Social media is a minefield of negativity that often leaves users in a conundrum whenever they stumble across someone doing something online that clearly seems obnoxious. Should users call people out for such behavior? Are they acting in a righteous manner or are they simply giving them the attention they’re seeking in the first place?

YouTube group Represent Earth (Repozen Chikyu) put this principle to the test last week with one of 2019’s stranger online bait-and-switch campaigns.

The collective operates one of the most popular channels on the video-sharing site, featuring clips of them playing internet-themed card games or playing pranks on one another.

It also has a separate space devoted to its music, which is about as good as you’d expect from self-described comedians on YouTube.

Many users of social media claim to like the content Represent Earth produces, though it’s fair to say a significant number of others don’t. In late July, the group managed to find a new way to enrage social media users.

A woman going by the name Jasmine accused Represent Earth member DJ Shacho of harassment, sharing alleged smartphone screenshots of the messages he sent to her. The tweet went viral, and a number of people expressed shock at the allegations.

A day later, DJ Shacho apologized on the group’s YouTube channel, wearing a suit and sporting a freshly shaved head. He appeared to acknowledge the allegations, saying that Represent Earth had been planning various activities this summer, although these were now in doubt. The upload appeared to confirm suspicions, and some media outlets even reported on it — as did reaction YouTubers.

However, Represent Earth then posted a tweet on Twitter that included an additional apology as well as a link to a clip that turned out to be … a music video for a song titled “Pawahara Za Horomone,” (which references an abbreviated form of power harassment in Japanese at the start of the title).

The video featured members of the group performing a rap-rock number in the style of heavy metal outfit Maximum The Hormone, which actually made a guest appearance at the end. The video also featured a woman in the role of Jasmine, along with on-screen graphics of the same texts and images that she shared on Twitter.

It turns out the harassment allegations were part of a marketing campaign created by the group — a fact it gleefully discusses in the song, which is half about how the internet can basically give anyone free promotion if you stoke outrage.

People online were unsurprisingly outraged. Outlets that had previously ignored the story now added their weight to the discussion, and YouTubers published more reaction videos.

At this point, social media users began to feel conflicted. This is, after all, what Represent Earth wanted to accomplish in the first place, and the group had attracted a much wider audience than usual through its publicity stunt.

As it turns out, though, not all publicity is good publicity.

Maximum The Hormone’s appearance in the clip — and the band’s apparent decision to play along with the fake harassment story — outraged its fans. The band members apologized and deleted tweets that were related to the issue, while Represent Earth also apologized to the metal band for causing it problems.

Still, criticism of both groups continued. What’s more, anger started to be redirected at unrelated bands who had reacted positively to the controversial clip.

Yumi Ishikawa, founder of the #KuToo movement that pushed for an end to dress codes that require women to wear high heels in the workplace, expressed anger at the stunt, arguing that it could cast doubt on future harassment accusations in Japan. One animator canceled a collaboration with Represent Earth over the incident. On Friday, the group canceled two shows set to be held at the MetLife Dome in Saitama due to the controversy.

On the other hand, media artist Ochiyai called it an appropriate work of satire in the era of U.S. President Donald Trump. (So, hey, that’s something.)

Ultimately, though, the stunt probably won’t help the band maintain its followers. Like the Logan Pauls of the world, Represent Earth has an established fan base that will follow them regardless of what they do and who they anger.

And yet others who don’t follow the group’s antics on social media every day will only remember Represent Earth for its role in the sexual harassment hoax.

In the same way that Paul was universally vilified after uploading footage of a body in Aokigahara forest, Represent Earth looks unlikely to shake off such bad publicity anytime soon.

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