Journal report, Jack Nicas, shared screenshots of questionable videos he witnessed displaying ads from major brands such as Coca-Cola. Reportedly, these ads kept running even after Coke told the WSJ that it would cease its advertising campaign on YouTube:

Armed with specifics, YouTubers started investigating the contentious videos showcased on Nicas’ Tweet. Ethan ‘h3h3Productions‘ Klein, a YouTuber with over three million subscribers, made a video this weekend where he claimed that that the Wall Street Journal fabricated the images from the tweets. “We have proof, overwhelming evidence, that the images of brands advertisements on racist videos are Photoshopped, doctored, they’re fake,” Klein declared. “And I have the proof.”

Klein reached out to the GulagBear, the creator of the “Chief Keef Dancing to Alabama N*****,” the video running Coke ads that was featured in Nicas’ tweet. GulagBear reportedly told Klein that the video had not made any money since September 2016. Klein took that to mean that YouTube had demonetized the video, which would then mean it was impossible for that footage to have ads on it.

Klein also asserted that, as a veteran of the platform, he believed that YouTube doesn’t monetise videos with the word “n*****” in the title, and that furthermore he found it suspicious that the viewcounts on the images shared by Nicas didn’t meaningfully change from screenshot to screenshot.

“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. By the end of the video, Klein urges his viewers to share his investigation widely, and many people obliged. On Twitter, Klein’s announcement of the footage had accrued over 17k retweets, not counting signal boosts from other prominent YouTubers on their own pages.

On Reddit, the video got over 69k upvotes just on r/videos, in addition to being reposted by 30 additional subreddits. Many top creators posted in outrage on social media, and at least a couple declared “war” on the Wall Street Journal over Klein’s investigation.

Hours later, people realised that Klein’s video had a flawed premise. As it turns out, the reason the Chief Keef video didn’t display earnings after September 2016 was because a different company had claimed the video, meaning that it, and not GulagBear, would receive earnings on any ads displayed on the footage. That, in turn, meant that it was perfectly possible for the video to still display ads in 2017.

Realising his mistake, Klein made his YouTube video private so that it is no longer viewable to the general public.

“We are looking into other details and will update you guys shortly,” Klein wrote on Twitter. On YouTube, he uploaded a follow-up on the situation where he admitted the error:

“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. Instead of fully backing down, however, Klein moved the goalpost by stating that he found it “extremely interesting, by the way, that in Wall Street Journal’s reporting they never mentioned that the video itself was claimed. Instead, they said that racist, hateful people were making money on YouTube, but the fact is this guy wasn’t making money, it was the person who claimed his video.”

Klein allegedly reached out to the people who now own the Chief Keef video, who reportedly showed him a more accurate display of earnings on the footage. Klein ends the video by saying that he finds it strange that a video with over 159k views could have only earned about $US12 ($16), so the conspiracy theory that the Wall Street Journal misrepresented something in its report is not completely dead yet. I reached out to both Klein and YouTube to ask about this incident, but did not hear back in time for publication.

In response to this mess, the Wall Street Journal issued a press release where, once again, it defends its reporting on YouTube:

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.

Claims have been made about viewer counts on the WSJ screen shots of major brand ads on objectionable YouTube material. YouTube itself says viewer counts are unreliable and variable.

Claims have also been made about the revenue statements of the YouTube account that posted videos included in those screenshots. In some cases, a particular poster doesn’t necessarily earn revenue on ads running before their videos.

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.

While many H3H3 fans are thanking the creator for his honesty, the conspiracy theory appears to keep spreading anyway. If you look at Jack Nicas’ Twitter mentions right now, many people are accusing him of perpetuating fake news because he supposedly doctored the images. Posts discussing the now-pulled H3H3 video also remain up on social media sites like Reddit.

“Even if incorrect, the video breaks no rules and does not warrant removal,” a mod wrote on Reddit, a website which famously has communities that uphold a “no witch-hunting” rule.

In the past, Klein has done some killer reporting on YouTube — he’s the reason most of us know about the shadiness surrounding Counter-Strike skin betting. For the most part, though, Klein is known as an entertainer and celebrated for his charismatic humour. That’s what has won the hearts of millions of loyal subscribers. Lately, though, he and many other YouTubers have been trafficking in the idea that old media such as the WSJ is trying to destroy new media any way it can.

That’s a seductive narrative, one that presents even the biggest YouTubers as scrappy, pioneering heroes at odds with the establishment. People are so convinced that a war is being waged against YouTube, that fear, resentment, and confusion have paved the way for outlandish theories that do what so many attacking the media say the media does: putting an agenda ahead of the facts.


  • I have no idea what’s going on here… it makes little to no sense to me… I have this feeling I don’t want it to either. Am I right with this feeling???

    • jim sterling put it best, its a case of popular youtubers wants all the perks that celebs have but with none of the downsides (ie being reported on in a negative light)

    • The quick run down is that people claim old media is attacking new media; which it sort of is, but not to the extent they are making it out to be.

      • Even if they are attacking with intent, it’s not like this is an issue we should ignore either.

        YouTube needs to sort its advertising out, and youtubers need to accept that they like any other employee are subject to decisions by management and allegations by the media/public.

        It would be like saying that the media shouldn’t attack a company it finds out is doing shady shit because the company employs 2000 people and they might lose their jobs.

        Whether there is a vested interest or not is irrelevant if there are things that can be attacked with justification.

        Honestly though, the fact that he mucked up is an example of why journalists have editors, to ensure this stuff is checked in triplicate.

        And his cop out of oh they should have told me the video had been claimed is shit, it’s not the journalists job to do the reasearch for you. Especially when you lead a cult of personality which means you’ll have hundreds or thousands of people attacking this journo(youtubers being able to wield their communities is nothing new) nor is it on the source to just give you all the information you might need.

        And it’s one of the first questions he should have asked since I have no doubt that he has dealt with 3rd parties claiming his stuff.

        And someone may say but it’s earned so little, well that’s the example case we know about, I’m sure we’d find more if we audited the whole of YouTube

      • Probably because it’s too busy being giddy about them pesky Youtubers ‘playing themselves’ and acting like they’re all conspiracy nuts. People aren’t allowed to be wrong anymore, and if they are then they best not admit it.

        It really feels like these days you’re far better off doubling down with dishonesty than admitting fault. Pure insanity.

        And anyone, Kotaku staff included, proposing the idea that there isn’t a massive anti-Youtube push going right now is being either willfully ignorant or plainly dishonest… One might even say they’re putting an agenda ahead of the facts.

        But hey, what with not being a fancy ‘journalist’ and all, what would the common folk like me know about that aside from all the “Youtube supports acts of hate!” and “Yet another company pulling ads from Google/Youtube…” style articles I keep seeing. Clearly I’ve imagined it all.

        • The only thing close to an anti-YouTube push is the fact it’s being taken seriously. The more legitimate the platform gets the less it can hide behind it’s amateur status. The more money that goes in and out of YouTube the harder it will be to hide behind the idea that YouTubers are just people with too much time on their hands doing it for fun.

          what would the common folk like me know about that aside from all the “Youtube supports acts of hate!” and “Yet another company pulling ads from Google/Youtube…” style articles

          What part of that isn’t true? YouTube pays money to hate groups and promotes their videos thanks to the search and ad systems. This article is proof that they don’t demonetise those sorts of videos.
          Websites like Kotaku US might take advantage of the scuffles and display a bias, although I’ve never seen anyone be as blunt as you’re claiming, but the fact remains YouTube is an incredibly large distribution, promotion and sponsorship platform. It needs to be called out on this sort of stuff.

          • The problem is that this is even considered a “problem”. Why must we find something to be offended about everywhere? Sure, I’m sure the mentioned videos are racist morons, just like I’m sure their are crazy Islamic racist videos (jews suck, etc etc) or videos hating on Christians, or “insert group here”. And everyone has their hot button. We might not care about a video telling people to leave Islam while in an Arab country it would be a scandal of a video. In the USA here we might not “get” a video being racist against aborigines in AU while there you guys would be horribly offended.

            Instead let’s just ignore the idiots and stop making everything the end of the world.

            In this social media witch hunt world we live in negative press is way easier to come by and way more destructive then a bit of paid advertising is positive. I can totally understand coke for example wanting to pull ads. Why risk your add getting automatically slapped onto a “objectionable” video and then being hunted by the social media SJW squads when the ad itself would contribute so little to your business anyway? I honestly don’t envy anyone working in modern advertising.

        • Ahhhh Philly D, if I were ever gonna swoon for a male youtuber, his “‘supyabeautifulbastards” would do it…

  • Newbies at work do this plenty, which is why we’re always advising them to avoid any accusations until investigation has been fully completed.

    Because they’re always eager to run off, half-cocked, saying, “User is an idiot! Here’s why! Investigation shows that… oh. Oh. Well, still, they shouldn’t have… oh. Well. Maybe it’s not their fault BUT IT’S NOT MY FAULT EITHER, MOST OF THE TIME THEY’RE IDIOTS. (Just not this time.)”

    Build evidence, ask questions about facts and reasons instead of accusing, because if your victim/opponent comes back with actual good reasons, you look like a fuckwit for having jumped to conclusions.

    “Hi Client, is there a reason you’ve done the opposite to what we agreed in the email chain attached?”
    “Hi Questioner, yes, please find attached an update from our directors talking to each other which they must have left you out of.”
    “That’s fantastic, I sure am glad I didn’t call you an idiot or assume that I was already in possession of all the relevant facts.”

    • Well, what about news groups i.e professionals doubling down on their accusation of youtuber’s being bad? When clearly most of the accused aren’t?
      Apparently the guy stabbing a stab proof vest is encouraging others about how to stab a stab proof vest. That’s some serious nonsense right there.

      I’d say calling the journo’s idiots is more appropriate than someone who’s clearly not a professional journalist who apologises for their mistake.

      • Well, what about news groups i.e professionals doubling down on their accusation of youtuber’s being bad? When clearly most of the accused aren’t?
        What about them? You call out the evidence where you’ve got it.

        Broad-stroke ‘us vs them’ mindsets are nothing more than monkeys flinging shit, and remembering ‘that one time you were wrong’ doesn’t invalidate the current claims which are backed by proof. Just because WSJ or someone else in the traditional print media was wrong that one time doesn’t then give YouTubers a free pass on anything that they do forever more. “Nope, you can’t call us out anymore because you were wrong once.” When they’ve got proof, that’s what you have to deal with.

        There was evidence, the evidence was disputed incorrectly. That’s the lesson to be learned here. There’s a BIG fucking difference between, “You guys make generalizations based on an unrepresentative sampling!” and, “You guys LIED – you faked evidence by doctoring screenshots!”

        • I’m not saying stop calling out mistakes youtubers make. I’m saying those that wrongfully accuse someone without actual evidence, which is the current situation, should be just as vilified. Especially so if they continue to accuse without actual evidence to support it.

  • I believe this has been way over exaggerated by WSJ, the biggest thing that is a issue to me is the ads that show on youtubers giving a distinct view on something that most ppl would be split on… the ‘war’ as far as i know was started by traditional media against youtubes ads.. event targeting some youtubers who are giving more informational and review videos enticing terrorists (one example is some guy who showed a knife proof vest could be punctured, he explained he was showing how bad the quality of a perticular brand was and was targeted by WSJ or other traditional media to be the bad guy showing how to stab stab proof vests to hurt police force).

    really youtube is acting, h3h3 revised his video calming the faking of images and admitted he was incorrect… which is more than articles stating all youtubers and the ad placement are to blame… im sure if ppl wanted to and they have they can find issues with traditional media doing same things including the people posting this stuff.

  • Something old media after creating an article… check sources, get independent confirmations, contact parties for comment, and double check their work with both the editor andv the lawyers… the publish

    New media… create the article, post it, (then repost it). The rest of the steps are optional… their are many I respect that do all the steps then there is the opposite who just see one thing, jump on the wagon and rush to put their 5 cents in the ring before checking if it us even real.

    Picking a fight with WSJ… dumb idea, they been fighting against other media, banks, shoddy busunesses and politicians longer than most youtubers have lived.

    • tl;dr – As far as i can tell in this situation “old news” is spinning the story until the lie is truth regardless of the facts. Whereas “new news” is, “shit we fucked up sorry, we’ll do better next time”

      From what i’m seeing “old news” can’t seem to apologise. This started with a whole lot of “old news” accusing youtubers of racism, and they hammered that nail in real deep.
      But the reality was most of the content was usually really bad comedy. And when businesses with ads saw the bad publicity they pulled their ads. And when youtubers responded, “old news” doubled down on their accusation rather than own up to the mistake. Now more ads are being pulled, YouTube’s trying to figure out a way to stay in business whilst appeasing content creators AND advertisers.

  • Man it is so transparent that this is just a tantrum over the whole PDP fiasco. That same guy was there the day after it happened defending PDP and bashing WSJ. They are just trying to prove themselves right.

  • I still don’t understand how someone/anyone is able to monetise a video with the word n***** in the title.

    And are we not allowed to type that word for some reason? Swearing is cool but a slur isn’t?

  • Fact of the matter is, that the Youtube staff should decide what genre of ads should be appropriate on what genre of content creators upload.

    • Or Youtube should add a little disclaimer text before each video being viewed. For example, “The following content should not be associated with the ads being displayed or with Youtube itself.”

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