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A year or two ago, I stumbled across H3H3 Productions, the YouTube channel of Ethan and Hila Klein. I think Ethan and Hila are super funny, even though from the beginning I recognized that as a feminist adult woman I’m not really their target audience. I mean, that’s just YouTube — generally, the target audience of any random YouTube channel will be 14-year old boys.
But Ethan and Hila are genuinely funny, and I appreciated how they used their huge platform to debunk bullshit in a comical way. For instance, they push back on those idiotic “prank” videos that are usually super racist and sexist, and they recently had on a woman who the channel “Prank Invasion” hired to pretend to be a random Muslim woman, in which she had to make out with the guy and let him run his hand up her burka. It was obviously fake, which Ethan had already explained in a previous video, but some of their audience, being mostly 14-year old boys, persisted in believing that Muslim women really were just that secretly slutty. So he interviewed the actress and put the final nail in the coffin.
The problem is that Ethan and Hila don’t always focus on misogynists like Prank Invasion. There have been a few videos purporting to make fun of feminists, like the video called “Crazy Feminist Gets Triggered.” It features an actual crazy person — a woman who filmed outside a courtroom who starts badgering a random man and then demands to know his name, to which he hilariously responds “Hugh Mungus,” causing her to flip out even more and claiming that he’s sexually harassing her.
This woman is 100% in the wrong, but making a video mocking her with dog whistles in the title like “crazy feminist” and “triggered” means that it was clickbait for the huge, very motivated crowd of online misogynists to circlejerk over. Like one genius commenting “To feminists : get laid you fat piece of shit,” which doesn’t even make sense because the woman isn’t in the video but the man is and he’s quite fat, but whatever.
Like many YouTubers, Ethan and Hila seem to have a blindspot for how their anti-feminist videos enable the alt-right. It’s possible to criticize women without chumming the waters for comments like “is this why men hit women” (another top comment on their triggered video), but they either don’t know that or they don’t care. I prefer to believe the former because I like them and want them to be as smart and thoughtful as they seem in a lot of their videos.
Unfortunately, their occasional anti-feminist videos aren’t the only way they’ve fed into the alt-right. Recently, they jumped on an alt-right bandwagon that claimed that the evil, fake-news Wall Street Journal had photoshopped an image of Coca Cola ads displaying on a controversial YouTube video.
Ethan claimed he had “proof” it was photoshopped, because the video in question had no ad earnings after September of 2016. He says that means no ads could have appeared on that video, meaning WSJ photoshopped it.
It’s not true, and that’s been confirmed by the Wall Street Journal and people familiar with YouTube’s ad algorithms. The video’s creator didn’t get any ad revenue not because there were no ads on the video, but because he used a copywrited song, so the revenue went to the song’s creator. The whole “fake ad photoshop” rumor was just yet another alt-right goose chase designed to undermine the media.
And it worked! Reddit’s Donald Trump subreddit ran with it, InfoWars ran with it, and they all focused on the person that Ethan told them to: the WSJ reporter, Jack Nicas, who was buried in death threats after Ethan showed his Twitter account to his audience while claiming he photoshopped the images.
I’ll quote from Ethan’s now removed video targeting Jack Nicas: “It seems like some simple fact-checks could have gone out to it before you completely demonized and destroyed a platform.” But you know, instead of a platform, it’s a person. A person Ethan and Hila could have reached out to privately before telling nearly 4 million people to harass him. Ethan on Twitter called what he did a “gaff,” but it’s more than that. It’s firebombing a guy’s life.
Everybody makes mistakes, but as a person’s platform grows, those mistakes can have bigger and bigger repercussions — especially when you’re playing to the alt-right.