Felix "Pewdiepie" Kjellberg is far and away the most popular person on YouTube, with more than 53 million people subscribed to his channel. But he took a big hit earlier this week (opens in new tab) when Disney-owned Maker Studios, which signed Kjellberg in 2013, cut all ties with him over videos including one in which he paid a pair of Indian men to hold up a sign saying "Death to all Jews."
Kjellberg denied any anti-Semitic intent in a subsequent post on Tumblr. "I was trying to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online. I picked something that seemed absurd to me—That people on Fiverr would say anything for five dollars," he wrote. "I think it’s important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes."
"I make videos for my audience. I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive."
He took a far more combative stance in a video posted earlier today, however, in which he blamed his troubles on "the media," which he said is waging a campaign to discredit him.
"Old-school media does not like internet personalities because they're scared of us," he said. "We have so much influence and such a large voice, and I don't think they understand it. And that's why they keep this approach to us."
Kjellberg repeated his claim that the point of the "Death to all Jews" video was to illustrate how "stupid" the Fiverr service is, and also reiterated his apology. But he then moved to take issue with the way that mainstream media has covered the story—in particular, the Wall Street Journal (opens in new tab), and its claim that nine of his videos over the past six months contain anti-Semitic content. He accused the outlet of "cornering" Disney and YouTube with the story, and "forcing them to sever their ties with me," and cited other instances in which it used out-of-context material—such as one "joke" in which he dressed up in a "soldier outfit" and watched a video of Hitler—to "attack" him in an effort to "decrease my influence and my economic worth."
"Some people are saying that these jokes are normalizing hatred. Regardless if that's true or not (spoiler alert: it's not, unless there are 53 million Nazis watching me for some reason) a personal attack like this, to portray me as anti-Semitic, is doing no one a favor," he said. "You're targeting some Swedish guy that tries to be funny, most of the time it doesn't really go well—very offensive—but he means well. Is there any hate in what I do? No. Absolutely not."
To me, Kjellberg's statement fails to acknowledge that his massive audience is thought to be, in large part, young and impressionable. As he said in the video, he has "so much influence and such a large voice," and when he does something like this, joking or not, it has an impact. He has 53 million subscribers: If just one percent of that base takes his comments at all seriously, that's more than a half-million people running around with those messages in their heads.
You can't have it both ways: Either you are influential, or you're not. Kjellberg clearly understands that he is, yet he seems just as clearly determined to disavow any responsibility. It's an attitude that bears a faint echo of his 2016 troubles with the FCC, in which he received a warning for failing to adequately disclose that he was being paid by WBIE in exchange for positive coverage of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor: Admitting that he's done something wrong, while at the same time insisting that he hasn't really done anything wrong.
Kjellberg expressed regret over the loss of his YouTube show, but concluded on a defiant note. "I'm still here. I'm still making videos. Nice try, Wall Street Journal," he said, middle finger extended. "Try again, motherfuckers."
The full "My Response" video can be seen below.