Over the past few weeks, the coverage of PewDiePie controversy has been getting more and more attention from all over the world. YouTubers, mainstream media as well as the internet are discussing and debating on this issue, and by now it hasn’t seemed to be settled down.
So what is the story of this controversy around Felix Kjellberg, the most subscribed YouTuber in the world, and what lessons can we learn from this?
I. A brief timeline of PewDiePie controversy
In the first week of January 2017, PewDiePie uploaded some non-gaming videos that raised criticism for using inappropriate words or language, including one in which he seemingly uses the word “nigga”. After that, a tag called “#PewdiepieIsOverParty” began to trend on Twitter.
The controversy escalated when on January 11, PewDiePie uploaded a video on reviewing Fiverr, a global online marketplace offering tasks and services that headquartered in Israel, in which he showed his reaction to a duo he had paid to display the message “DEATH TO ALL JEWS” on a sign, as a joke and attempt to highlight the ridiculous things which can be provided as a paid service on the Internet.
He immediately apologized for what he did later in the video, stating –
“I am sorry. I didn’t think they would actually do it. I feel partially responsible.”
“I’m not anti-Semitic, […] so don’t get the wrong idea. It was a funny meme, and I didn’t think it would work, okay.”
His actions soon got lots of rage comments on his videos, as well as some negative coverage from the media. Not long after Fiverr banned the account of PewDiePie and the duo, and urging them to upload a video to apologize and express they were sorry to all Jews. PewDiePie deleted this Fiverr review video from his channel afterwards.
Yet the story didn’t end here – in February, Wall Street Journal reported this incident, with their listed evidence of anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery in 9 of his videos since August 2016. PewDiePie gave his response to the WSJ coverage, but it didn’t help with settle down the outrage, and Maker Studios, a multi-channel network owned by Disney, cut its tie with PewDiePie. Google also took action by abandoning his YouTube Red exclusive show Scare PewDiePie Season 2 and removed his channel from Google Preferred advertising program after the WSJ report.
Many YouTubers, the media as well as the netizens have been debating on this incident and the consequences afterwards till now.
II. The lessons to be learnt
As we all know, PewDiePie has been a legend in the world of YouTube – starting his YouTube channel in 2010, his subscriber count skyrocketed since 2012, surpassing Smosh to be No.1 in August 2013, and now have over 53 million subscribers, 70% more than HolaSoyGerman, the second most subscribed channel.
However, as his fame grows, so do the controversies around him – he made bad jokes in some of his non-gaming videos, in order to make them look funny or entertaining. Even though he apologizes in the same video later or in the next video, some of the audience think that his jokes fall flat and are offensive to some people, and disagree him using nudity or body parts as well as sensitive, inappropriate topics – like racism – as click bates.
Felix himself has stated in many videos and in public as well that he is not a good writer, not good at making comedies, and the intention of these “offensive jokes” are to troll back the trolls, or to show the hatred commentaries and issues like neo-Nazi and white supremacy is not right, after all. But unfortunately, things don’t seem to be as he expected, and his stating about being a terrible comedian is not a reason that he can get away with these offensive jokes.
Before the Fiverr incident, he did make some inappropriate or offensive jokes in different videos, and he knew those were kind of stupid moves and “ultimately offensive”. Yet he still decided to keep on that because he thought the backlash, the negative effects were just for himself, not involving anyone else, and he could take it and go on. This time, however, things take a drastic turn as the turndown of Disney and cancellation of his show affects not just himself, but also the staff and many fellow YouTubers.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” It is true indeed when you have a subscriber group as large as a whole country. You can be who you are in front of the camera, of course, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care about what you say and what you do – especially when you are facing millions of people looking for your mistakes and magnify them to the public that doesn’t take time to think whether it is true or not on the internet.
For serious or political issues, you’d better just not cross the line, or deal with them with extreme caution – Well, even South Park got criticism from the Hitler-mocking episodes though the writers had been crafted the jokes very carefully, let alone the rallies of Chinese communities against Jimmy Kimmel as they watched the words of “Kill everyone in China” from a child in this late-night show.
And now, let’s turn to the Wall Street Journal, and take a deeper look on the report of PewDiePie.
As one of the “mainstream media”, Wall Street Journal gains reputation among readers and audience over the years. For this PewDiePie incident, they absolutely have the rights to cover the story, just as other events or stories.
For the evidence – the 9 videos with inappropriate jokes they found, can you find those anti-Semitic jokes or use Nazi imagery inside? Yes. But are those jokes or imagery really appreciating or promoting anti-Semitism or Nazi? No, not really.
And this leads to the origin of context debate – “Does context matter?”
Yes, Context always matters – especially when you look through the whole PewDiePie incident and the content involved in the timeline WSJ listed, you will find that what Felix ultimately wants to express – he disagrees with racism and Nazi, as well as those Neo-Nazi and white supremacy group that claim he is one of them or supports their groups or actions.
The author of the specific article of Wall Street Journal listed some facts about PewDiePie incident, but many of the points were based on the misquoting and misinterpreting of these videos in order to “mold to fit” the purpose – setting up the point of “YouTuber against mainstream media” and destructing the fame of these YouTubers by manipulating the 98% of readers and netizens who didn’t do research on the incident and got easily driven by the media without thinking, then coming to Felix and say to offer a platform for him to defend himself (which obviously unnecessary because he has been defending himself already on YouTube, the one he is most familiar with).
It seemed work, but then lots of YouTubers as well as readers and netizens began to point out the what is wrong with the perspective, and denounce WSJ and other mainstream media have gone too far for making up reason to accuse PewDiePie in such manner.
Though dropping half a million subscribers, his channel regained subscribers 3 days after the WSJ coverage and even boosted for a week. And most importantly, as he is now free and out of any kind of MCN (Multi-channel network), he can do more things he had planned or haven’t been able to do, despite the cancelation of some projects like Season 2 of Scare PewDiePie.
Even though there are some stringers, contributors and guest writers still going on blaming PewDiePie, afterwards, it doesn’t draw the public’s attention anymore and begins to backfire to themselves. Ironic.
III. The Conclusion
To summarize the PewDiePie controversy, we agree that both sides handle the incident very poorly – for PewDiePie (and other video producers or presenters), the idea or opinion should be presenting or demonstrating in a clearer and more direct way, since offensive jokes can easily lead to misunderstanding in the current world climate of hate speeches rising; for Wall Street Journal (and other mainstream media), the questionable and somehow “unethical” practice to PewDiePie in the coverage also raises our awareness of identifying the facts, theories and lies in each piece of news we hear.
We would like to end this article with the words from Jacksepticeye, the fellow YouTuber of PewDiePie –
[…] And again I think that could have been handled a lot better. That’s what this situation comes down to everything could have been handled a lot better.
[…] The insane endless attacks on him and witch hunt are out of control and going too far. We all make mistakes and should be given an opportunity to learn from them.
And, if you have any thoughts or opinions on this, feel free to let us know in the comments. We’ll see you in the next article.