Everyone makes mistakes in public. Most of us have ended up with egg on our faces multiple times in front of a group, but we take solace that at least the whole world wasn’t watching. Then there are those rare few who cock-up on a worldwide scale. I’d like to introduce you to two such gentlemen who did just that.
To your left you’ll see the sibling duo of Benny and Rafi Fine, commonly known as the Fine Brothers. The pair have been working to make a name for themselves on YouTube pretty much since the video sharing website became a thing. What started just with two brothers has grown to a full on production company that produces a wide-range of content that is distributed across multiple channels and social media sites.
What really kicked the brothers’ career into high gear was when they began with a series of videos featuring kids reacting to viral videos and other pop culture events. The videos proved to be very popular, and soon they were expanding the series and produced several spin-offs. They even established a whole new channel related to their reaction content.
On January 26, the Fine Brothers dropped a video launching “React World.” “React World” was to be a way to work with the Fine Brothers to create reaction content using tools and assets provided by the Fines for a slice of that video’s ad revenue. The video didn’t pass the “smell test” for most anyone who saw it, and as people dug deeper they discovered that the Fines had registered a trademark for the word “react.”
In one video, the pair went from internet darlings to public enemy number one. If you’re not getting what the big deal is here, owning that copyright along with YouTube’s infamously broken “claim-system” would grant the brothers an obscene amount of power to take down any reaction based content. The Fines would then have the ability to bully people into having to opt into creating content under their license, thus allowing them to collect a piece of whatever ad revenue the video poster managed to accumulate.
Being attacked from every angle and bleeding subscribers by the second, the pair responded with a video update, saying they were sorry and that they were setting up an email address to help field questions and clarify how the program would work. This did little to stop the onslaught of negative reactions, and by the beginning of February they issued a statement declaring that that “React World” was being abandoned. They also declared that they had abandoned their attempts to trademark the word “react.” They have still not released any further videos, apologetic or otherwise, on the subject in an obvious effort to try and sweep the whole dirty mess under the rug.
It has had a dozen different wordings over the years, but the core of “Hanlon’s Razor,” “never assume malice for what can adequately be explained as stupidity,” remains a a pretty good rule-of-thumb, and is a valid explanation of what happened here. Think about it. Either Benny and Rafi are comically inept super-villains out to destroy the internet, or just two dudes who grossly misread the internet community and their place in it.
I don’t mean to savage the pair or pretend they’ve never done anything else of value, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sugarcoat things either. Do I think there was any greater agenda behind all of this? Hell, no. There was no path for the pair not to end up running everything they built into the ground had they decided to go forward with this. “React World” is dead and they’ve ceased their pursuit of their ridiculous trademark. With all this in mind, it might be best for the internet to try something their normally very good at, reigning in the hounds.
As many YouTube stars have made clear lately, public outcry is the only way anything gets done to change things, and general ribbing is to be expected when you screw up, but there is no excuse for trolling or bullying. Internet activism is good, but we as a people need to be better about knowing where activism ends and abuse begins. The Fine Brothers have done the right thing here, and other than being the butt of a few jokes in the coming weeks, I say they get a pass. I’m personally going to stay subscribed as I do enjoy the hell out of their react videos. All that being said, Hanlon’s Razor also states, “don’t discount malice either”. As much as I want to give the pair the benefit of the doubt, we must remain respectfully vigilant and make sure the Fines stick to what they’ve promised and don’t pull any other shenanigans, be they intentional or otherwise. We are watching you Fine Brothers, don’t abuse the bit of trust you manage to earn back.