Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg is an extremely popular, and often polarizing, figure in online circles of creators and fans. As his popularity grew from his first video uploaded in 2006 on his original Pewdie channel, no one could have predicted the life we would find the world’s most popular gaming YouTuber in today. Recently, he took on a lighthearted challenge from Indian music channel T-Series to see which of the two extremely popular entities could get more subscribers. And thus the “subscribe to PewDiePie” meme was born.
The “subscribe to PewDiePie” meme had originally been a rallying cry for the YouTuber, and much of the online creator community, that was used as a viral marketing campaign to try and compel fans, gamers and anyone that would listen to follow the incredibly successful personality.
Kjellberg expressed a large amount of gratitude for the positive things fans had done in support of his efforts to grow his popularity. From a hugely expensive billboard in New York City, to wearing shirts on the highly-publicized stage of the Super Bowl, fans had done the effort to surpass T-Series a huge service. But not all of the efforts were positive or done in a good natured and fun attempt at viral marketing.
Public opinion surrounding Kjellberg had been turning sour for months, as multiple scandalous moments, and the lackluster response from fans, soured much of the good will he had gained over the years. From racial slurs blurted out and vigorously defended, to outright promotion of, and references to, far-right politics and Nazism, PewDiePie was in hot water. And things only got worse on March 15th of this year when a far-right terrorist committed the worst mass-shooting in New Zealand history, killing 50 people and wounding just as many. The shooter even commented “subscribe to PewDiePie” before engaging in the attack.
The terrorist livestreamed much of the act, and published a brutally honest and bigoted manifesto online. Almost immediately, a few things became apparent. The act was undeniably fueled by the culture of islamaphobia online, the same culture that radicalized the shooter, and the obvious links to Kjellberg and his meme-heavy personality and fanbase were undeniable. And that influence would only continue to grow over time, potentially exposing more impressionable people to extremism.
Speaking about the attack in a variety of videos, Kjellberg said the following:
“It’s just so disgusting. So disappointing to have my name and community dragged into that. Out of the respect for the families and victims involved, I chose not to address it any further than on Twitter, where I disavowed the actions taken that day. To have my name associated with something so unspeakably vile has affected me in more ways than I might have shown.”
The manifesto of the Christchurch shooter, and links to more recent acts of terror like when a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in California this week, highlight the need for countering far-right extremism online now more than ever before. And with a recent video, PewDiePie seemed to do just that in his own way, looking to recuse himself from the more toxic and dangerous acts carried out in his name.
Almost as quickly, thousands of fans took to downplaying the influence Kjellberg may have had in pushing the culture of far-right radicalization online. The nature of stochastic terrorism, the seemingly random trend of radicalization and far-right politics which PewDiePie has alarmed many by associating with, was also easily spotted. It’s this trend that many called on PewDiePie to condemn, and it seems like the message has finally gotten through. Hopefully his more hardcore fans will understand why this condemnation is important.
As the specter of far-right terror grows and these kinds of vile acts continue across the globe, it’s commendable that popular personalities and major platforms stand up and confront the toxic and negative aspects of their popularity head-on. And as mass-shootings continue to occur, and people continue to place blame on media rather than offers substantive solutions to deeper sociological issues, we still have a long way to go yet.
We’ve included the full video from the YouTuber down below if you want to watch it.