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On Sunday YouTube star Ethan Klein of the popular H3H3 Productions claimed that the Wall Street Journal’s Jack Nicas fabricated screenshots showing an algorithm failure in blocking large corporate advertising from appearing before racist videos. He compiled the evidence in an eight-minute video.
“Seems like some simple fact checks could’ve gone onto it before you completely demonized and destroyed a platform and the income of all their users,” said Klein in his video, before claiming it to be “the smoking gun.”
It’s a compelling case that, unfortunately for Klein, was completely wrong.
These were Nicas’ supposedly doctored tweets:
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
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
Numerous onlookers turned detectives, trying to solidify Klein’s claims. There’s even a Reddit thread that remains live as of this writing.
Evidence Suggests that The WSJ and Jack Nicas Used Fake Screenshots to Destroy Alternative Voices on YouTubehttps://t.co/tX5pdzod63— Weird Chick (@WyrdChyk) April 3, 2017
The big problem with Klein’s (and others) assertions is that Nicas was right all along, and all they had to do to verify Nicas’ claims was to ask YouTube if the racist video in question—titled “Chief Keef dancing to Alabama Ni—er”—had been monetized.
Not only had the video made money, ads from Coca-Cola even appeared. It was eventually flagged by YouTube’s copyright claim algorithm, with the revenue going to the rights holder of a racist track called “Alabama Ni—er.” In short order, Klein had to fall back and turn his “smoking gun” video private.
Klein eventually had to post a retraction video, albeit a passive-aggressive one.
Of course, this comes on the heels of mounting anger over big-box brands pulling ads (and their dollars) away from being sewn in with racist videos and other objectionable content. (See: PewDiePie.) YouTubers like Klein believe “objectionable” has become too broad, blanketing blameless channels.
Kahron Spearman is a music and film critic whose work can also regularly be regularly found in the Austin Chronicle.