The Dark Side of the Power of Social Media

Why I, Ryan Kavanaugh, sued Ethan Klein and his podcast H3.

Today I sued Ethan Klein. He has lied to his followers and the public and profited from it. I was left with no choice but to do exactly what he has told his millions of fans I did prior, sue him.

On April 17, 2021, Triller, a company I have an interest in and helped to found put on a boxing match between YouTube-star-turned-fighter Jake Paul and MMA fighter Ben Askren. It was one the first events of our new business, Triller Fight Club, following our initial foray into the fight game, the Nov. 28, 2020 fight between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr., which sold 1.6 million pay per views (PPV). 

The Paul-Askren fight was successful, but not as successful as it should have been. Thanks to internet piracy, we estimate in excess of 4 million unique views of the fight were stolen. At the price we set for the PPV, $49.99, that equals far more than $100 million in lost revenue.

Pirating PPV events is not a new phenomenon. While still illegal, it’s usually a single person pirating for their own viewing. We offered an amnesty to those who did that: simply pay the $49.99 and we would not come after them—and many of those individuals did the right thing and paid. 

Unfortunately, in this case, podcasts like H3 and Ethan Klein didn’t just pirate the fight for personal use. Instead, they rebroadcast it to millions of people, not only resulting in hundreds of millions in lost sales for Triller, but money made for Klein through his own ad sales and sponsorships, which he sold against Triller’s pirated PPV. 

In an ideal and fair world, it would be YouTube’s responsibility to stop this “grand theft.” Instead, current laws make it Triller’s responsibility. The owner of pirated content must identify and report the thieves (which Triller did with Klein and H3). In turn, YouTube can take several days to investigate and then—maybe—take down the pirated stream, which it did. But by then, it was too late; everyone who would have purchased the event had already watched the pirated version. And the pirates—in this case, H3 and Ethan Klein—were enriched at Triller’s expense.

In the entertainment industry, a great deal of a company’s value is in its intellectual property. Protecting a PPV event is exactly the same as putting a fence around a factory or placing an armed guard inside a jewelry store. If a burglar broke into a store and stole millions of dollars of jewelry and resold it, they would be prosecuted. This is no different in how it harmed Triller, which spent tens of millions of dollars making this product. 

After the Paul-Askren fight, Triller identified several online businesses and individuals that pirated all or part of the event, and focused on those who actually profited off the piracy, such as Klein and his company, h3h3Productions.

Later in April, in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Triller filed suit. 

Included in the defendants was the H3 podcast, run by Ethan Klein and his wife, Hila, under h3h3Productions, Ethan and Hila, and their alter egos. 

H3 is broadcast on YouTube and elsewhere. Not only did H3 and Klein profit from the stolen PPV, but they also bragged on their podcast about pirating it. 

Triller, not me, filed a lawsuit to stop and hopefully recoup the financial damage that had been done to the company. The piracy allowed the Kleins to make a substantial amount from their advertisers and sponsors off of stolen property. 

Initially, Klein seemed to be interested in a settlement. But against all common legal practices, rather than negotiating in good faith, he disclosed his views on the suit and the terms of the discussed settlement on his podcast to millions of viewers and further disparaged Triller (which included his offer to pay $50,000 to Triller). This behavior breached multiple litigation laws and showed that he was operating in bad faith. 

Since that time Klein has only escalated his juvenile reaction. He has posted video after video attacking and slandering me personally, despite the fact that, while I am a shareholder and co-founder, I am not Triller, I am not an officer, I am not the CEO, I do not make unilateral decisions for Triller, nor did I personally sue him.

Klein understands how search engine optimization (SEO) works, and has titled his puerile videos to show up when my name is searched. His legion of followers has amplified the attacks.

Among other things, he has posted more than eight podcasts disparaging me, although he has never met me, never spoken to me, and does not know me. Through these podcasts he has spread false information, which he knows to be false and is done only with the intent to do harm.

He has created a website comparing me to Harvey Weinstein resulting in further false articles and sites to be published and directed traffic to these false articles and sites. He has sent paid traffic to the site to push it to page 1 of Google search results for my name. He has encouraged people on Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and elsewhere to click on this site, “upvote” comments, and engage to keep pushing it higher in my search results.

Klein has instructed and encouraged his followers to attack my social media channels, which they have, going so far as to threaten me and my family if I don’t “leave Ethan alone.” I have received so many threats, negative messages, and vulgar comments from Klein and his followers that I have been forced to restrict commenting on my social media. 

He has posted and reposted a misleading Variety article with a headline that includes the phrase “Ponzi scheme” to imply that I was involved in a fraud. He has posted this no fewer than 30 times.

Klein never mentions that the content of the article actually debunks its own headline. The article’s headline refers to a draft complaint that was never filed, while the article itself quotes all the parties involved denying any allegation of fraud. Nevertheless, Klein continues to do everything he can to harm me, my business, and Triller by flogging the inaccurate Variety headline and disregarding the factual content of the article. Klein states that I don’t pay my employees and didn’t pay a nanny. This is false and misleading. Klein has posted that I had two DUIs. Also false.

Klein has most recently paid Wikipedia editors to destroy my Wikipedia page. It has been untouched for years, with neither positive nor negative additions since 2018. It was a fair and balanced description of my business and personal life. In the past 45 days, however, Klein coordinated an attack removing almost anything that could be seen as positive and replacing it with an onslaught of negative, intentionally misleading, and inaccurate information. 

Klein started a Reddit thread where he and his followers discuss how they plan on harming me and gloat about what they have achieved. Participants on the thread include the same people who are “editing” my Wikipedia page and bragging about it. Those same editors also happen to be editing h3h3 and Klein’s Wikipedia pages positively. 

Klein caused his followers to flood the app store and give Triller’s app a one-star rating. Prior to Klein’s malicious attack, Triller had a very favorable 4.7-star rating. Through Klein’s coordinated actions, he caused thousands of bot and fake accounts as well as his followers to leave one-star ratings. Thankfully, the app store has removed a number of the fake ratings, as we were able to prove their malicious intent and inaccurate postings, but many still remain and the attack continues daily. 

All of this amounts to textbook malicious behavior, intended to harm me and Triller. This leaves me with no choice but to sue.

One malignant internet personality with a large following—the equivalent of an angry child with a loaded gun—can cause disproportionate harm to anyone, using lies, slander, and SEO, and suffer few if any consequences. 

What has happened to me could happen to any person or business if a disturbed individual who espouses racist, homophobic, and other offensive views musters a large, obedient social media following and attacks. 

Hopefully this case will not only stop Klein but serve as a deterrent for others who use social media to harm those who do not deserve it and help set a precedent that this type of behavior cannot be tolerated.

Ryan Kavanaugh is the 26th highest grossing movie producer of all time and the co-founder of Triller, one of three fastest growing social media apps.