YouTube has been besieged by controversy in recent months, with some of the site’s most high-profile video makers finding themselves on the receiving end of unfortunate headlines, while its ad revenue has plummeted as a result of major brands withdrawing their support. In the midst of these issues, fingers of blame have been pointed in the direction of the Wall Street Journal, who reported that YouTube had displayed ads alongside videos featuring racism and other objectionable content.
Wall Street Journal had previously been responsible for the report that had seen PewDiePie dropped from Disney’s Maker Studios, as a result of videos he had posted featuring anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery. PewDiePie later apologized for these jokes, admitting that he had gone too far, though also condemned the WSJ for what he felt had been a witch hunt designed to harm his career. The YouTuber was supported by many of his peers, with other video makers suggesting that it was an example of old media attempting to take down new media, leading to videos being created en masse by its top channels slamming the WSJ other publications that reported upon the story.
Image Credit: Jack Nicas / Twitter
Now Ethan Klein of h3h3productions, a channel that boasts over 3.7 million subscribers, has uploaded a video in which he erroneously claims the WSJ fabricated its story regarding ads being displayed on racist videos, later being forced to retract his claim and leading to the newspaper releasing a statement clarifying the validity of its report. During the now-deleted video, Klein attempted to provide evidence to suggest that a screenshot the WSJ captured of a Coca-Cola ad appearing on a video titled ‘Chief Keef dancing to Alabama N******’ was doctored by the publication, with him having contacted the individual who uploaded the video, receiving the information regarding how much money they had made from it via Google’s AdSense program.
Klein suggested that as the video had been demonetized in September 2016, the WSJ couldn’t have taken a screenshot of it displaying the Coca-Cola ad during its report last week. As Klein notes, the view count in the screenshot shows that the video had around 216,000 views, while its final view count tallied in at 240,000 views before it was removed. Klein believed that this suggested the WSJ had edited the image to make it look as though a Coca-Cola ad had been displayed on it, but as he later clarified in a follow-up video, the likelihood is that the video was struck by a copyright claim by another company in September who, in accordance with YouTube’s terms and conditions, would have then received the money from its ads.
The screenshot of the video’s analytics Klein was reportedly sent by its uploader showed that he had received no payment for it, but as pointed out in the below tweet, the source code for the video shows that it has been monetized by Omnia Media Music.
— Ben – Trusted Flagger (@TrustedFlagger) April 2, 2017
The WSJ released a statement regarding Klein’s claims, which you can read below:
“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 saysviewer 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.”
Klein later released a video in which he stated that the previous information he had told his viewers had likely been false, but also continued to double down on his suspicions of the WSJ. Returning to a screenshot he was sent by the individual who uploaded the offending video featured in the WSJ’s report, he stated that it had earned $12.53 from just under 160,000 views, a figure he deemed “astronomically low.” “The reason that this is so suspicious is that according to the Wall Street Journal, in the space of just 30 views they found three of the most high-paying ad rolls on all of YouTube including Starbucks, Toyota and Coca-Cola,” he continued. “This honestly doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t add up at all. How does a video with 160,000 only make $12?”
However, as pointed out by a user on the h3h3productions subreddit, the video likely wasn’t monetized by Omnia Media Music at the time the screenshot was taken, with another company seemingly taking control of its ads and increasing their length from 6 seconds to 15 seconds. This would mean that this new, unknown company have changed the ads playing on the video, meaning that Klein’s assumptions are incorrect.
Jon “JonTron” Jafari is another YouTuber who has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. (Image Credit: JonTronShow / YouTube)
This latest development is one in a long line of the YouTube community’s attempts to frame traditional media outlets as trying to take down the site, with YouTube’s recent changes to its advertising policies causing hysteria in regards to how advertisers view the site. With major brands pulling support as a result of their ads playing on some of its more unsavory videos, many YouTubers have been keen to suggest that the mainstream media has been attempting to dismantle the site and its creators, pointing advertisers in the direction of PewDiePie and Jon “JonTron” Jafari, who became embroiled in his own YouTube controversy for extremely disagreeable comments he made about race and immigration. Despite these YouTubers having considerable followings that consist of millions of viewers (PewDiePie boasts 53 million as the site’s most-subscribed channel), they appear to be uncomfortable that their behavior is being met with increased scrutiny, despite this being the case for everyone who operates in the public eye.
While YouTube’s heavy-handed approach to demonetizing videos in an attempt to win back advertisers is understandably troubling for those who make a living on the site, conspiracy theories conjured up by the likes of Ethan Klein and h3h3productions are helping no one. YouTubers should be held just as accountable for their comments and actions as any other public figure, and the wider media isn’t at fault for doing so.