Return of the PR Nightmare: The Internet Vs. The Fine Bros.

The look on Rafi’s face makes me want to curb stomp it.
Source: Giphy

As guilty as I feel for admitting it, I do feel a certain giddiness when a foolish person or persons get exactly what they deserve.

For those that don’t follow news on what’s been dubbed ‘new media’, There has been a massive uproar among the YouTube community regarding the two producers Benny and Rafi Fine – known collectively as The Fine Bros.

For years, they have been running Fine Bros. Entertainment on YouTube with the majority of their most well-known content being the reactions of others to various other media. Seriously, they have eleven different series’ on their channel that are just different demographics of people responding to games, music, and other videos.

Currently, they are caught up in the aftermath of a controversy that has cost them many subscribers. In fact, many other YouTubers have started live streams detailing their steadily dropping subscriber count while others flock to Twitter and proliferate the hashtag #UnsubscribeFineBros.

And all of this happened because they tried to trademark the word ‘React’.

Seems innocuous enough, right? Well, it isn’t when you think of just how common of a word ‘React’ is in the English language. If they had their way and got their trademark, The Fines would have the power to file a copyright strike on any channel that even used the word regardless of the context.

This is systemic of an even larger problem among the YouTube community. Because all copyright strikes are handled by an automated system rather than actual people, it’s remarkably easy to have a channel removed and disproportionally difficult to file a counterclaim in defense. Bare in mind that, for many of these people that fall victim to this broken system, the videos that they produce are their livelihoods; the source of the vast majority of their income to keep a roof over their heads. The end result of this is that someone can shut down your business without going through the due process on a whim.

None of this was helped by the actions of The Fines. During their infamous video dubbed simply and vaguely “Update” (which has since been removed by the channel itself), both of them seem so deadpan and sarcastic that you can’t help but feel like they aren’t being entirely truthful. Not to mention that the act of removing the video and several angry comments made them seem like they had something to hide.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this may very well be nothing but an over-reaction to this fine mess (BOOM! Two puns in one sentence, baby), but it does illustrate two things worth addressing; public relations in a post-information age world and reassessment of modern copyright laws.

First, this serves as an extension of one of my early articles documenting the PR catastrophe of Jon Jafari; AKA “JonTron.” In addition to choosing your words carefully so as not to offend people, you need to use language that isn’t vague. Vague words leave loopholes in interpretation that people can take advantage of and savvy consumers will be quick to share their (totally legitimate) fears with other less informed consumers.

Also in terms of PR, you should never try to hide or censor the comments of your critics or detractors. Instead, you need to address their problems – preferably in a public setting where others can bear witness – and reassure them that you are on the level.

Secondly, and shifting to copyright law, this ordeal shows just how broken the system really is. I may go into greater detail about everything wrong with modern copyright, but it would take more time than I have here and I want to stay focused on YouTube and The Fine Bros. Basically, we need to reassess copyright law and replace Youtube’s automated system with more accurate measures that don’t favor the accuser over the accused.

Crisis Management for Internet Personalities (or What JonTron Can Teach Us About Public Relations)

And THAT would be half your problem, sir.
Source: Know Your Meme

Not long ago, several of my preferred news sources and my Twitter feed were flooded with news about a supposed controversy involving popular video game critic Jon Jafari; AKA JonTron and his choice of words regarding his criticism of Sony’s “Playstation Now” streaming game service.

The problem could be said to have began on August 2nd of this year when, in a choice of words seeming meant to offend the politically correct crowd, Jafari called out Playstation Now’s hourly rental system on Twitter for being archaic and user unfriendly by calling it, “the most painfully retarded thing I’ve seen in a while.”

Naturally, this sparked a wave of anger over his choice of words. And while I’m certain that he meant no harm, my background in Communications (particularly as it relates to Public Relations and Crisis Management) can’t help but see obvious mistakes in Mr. Jafari’s actions in retrospect. Today, I’d like to clarify everything that went wrong to help Jon and others avoid a P.R. nightmare like this in the future.

First, the fact that he actually used the word “retard” as an insult. Ignoring how flimsy name calling is as a debate stance, this was just insensitive. There may be nothing wrong with the word in and of itself (to retard something just mean to slow or impede and, in the context of human health, refers to a condition that slows or halts physical or mental development), but using it as a dysphemism for stupidity rather than for its intended purpose to describe a serious condition is just going to far.

Secondly, it seems Mr. Jafari doesn’t understand the difference between acting as himself and acting in character or at least can’t convey the difference well. If JonTron, the person he portrays on his show, said these words, he might have gotten away with it with little more than a few ugly looks. That’s because those kind of over reactions are what we expect from that character. However, when Jon Jafari, not JonTron, calls something “retarded”, it seems as if he actually believes that it’s okay to minimize the seriousness of a condition and makes him look unsympathitic. This obviously isn’t true, but that’s how it looks.

Thirdly, more damning than his choice of words was his reaction to being told to stop. When asked to stop by others, Mr. Jafari responded with more off-color jokes devaluing the opinions of the people he calls his fans. To make matters worse, he proceeded to release an official statement that read as follows:

“I don’t usually respond to this kind of criticism, but this has gotten so out of hand and always happens when I make some sort of ‘controversial’ statement on twitter. To you people who get offended at every turn: Why don’t you try focusing your civil unrest at something that dearly needs it, like the fact that today the Israeli air force struck a school with a missile killing 10 people, most of which were children. I suppose you’re all ok with that, as long as the missile didn’t call the school ‘retarded’ first, right? My job as a comedian is to make people laugh and feel better about their lives. So no, in the midst of so many other pressing matters in the world, I will not apologize for calling a PS4 retarded. I encourage you to look at yourselves and think about what really matters.”

Again, this devalued the opinions of his fans. Yes, it is a shame that there so many other more serious problems around the world, but there is no need to make the world less tolerable with hateful language. It’s that proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Not to mention the act of bringing up serious world events smacks a bit of trying to redirect the issue (again, obviously not what he meant to do).

Mr. Jafari gave a partial apology for bringing up the climate in the middle east as a defense, but still has not apologized for the comment that started it all. Still, I’d like to think that some good can come from anything – even a hot mess like this. As such I’ve learned the following: 1) Even if you think PC-ness is bogus, you still need to watch your mouth, 2) If you act in character for a living, be sure to leave that character at the office before continuing the rest of your day, 3) What you say can be damaging. How you treat what others say in turn can be cataclysmic, and 4) I was absolutely right when I said that Mr. Jafari doesn’t know when a joke is over. Here’s hoping he knows now.