Pewdiepie has had a weird couple of days.
For a few weeks, it has seemed as though Felix has been untouchable; especially following the lack of backlash to the ongoing attempts at antisemitic “shock humour” peppered through recent Pewdiepie videos. But as it turns out, it has just taken the higher-ups a bit more time to take notice, and action.
In a wave of news yesterday, Pewdiepie was firstly dropped by Maker, his Disney-owned YouTube talent network. Then YouTube themselves followed up, by not only pulling the plug on Season 2 of YouTube Red series “Scare Pewdiepie”, but also removing his channel from their “Google Preferred” advertising platform.
At the time of writing, apart from posting a Valentine’s-themed video with his girlfriend Marzia, Felix is maintaining radio silence. His last Tweet, posted the evening before the news broke, is oddly cryptic.
Only time will tell how Pewdiepie chooses to officially respond; but it’s hard to argue this is a major turning point in his career. While fans have argued endlessly on Felix’s behalf that he obviously doesn’t believe the “jokes” he has been perpetuating, he is simultaneously being lauded as a hero on white supremacy/neo-Nazi sites such as the Daily Stormer; who claim his humour “normalizes Nazism, and marginalizes [their] enemies.”
As his reputation and business relationships crumble, Felix has a choice. Either he can openly recognise his influence in normalising antisemitic language, apologise and remove the offending videos; Or he can say “f*ck it” and lean all the way in to the unapologetic style of the bigoted, in-fighting “shock value” creators like Keemstar and iDubbbz, that he has been so clearly emulating for months.
The truth is, there are worse creators on YouTube than Pewdiepie; so where is their punishment?
Not even referring to the names already mentioned, YouTube has its fair share of “bad eggs”; channels run by “alt-right” trolls are on the rise, with impressive audiences who share their ideals. Hate speech and bullying steeped in bigotry are being normalised every day on the site; and while these channels might not be “Google Preferred”, they’re still raking in the advertising money from targeting smaller, more progressive creators.
And then there are the creators that are causing damage outside of their videos. At this point there have been dozens of allegations against creators; particularly related to sexual abuse towards fans, friends and exes. While it is not YouTube’s place to act as judge and jury, there are definitely steps they could and should be taking to protect their community.
The obvious example is Sam Pepper; who not only has his own set of allegations involving misconduct with fans, but has also posted “prank videos” wherein he literally gropes strange women on the street. These videos were removed based on violation of the Terms of Service; but YouTube’s leniency has allowed Pepper to continue posting and profiting from similar content without remorse.
Ultimately, YouTube’s negligence all boils down to business interests.
The site exists primarily as a platform for anyone; and they can deny all responsibility for the sh*storm their creators are brewing, as long as they don’t have any direct ties. But in the case of Pewdiepie, who is not only the most subscribed person on the site but also someone with whom they have a direct working relationship, it has to be seen they are taking action. If they are seen as more willing to protect their biggest creator, despite blatant links to antisemitism, this will damage their brand more in the eyes of advertisers than cutting him loose.
Felix might be expendable to YouTube; but he is by no means a pawn. He may not be in anybody’s good books at the moment; but like it or not, his next steps will determine how YouTube’s long game works out.