Youtube and Maker Studio decided to break relations with Youtube vlogger PewDiePie over a video that features a stunt involving anti-Semitic messages uploaded January 11th.

Felix Kjellberg is a Swedish web-based comedian that first opened a YouTube account under his alias PewDiePie. His career within the platform began with videos showing a video game screen as he commented and reacted while playing through them. He soon gained popularity and reached more than 53 million subscribers. Most of his followers were teenagers. His content later diversified into comedy skits, and other peculiar performances said The Washington Post.

Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg also known as “PewDiePie” is a foul-mouthed Swedish video-game commentator. Image Credit: Lifehack

PewDiePie is now recognized as the most popular Youtuber in the world. His videos combined have been watched a total of 14 billion times, and any video of his can exceed a million hits. With this type of visibility, profitable business and advertising deals started rolling in, getting him the chance to work together with YouTube and Walt Disney Co.

Controversy hit him when the Wall Street Journal published an investigation focused on the YouTuber’s offensive videos.  The investigation reviewed a couple of videos produced by the comedian since August 2016, in which the Youtuber made sensitive jokes around anti-semitic messages. Among other things, the vlogger posted clips of Hitler’s speeches while criticizing the platform’s policies, showed swastikas sent by fans, gave the Nazi salute, and the most recent one: featured two men raising a sign that read “DEATH TO ALL JEWS.”

The idea for the video came to the Swedish vlogger from participating on a website called Fiverr. Through the service available online, freelancers can get paid small sums of money by Fiverr’s users to perform odd activities. The Youtube star tried to portray the craziness of modern world by showcasing services like Fiverr as an example. Kjellberg said the point of the video was not to convey a serious political commentary. He recalled having picked a subject that he thought absurd to demonstrate his audience precisely how people would do just about anything for a couple of bucks.

He paid two South Asian men to hold a banner that read “DEATH TO ALL JEWS,” while they danced and laughed half dressed. PewDiePie uploaded a video to his channel showing his reaction to the “humorous” prank last Saturday.

“I don’t feel too proud of this, I’m not going to lie,” Kjellberg said in the video while covering his mouth from laughter, reported The Washington Post.

The video was deleted from the PewDiePie channel, but it managed to top 6 million views before its removal, informed the newspaper.

After the video had come under attack, YouTube decided to cancel the second season of the series that was exclusively aired to subscribers of the YouTube Red paid service. The YouTube personality had partnered with the American company, bought by Google in 2006, to produce an original series called “Scare PewDiePie.”

Additionally, Youtube announced it was going to remove PewDiePie’s channel from the Google Preferred services which tell advertisers what videos have the best performing activity on the site, a Youtube representative explained to The Washington Post.

The video is said to be in direct infringement of the company’s guidelines about hate speech. Youtube always encourages visitors to report offensive content. Apparently, the racy stunt was also breaching the advertising criteria set by the website, where it is ruled as inappropriate to include advertisement in videos that display violence, including “serious injuries and events related to violent extremism,”

The policy goes on to warn about the fine line between what is and is not deemed “hate speech.” For example, criticizing a nation-state is regarded as acceptable, but showing racist comments about a specific group is not permitted.

After the video had been brought to the spotlight, Disney followed in Youtube’s steps by ending their association with Kjellberg. Back in 2004, his channel had been purchased by Disney as part of a collection of thousands of Youtube channels grouped together in what is called Maker Studios. The deal was worth $500 million.

“Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case, and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward,” Maker Studios told Variety.

Kjellberg will not lose his channel and will be able to continue capitalizing on his Youtube videos. The comedian admitted that the content was offensive but also defended himself arguing that his subscribers would understand the message he was trying to send across and they would not misinterpret it as an attack on the Jewish people, insisting he was not trying to support hateful attitudes whatsoever, said the Youtube star on his Tumblr account.

His regular viewers may have found the prank to be witty or even amusing, but another percentage of the public thought the video promoted anti-Semitism. For example, the video came to the attention of The Dialy Stormer, a white nationalist blog which commented that even if it wasn’t the actual intention of the creator or if it was just meant to cause a stir or get free publicity, it accomplished the same results nonetheless: normalizing Nazism and marginalizing “our enemies”, according to a now deleted post from the neo-Nazi blog, reported by The Washington Post

The Youtuber repeatedly stressed that he wasn’t in any way involved or related to hate-based groups nor did he endorse or support their practices.

For the two people raising the poster, they also apologized by saying their comprehension of the English language was limited and they could not have grasped the entire meaning behind the message they were holding.

Jonathan Vick, Antidefamation League Associate Director, stated in regards to the video that it only takes making the content public to help the subject become part of the mainstream.

Source: The Washington Post