‘Backyard Mythbuster?’ Or ‘You Tube Star Trains Terrorists!’

A Daily Mail article accuses a popular You Tube host of training terrorists in his video review of a stab-proof vest. Is it true, or a myth that needs busting?

Joerg Sprave likes to launch things. Frequently he likes to launch weird things, and film it for his You Tube channel. Like the time he turned toilet brushes into arrows. Or the time he shot lawn darts from a launcher he made himself (lawn darts are still legal in his native Germany.) Or the time he shot marbles into ballistic gel, or weaponized pasta (both raw and cooked) into darts, or tested the lethal quality of various types of candy.

Think of his channel as a sort of Backyard Mythbusters. Joerg has turned his Slingshot Channel into a successful venture, where he regularly shows off his aiming abilities, as well as his engineering ones. He’s made hundreds of slingshot frames himself, and builds launchers to propel his creative ammunition into various targets, and test how well each item will perform when launched. Over a million and a half people subscribe to his channel to catch his videos nearly every week, and quite a few engage in his discussion forum. Joerg has spent a lot of time creating a community around his love for fun, and love of launching unconventional things at other things.

Joerg also likes to review products, like pocket slingshots and crossbows. And it was one of his review videos that has subjected his channel to media scrutiny, and saw You Tube removing one of his videos from the platform.

As part of the media’s newfound interest in issues around the way advertising is handled on Google platforms, the Daily Mail published an article with the dramatic title ‘Google blood money: Web giant cashes in on vile seven-minute video showing ‘knife expert’ penetrating a stab vest like the one worn by murdered Westminster PC’. The article calls the video ‘vile’ and ‘sickening’, claiming Google and You Tube were profiting from Joerg showing terrorists how to defeat stab-proof vests. The reporters also contacted advertisers whose ads they saw playing on the video, prompting the companies to review their ad policies with Google.

Amid the article’s cries about Joerg ‘training terrorists’ with his videos, You Tube removed the vest review video the same day, and slapped him with a ‘community guidelines’ strike, putting Joerg on a path to potentially lose his channel entirely. This despite the video having earned ad revenue for about six months prior to the article’s publication.

In a response video, Joerg explained that he was reviewing an affordable stab-proof vest to show how useless a product it is. Showing the puncture points in the aluminum plating within, he tells viewers “This is the only means of self-defense that is legal in many countries in Europe, since they’re taking away all the other options…Of course, the vest failed miserably…If they would have taken 3 or 5 mm polycarbonate, then it would have worked. This (aluminum plate) is nonsense.”

On the article’s comparison of the reviewed vest to the vest worn by the police officer at Westminster, Joerg replied “I hope Her Majesty isn’t giving out crap like that to their finest cops, because consider that most of them aren’t even armed. They have no guns.” And about the accusations that he is teaching terrorists how to defeat stab-proof vests, he replied “They’re saying that I’m teaching terrorists how to punch through these vests, which is nonsense. If I would have done that, I would have simply told them what parts of the body are covered by the vests, because it’s so easy to punch into a place where the vest isn’t even there.’

Interestingly, the Daily Mail piece was written specifically to claim that Joerg and You Tube are profiting from videos that show terrorists how to get around certain protections. But when the same author wrote about knives that were easily available in Zurich’s airport several years ago, the tone was quite different, detailing how easily terrorists traveling from Zurich and sitting in the front of the plane could get into the cockpit:

Mr Yates said that since the 9/11 attacks, the door from the passenger cabin to the flight deck are locked but occasionally opened to provide refreshments to the crew.

He explained: ‘If you’re sitting in the front, you can see when that door is open and it doesn’t take an Einstein to work out you can be through there in a few seconds with a knife out.’

We contacted Joerg and asked whether he had a backup of the video or whether it was available elsewhere online, so readers could judge for themselves. He told us: “It is the first time in eight years that one of my videos was deleted from YouTube, so usually there is no need for me to run a backup. Seems like that is changing now.” He is concerned that more of his videos might be scrutinized in the same way, and that You Tube might bow to tabloid pressure to shut down his entire channel, cutting off the income from his videos entirely.

UPDATE: Joerg has posted this update on his Facebook page:

“YouTube gave me permission to reupload the “riot gear” video entirely unchanged and also the “stab proof vest” video with just a little more context that it is a review.

Will do that tomorrow. Eat that, DM!”

This means you will be able to see the original video for yourself on his channel once it’s uploaded again.

Joerg has prevailed in this round; his strike has been removed by You Tube, and he has seen more subscriptions and support of his channel since the Daily Mail article was published.  He has also uploaded a humorous send-up of the Daily Mail. But the incident, and others like it in recent news, raises the question of whether traditional media outlets are choosing You Tube as an easy target.  Creators are concerned that media outlets are fishing for videos on accounts like Joerg’s that can then be spun into hysterical headlines for clicks and views, and thus, ad revenue; profiting off of hysteria they create themselves.  Given the mainstream media’s reputation of late, the theory certainly deserves consideration.

You can examine Joerg’s Slingshot Channel for yourself to learn what he does, see his website, and like his page on Facebook to keep up with him.  Special thanks to Gwen Patton for alerting us to this story with her social media defense of Joerg.