Where PewDiePie went wrong

The back­lash from YouTube star PewDiePie’s an­tiSemitic jokes was fast and fu­ri­ous. But it helped no­body, and achieved noth­ing, while PewDiePie’s re­sponse only served to deepen ex­ist­ing di­vi­sions be­tween the me­dia and a new gen­er­a­tion of on­line in­flu­encers

HWM (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - by Koh Wanzi

PewDiePie was wrong, but not be­cause he’s a Nazi

This past Fe­bru­ary, there was a fu­ri­ous sideshow go­ing on against the back­drop of Don­ald Trump’s flail­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. Felix Kjell­berg, bet­ter known by his YouTube han­dle PewDiePie, found him­self in the mid­dle of a furore of his own mak­ing.

The YouTube star, who boasts over 50 mil­lion sub­scribers on his chan­nel, was the fo­cus of a Wall Street Jour­nal ar­ti­cle that sin­gled out nine in­stances over a six-month pe­riod where he ref­er­enced anti-Semitic hu­mor.

The re­sult­ing out­cry ended with Dis­ney sev­er­ing ties with Kjell­berg, the can­cel­la­tion of the YouTube Red se­ries Scare PewDiePie, and the loss of his ‘Google Pre­ferred’ sta­tus at YouTube.

Ul­ti­mately, Kjell­berg’s fall from grace forces us to think about the con­se­quences that tech­nol­ogy and the rise of open plat­forms for ex­pres­sion, like YouTube, have on the way we ne­go­ti­ate a con­vo­luted in­for­ma­tion land­scape and re­spond to it.

With great power comes great re­spon­si­bil­ity

PewDiePie has ac­knowl­edged his abil­ity to shape pub­lic opin­ion in his re­sponse to ev­ery­one drop­ping him like a hot potato. “We have so much in­flu­ence, and such a large voice,” he said of him­self and his coun­ter­parts, al­beit as part of a larger ar­gu­ment about how the tra­di­tional me­dia was ba­si­cally threat­ened by his suc­cess.

As it turns out, that may ac­tu­ally be the most ir­re­spon­si­ble thing he has said so far. By por­tray­ing the me­dia as petty, un­re­li­able, and hav­ing a per­sonal ven­detta against him, Kjell­berg is en­cour­ag­ing his vast au­di­ence to dis­trust main­stream news out­lets at a time when we’re only

start­ing to come to grasp with fake news from du­bi­ous web­sites.

Kjell­berg has a vast, loyal fan base, and the video where he made those state­ments was viewed over 16 mil­lion times.

He does raise a few valid points about the episode, such as point­ing out that some of his jokes and stunts had been taken out of con­text. But while it’s okay to speak out against un­fair por­tray­als, or sin­gle out the Wall Street Jour­nal for crit­i­cism, it is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to set up the me­dia as a mono­lithic, ho­mo­ge­neous in­sti­tu­tion to be pil­lo­ried.

Kjell­berg has said he never in­tended to be a role model, but YouTube fig­ures and other in­ter­net celebrities with his in­flu­ence need to un­der­stand the im­pact they have on their au­di­ence.

On our end, it isn’t just YouTube that we need to con­tend with, and we’re con­tin­u­ally as­sailed by noise from plat­forms like Twit­ter and Face­book, where larger-than-life per­son­al­i­ties opine loudly, but not of­ten log­i­cally, about the lat­est hot but­ton is­sue. Peo­ple who have suc­cess­fully milked plat­forms like YouTube have out­size voices that ri­val the tra­di­tional me­dia, but they should not ex­ist in op­po­si­tion to the lat­ter.

With no clear author­ity to rely on and an in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar and dis­trusted me­dia, it’s tempt­ing to take sides, when we should re­ally be find­ing ways to lever­age the open in­ter­net and its plat­forms to draw at­ten­tion to the is­sues that re­ally mat­ter. Tak­ing down a prom­i­nent YouTu­ber who made a bunch of jokes in bad taste doesn’t help, nor does ril­ing up your au­di­ence against old­school news out­lets.

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