Linus Tech Tips has become ground zero for accusations of conflicts of interest, sloppy testing, and rushing out too much content too quickly to feed its ever-rising ambitions. Now, the media empire valued at over $100 million is on pause for a week as it revaluates its internal practices and hires an outside firm to investigate allegations of sexual harassment.
Linus Tech Tips is a YouTube channel turned media company that covers PC gaming and the larger world of tech, marrying strong opinions with the vibe of a bunch of gadget nerds just messing around together. Think Mythbusters for whether the latest off-the-shelf rig can play Cyberpunk 2077 on max settings.
Its problems started at the end of July. A Linus Tech Tips employee said in a video tour of its offices and testing labs that one of the things that sets it apart from other content creators in the space like Gamers Nexus and Hardware Unboxed is that Linus Tech Tips tests everything from scratch each time it gathers data for a new video.
“If you have to tell everyone how good your testing is, in my 20+ years of experience that generally means your testing isn’t very good,” Hardware Unboxed shot back in a tweet a few days later.
Gamers Nexus also ended up responding in a nearly 45-minute video posted on August 14 detailing a series of shortcomings that went beyond just the testing. Instead, it called into question a larger lapse in quality and accuracy as the umbrella company Linus Media Group has ramped up production to release dozens of videos and weekly podcast episodes to fuel the algorithmic content machine. In doing so, Gamers Nexus broke the dam on a much larger debate around ethical responsibility and online content creation sustainability and unleashed warring camps of fans between the rival tech testing YouTube channels.
The Gamers Nexus video prompted a written response by Linus Sebastian, the company’s co-founder and current chief vision officer, which prompted a rebuttal by Gamers Nexus in a second video. That then led Linus Tech Tips to release its own 22-minute YouTube apology video in which several high-ranking employees and executives promised to do better while reading from teleprompters.
“Effective immediately, all YouTube video production is on pause and our teams are going to be spending this entire next week focusing on long term workflow changes to make our content better in a lasting way,” Chief Financial Officer Yvonne Ho said in the video. She and others promised to use that time to overhaul the company’s guidelines and best practices to prevent future mistakes.
In its original video, Gamers Nexus showcased a litany of errors in some of Linus Tech Tips’ testing data. Sometimes the mistakes were corrected after the fact with onscreen asterisks or updates pinned in the comments sections, but the videos were never edited and re-uploaded. In other cases, user error or confusion led to outcomes that didn’t fairly represent the product being reviewed. The biggest example was a now infamous build test of a copper pipe water cooler prototype made by Billet Labs. In a video describing it as an overpriced waste, Sebastian mounted the cooler to a GPU it wasn’t correctly fitted for and then blasted the poor performance. When criticized, he later defended himself on a podcast episode, saying it wasn’t worth the hundreds of dollars in employee time to re-test it.
Things got even messier when Gamers Nexus alleged that Linus Tech Tips then sold the prototype rather than giving it back to Billet Labs so it could be sent out to other reviewers. Sebastian clarified later that it had not been sold, but rather auctioned off for charity during an Extra Life fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Linus Tech Tips ultimately promised to reimburse Billet Labs the cost despite originally agreeing to send the entire test unit back.
The broader takeaway from the Gamers Nexus video was that Linus Tech Tips was cutting corners to pump out more and more reviews and test videos, and then getting defensive and obfuscating the truth when called out. Everyone makes mistakes, but it was the YouTube channel’s seeming rush to move past them and treat them like the price of growth that raised red flags. An edited roundup of staff comments showed many saying they wish they had more time with each new video they were producing.
At least one former staffer has now alleged that the workload and behavior of managers at the company led her mental health to crater. YouTuber Madison Reeve, who worked as a social media coordinator at Linus Tech Tips in 2021, posted a long Twitter thread on August 16 that painted a picture of a difficult and belittling work environment that included instances of alleged sexual harassment.
“My time at this company brought my mental health to an all time low,” she wrote. “You could talk to anyone who was around me during my employment and they would confirm it. I would not have recommended anyone I knew to work there, especially with my experiences as a woman in the office.”
Linus Media Group CEO Terren Tong told Kotaku in an email that an outside investigator will be hired to look into Reeve’s claims and said the workplace environment described was not consistent with his experience with the team since he joined six weeks ago. He continued:
We’ve been addressing this internally in an all hands hence the delayed reply but we’ve already begun combing our personnel files and past notes and correspondences to see if we can corroborate any of what’s being said.
As this will take some time and due to our employee confidentiality responsibilities we may not be able to provide a comprehensive statement until we’ve completed our investigation.
With that said, I don’t want to leave your readers hanging either, so here’s what can be said right now: I was in a state of shock reading through these allegations. They aren’t consistent with our company values. They are not consistent with my experience with the team in the six weeks or so that I’ve been here.
We pride ourselves on maintaining a safe and inclusive environment. In addition to our existing report systems (both anonymous and otherwise) we’ve proactively reached out internally today to encourage members of our team to report any workplace bullying or harassment they might be experiencing so we can take quick and decisive action.
Our HR team will be conducting a more thorough assessment of the allegations. Furthermore, we will also be hiring an outside investigator to look into the allegations and will commit to publishing the findings and implementing any corrective actions that may arise because of this. When we are ready, we will release a statement. For now I would ask that we allow our team the time they need be as thorough as possible.
Sebastian stepped down from the CEO role and was succeeded by Tong earlier this year. “I wasn’t built for this, and I’m tired,” Sebastian said in a June video announcing he was stepping down from the CEO role. “Like ‘really can’t do this anymore’ tired. And if I try to drag myself through another ten years of business administration I know I’m gonna destroy myself, and probably end up killing the company and the community that I love so much in the process.”
Tong, a former Corsair Gaming marketing director, bookended the Linus Tech Tips apology video by talking about his and the rest of the staff’s responsibility for maintaining quality checks and making sure sponsors don’t interfere in content. What neither he, nor anyone else in the video really addressed, was whether Linus Tech Tips can continue growing at the current pace, or whether trying to keep scaling up on YouTube and other platforms is the ultimate source of the recent sloppiness.
“We’re still fucking up a lot and we need to own that fix it and move on, not be defensive and shirk blame,” Chief Technology Officer Luke Lafreniere said during the apology video. For his part, Sebastian now agrees his refusal to retest the Billet Labs monoblock cooler was a mistake. “I owe you guys better and I’m sorry,” he said.
Update 8/16/2023 1:11 p.m. ET: Clarified in the first paragraph that production has been halted for a week.
Correction 8/16/2023 1:19 p.m. ET: Clarified weekly video count described in the fifth paragraph belongs to Linus Media Group as a whole and updated to reflect only one weekly podcast is produced.
Update 8/16/2023 3:47 p.m. ET: This story was updated to include a statement from Tong about the workplace allegations and to include additional quotes from Reeve about her time at the company.