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The shady side of PewDiePie

Swedish YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, better known as "PewDiePie," rose to prominence through his abundance of Let's Play videos, later becoming the first individual YouTuber to hit 100 million subscribers. Since starting the channel in 2010 and making over 4,000 videos, Felix has amassed nearly 25 billion views on the platform. Over the years, he's leveraged his high view counts to secure lucrative brand deals, making him one of the platform's top earners.

Though the YouTuber has not shared exact figures, he's revealed to his audience that he is a multi-millionaire thanks to YouTube. Money Nation estimated his net worth had reached about $90 million in 2016 when PewDiePie had less than half of the 100 million subscribers his channel currently boasts. Estimations of his net worth vary wildly, with outlets such as Business Insider listing his net worth as a more conservative $25 million.

With popularity comes inevitable controversy. In Felix's case, many, many controversies. With multiple allegations of anti-Semitism, sexism, and racism, PewDiePie's channel is no stranger to internet drama.

PewDiePie's career takes massive blow following allegations of anti-Semitism

PewDiePie's language and edgy humor have been a staple of his videos since his channel's inception. While this attitude may be a turn off for some, for many viewers this shtick is the main draw of his channel. However, his career took a turn when The Wall Street Journal released an article highlighting nine PewDiePie videos that contained alleged anti-Semitic content.

In one example, Felix paid two men on Fiverr to hold up a sign reading, "DEATH TO ALL JEWS." According to the YouTuber, this was an experiment to prove how insane the internet can be, considering you can pay someone to be anti-Semitic for just five dollars. Despite Felix's assertions that he meant no harm and everything he did and said was meant to be taken as a simple joke, parts of the internet did not appreciate his antics.

Maker Studios, owned by Disney, promptly dropped Felix following the backlash online. Disney wasn't the only significant loss for the creator. His YouTube Red show, "Scare PewDiePie," was canceled, and his YouTube channel was removed from the Google Preferred service. Though he apologized for his jokes, only months later he released a video showing himself killing characters he refers to as Jews in the guise of Hitler in the game Conan Exiles.

Tobii or not to be sexist? Alinity Divine vs PewDiePie

When playing around with the Tobii Eye Tracker, Felix asked his fans to send him videos to watch during a livestream. His fans ended up sending in an overwhelming amount of content featuring women in compromising positions, revealing shots, and so forth. At one point, Felix asks, "If a girl dresses like that, she wants you to look right? Am I crazy for thinking that? I'm not some sort of a misogynistic?" Additionally, he refers to some women as "Twitch thots" throughout the stream.

One compilation featured Twitch Streamer Alinity Divine, who filed a copyright claim on his video. Felix responded with a video criticizing Alinity for filing the claim, asserting she was faking offense for money. "You're just playing games with the shortest skirt ever, that's our fault for looking at it in any sexual way, right? ... I know you don't portray yourself to be the smartest person, but I know you're not that dumb to not be aware of what you're doing," said Felix.

After the video's release, members of PewDiePie's fanbase ruthlessly attacked Alinity online. Vice's Samantha Cole claims the views of women expressed by Felix allegedly provoked his fans into bullying and intimidating a woman with a less substantial following, further normalizing sexism in the online gaming community.

Felix is no winner winner chicken dinner after dropping the n-word on a stream

Despite allegations of anti-Semitism and his attempts to distance himself from the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, VA., PewDiePie quickly found himself thrust into the middle of another controversy. During a livestream of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, things took a turn when Felix dropped the n-word.

The racial slur resulted in an instant backlash on social media, with many condemning Felix. Others came to Felix's defense on Twitter, saying that because he used the word in the heat of the moment, it wasn't intended to be racist. While Felix has used slurs in his videos before, this moment stands out because the n-word was directed at another person. For some, this made it more difficult to excuse the language as anything other than purposefully offensive and discriminatory.

Felix apologized for the racial slur in a video saying, "It was not okay. I'm really sorry if I offended, hurt or disappointed anyone with all of this. Being in the position I am, I should know better ... I know I can't keep messing up like this."

PewDiePie vs. the Wall Street Journal

Felix has accused members of the media of attacking and misrepresenting him on multiple occasions. One of these situations arose after The Wall Street Journal posted the article highlighting PewDiePie videos that supposedly contained anti-Semitic or Nazi imagery.

According to The New York Times Magazine, PewDiePie fans sifted through the online histories of The Wall Street Journal reporters for anything they could use against them. PewDiePie then featured what his supporters had found in a video, including insulting jokes made by one reporter years prior on Twitter. An explosion of harassment and death threats levied against a specific journalist who had criticized Felix followed. Things got so bad that the The Wall Street Journal offered to find the reporter a safe place to stay outside of their house to avoid the flood of threatening messages.

The Wall Street Journal allegedly took another hit from Felix's supporters in the midst of the T-series vs. PewDiePie subscriber war when the publication's website was hacked. The hackers issued a fake apology for "misrepresenting PewDiePie." Additionally, the false statement asserted the publication would support PewDiePie in his feud against T-Series and ended by pushing readers to subscribe to PewDiePie's YouTube channel. The Wall Street Journal took down the post, which Felix pointed out on Twitter saying, "lol they deleted it, WSJ is still on angery list."

An endorsement gone wrong

Considering the multiple allegations of anti-Semitism and insensitive content criticized in his videos, you'd think Felix would be extra cautious regarding his endorsements. However, in 2018, PewDiePie promoted EsemicolonR — a YouTuber known for covering pop culture content from a blatantly alt-right stance — at the end of one of his videos. "You also have E;R, who does great video essays ... He did one on Death Note, which I really, really enjoyed," Felix said about the content creator.

The internet jumped on this endorsement and criticized PewDiePie for recommending the channel. Felix responded with a video apologizing for his shoutout to E;R. He claimed he didn't realize the creator held such controversial views and acknowledged the need to take some responsibility for the issue considering his shaky past on the platform. Despite the apology, Felix labelled the controversy as a "shame campaign."

According to The Verge, PewDiePie's endorsement gave E;R an estimated 15,000 subscribers. Though Felix continues to deny outright alt-right support, some, like writer Julia Alexander, view Felix's endorsement as an irresponsible use of his platform. In Alexander's view, whether intentionally or not, Felix contributed to the spread of alt-right ideologies and talking points by funneling subscribers to a channel with supposedly radicalized and sensationalized viewpoints.

Christchurch shooter references PewDiePie

Just before opening fire on two mosques during Friday prayers on March 15, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand, a gunman livestreamed on social media and said, "Remember lads, subscribe to PewDiePie." The statement referenced the "Subscribe to PewDiePie" meme; however, when mentioned by a far-right radical who killed over 50 people, the seemingly lighthearted meme took on a more sinister tone. 

Many wondered why Felix Kjellberg was on this person's radar. Upon learning of the shooting, Felix expressed condolences for the victims and stated, "I feel absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person."

Following the shooting, an influx of think pieces, articles, and videos popped up, speculating why the shooter chose to reference PewDiePie. Some, like National Observer's Caroline Orr, have suggested the jokes and remarks widely covered throughout Felix's YouTube career may have helped to radicalize the shooter towards violence.

As pointed out by Rolling Stone, others, including The New York Times' Charlie Warzel, believe the massacre was "engineered for maximum virality." Referencing PewDiePie was a surefire way to drum up attention for the incident and to leverage his (then) 50 million person strong audience to spread the shooter's message, whether they agreed with it or not. In this case, the thought is that by including the Swedish YouTuber's name, journalists would be more likely to talk about the shooting and try to understand why the shooter made mention of him, thus gaining the shooting more coverage.

"Congratulations" diss track raises some red flags

For many, the PewDiePie vs. T-Series situation symbolized more than an internet squabble. It represented the battle between independent content creators and big corporations, and PewDiePie became the poster boy of the independent creator. As the two channels battled to reach 100 million subscribers first, fans rallied around their favorite channel, prompting people to subscribe and spread the word. 

This subscriber war dominated YouTube throughout late 2018 and into early 2019, but finally came to a close after PewDiePie surrendered and dropped what several people, including India's court system, saw as a racist diss track. PewDiePie's music video, titled "Congratulations," is full of what appear to be digs at Indians, including lyrics like, "Did you know that Indians have poo-poo in their brains?" and "How 'bout next you figure how to fix the caste system."

Considering the video alleges that T-Series is engaged in a slew of illegal activities, it is no wonder the company pushed back against it. Following the song's release, T-Series filed a lawsuit with the Delhi High Court, which resulted in the video being blocked in India. According to the court, the decision was a result of racist and offensive themes present throughout the song.

Beyond the purportedly racist comments, the streamer managed to slip in a reference to causing a genocide, implying fans could call him Hitler as a result. He also mentions going "kamikaze" and refers to his fans as an "army." The music video released only two weeks after the mass shooting in Christchurch.

PewDiePie accused of feeding Asian stereotypes

Felix has a massive online following. As a result, it's not surprising that fans might recognize him on the street, even while travelling internationally. Unfortunately, being internet famous has some drawbacks, most notably the invasion of privacy and personal space.

In a video showing his trip to Singapore, you can see fans screaming, converging around the creator, and even chasing him. Felix also states in the vlog of his anniversary trip to Kuala Lumpur that some fans were tracking his movements through Instagram posts, making him feel "hunted."

While it is understandable that Felix is stressed by the inappropriate actions of some of his over-the-top fans, he's received some flack for the supposed generalizations he's made about his Asian followers. "If you go to countries like Malaysia and Singapore, people are very hectic and scream-ish and crazy, and they lose their minds when they see you ... I love meeting fans, don't get me wrong, but I also want people to just treat me normally as well," said Felix in a video describing the encounters.

After these remarks garnered some negative attention, Felix clarified they were intended as a comparison of fan culture in different regions, and apologized, saying: "I'm sorry if I was a little harsh to you, Singapore and Malaysia ... Just to be clear. Sorry!"

Felix backtracks on $50,000 donation to ADL

The Anti-Defamation League is an international Jewish organization created to combat anti-Semitism and unjust treatment against all peoples. The organization tackles multiple pressing issues, including LGBTQIA+ rights, women's equity, racial justice, criminal justice reform, and religious freedom, to name a few. 

Following the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand, PewDiePie received a lot of negative press and social media attention as a result of the mass shooter who directly referenced his name. Possibly to generate some positive buzz and distance himself from the alt-right movement, Felix announced a $50,000 donation to ADL. 

Felix's choice of charity was met with skepticism, as many believed Felix was being pressured or coerced into donating to the ADL. Felix then canceled his pledge after receiving backlash from his fans, resulting in an even more heated debate over Felix's attitude towards Jewish people.

After backtracking on his contribution, Felix released a video explaining his decision, stating that he was advised to donate to the ADL but would instead donate the money to a charity that he is "actually passionate to donate to."

Felix has no sense for censors

It's no secret that the Chinese government is pretty strict when it comes to criticism of the party and its leaders. While The Great Firewall limits what those living in China can say and create, it also censors the web traffic imported into China. This has had a significant effect on various creative industries, which are often forced to pander to Chinese censorship in place of creative freedom and freedom of speech.

In one of his videos, Felix discussed the growing tensions between Hong Kong and China, showing various memes depicting China's President Xi in an unfavorable light. Shortly after the video's release, Felix released another video alleging he had been banned in China and that searching his name on Chinese websites will turn up no results. This seemed to draw some attention as various news outlets began reporting that PewDiePie had been banned in China. However, it seems this may not actually be the case.

According to BBC, some content, such as a Baidu-run PewDiePie forum, had been made unavailable, but there was no evidence to suggest the Chinese government was responsible for its removal. Instead, it is more likely that the forum took precautions by distancing itself from Felix's content. Additionally, BBC reports that searching PewDiePie's name on sites like iQiyi and Tencent Video will still bring up many results. These statements conflict with PewDiePie's own claims, leaving the situation unclear.

PewDiePie lashes out at fans who spammed him on PSN

During his inaugural stream of Ghost of Tsushima, Felix made a slight error that some of his fans took full advantage of. After accidentally showing off his PlayStation profile name, Felix was suddenly swarmed with messages. While many fans had no ill intent and were looking to start a conversation with their favorite streamer, the sheer number of messages and invites flooding Felix's inbox made it difficult for him to enjoy the game's opening sequence.

Unsurprisingly, Felix snapped. "Why? I hate you all so much," he said. "You ruin all fun. I hope you get banned...F**king children! What, I showed my account for two seconds, and this is what you did?" The streamer then remarked, "Do you guys have no friends? Is that the issue?"

Though he may have gotten a bit heated, Felix apologized for his harsh reaction shortly after the stream. "I kind of snapped yesterday at the live stream towards my fans, and I didn't like how I did that," he said. Felix noted that, while it didn't seem like anyone took words too personally, he didn't like how he handled the situation.

"I shouldn't have gotten so mad about it," he admitted. "I should have just laughed about it."