/Life

You have responsibility, deal with it: an open letter to PewDiePie

Johnny Haeusler 20.02.2017

This week our columnist is writing a letter to one of the most successful YouTube-Stars of the world: PewDiePie is facing allegations of being an anti-Semite.

(German version / deutsche Version)

Dear PewDiePie,

My teenage sons love you. Well, let’s say they used to love you. They’ve kinda gotten away from you a little, no hard feelings, you know how it is on YouTube: You like some channels for a while, then you discover others and you move on. Sometimes they still watch your clips.

I like you, too. I (sometimes) think you’re funny, but you’re doing very hard work, you’re professional, and regarding your YouTube success and the money that went along with it one can say: You were in the right spot at the right time. And you kept working and delivering what your fans wanted, so that’s fine with me as well. Up to a point.

YouTube is not the world and the rest of the world is not working as YouTube does

Because I think that with the latest turmoil surrounding your work and your reaction to the allegations of anti-Semitism against you, you’re facing a dilemma that imho lots and lots of bigger YouTubers are facing. I think you have to realize that YouTube is not the world and that the rest of the world is not working as YouTube does. YouTube might be your universe, and I understand and respect that, but it’s just a very small part of the multifaceted reality surrounding us all.

Let me make it clear that I don’t believe that you’re a Nazi or an anti-Semite. I don’t think you’re a bad person. But watching your (and many other YouTubers’) clips from the last couple of months, I came to realize that way too much of YouTube content is all about YouTube, the YouTuber’s role in it, the roles of others, the clips or comments of others and so on. It is way too self centered. It’s like a fucking soap opera sometimes!

Of course, up to a certain point it makes sense. After all, YouTube is where you guys work and communicate and live in a way. And making the YouTube world seem like the only existing one is fine when it’s all fun and games. But making the YouTube sphere the only topic and theme of your own clips can also lead to what we are all facing with this debate now. It can lead to underestimating a problem and making your viewers think that everyone who doesn’t agree with you is wrong. Yes, you have power. And I guess I don’t need to quote what Spiderman says about it.

Johnny Haeusler is a blogger, media designer and co-founder of the re:publica conference. In his weekly WIRED column he reflects on wether we should turn off our computers or have more technology in our lives instead.

To make other readers understand what I’m talking about a little better, here’s a short history of what happened: You had some pretty bad press after you posted some clips showing people you hired on Fiverr to dance and hold up signs saying “Death to all jews”. The people in India who did this job claimed they had no idea what the words said (and they apologized later and you helped them to keep their jobs), and you claimed that you only wanted to show how far you could take things. Way too far, as we have learned.

Next, the Wall Street Journal accused you of supporting anti-semitic messages, while Nazi-sites hailed you as their new star. So far, so bad. Shortly after that, Disney-owned Maker Studios cancelled their deal with you. Pretty bad, too. Then you published a short text and a video as a response. And that’s when it all went even worse, I’m afraid.

Yes, you said you’re sorry. And yes, you said you realized that you might have “taken things too far”. But right after that, you started blaming the media for showing parts of your clips out of context and for being unfair to you and that it was all just a joke. In other words: It was – again – all about you. About you being treated unfair, about you being the victim in this and about the old media not understanding YouTube and your work.

Now, blaming the media for being unfair and not understanding things correctly sounds very familiar to us. Because it reminds us of the exact way Donald Trump currently acts and talks. And you know something must be terribly wrong if you do as Trump does.

You’re a star with an influential voice, you have responsibility coming with it, deal with that

Sure, he’s a little bit more important than you are – to some people. To others, to your (often young) audience and to people that value what you say more than what politicians babble, your voice means more than his. That’s why you are not “only another YouTuber doing his thing”, as you claim. And you’re also not a victim in this. You’re a star with an influential voice, like it or not. You have responsibility coming with it, and you’re being watched closer and criticized and treated harder than other people. You have to deal with that.

And you did, to some extent. But there was no clear stand-off from Nazi-sites. There was no apology to the jewish community. There was a middle-finger to the Wall Street Journal, but not to the Nazis that celebrate you. There was no explanation that you suddenly realized that some things might not work as a joke – although maybe that would have been more important to your audience than just repeating that people can’t take a joke. And it was a massive underestimation of right wing organizations when you said that you “don’t support hate-based groups”.

Here’s the point: Nazis and their right-wing organizations are not just another “hate-based group”. They are not just another YouTube channel that you don’t subscribe to or another web site that you can simply ignore. As you know, Nazis in the past have been responsible for the deaths of millions of people, amongst them over six million jews. And with the current rise of people supporting Nazis by either underestimating the new right-wing movements or even wishing them to get into power, those exact groups could in a near and very dark future be the ones forcing you stop doing your videos. No more PewDiePie under a right-wing regime, trust me. Because artistic freedom and freedom of speech are amongst the first things to vanish after those guys have gotten their say.

So as an artist who relies on free speech you cannot only “not support” those people. You have to clearly oppose them and vehemently refrain from anything they do with or in your name. Otherwise, people outside of YouTube won’t believe a single word you say. And they will keep criticizing you and you will keep feeling treated unfairly.

What you’re seeing in your comments is a classic community takeover from right-wing groups

Go have another close look at the comments under your response video. Doesn’t it strike you how many people brag about how they started to subscribe to your channel because of the WSJ article – even though they claim to not care for your videos at all? Doesn’t it feel awkward to have people agreeing with you in your fight against “FAKE NEWS and the entire ENTIRE mainstream media” and how they are allegedly trying to run the world by their own agenda, even if you didn’t say anything like that? Don’t you worry about people saying things like “Main Stream Media are pieces of shit fascists” suddenly supporting you? Do you really not care for people “joking” about the Holocaust by renaming it “Pewdiecaust”? Don’t you wonder why commentators keep mentioning “SJW” (“Social Justice Warriors”), a term that the right wing uses as an insult for people who are trying to, well, make the world a better place?

What you’re seeing in your comments right now is – in parts – a classic community takeover from right-wing groups. And I am really worried that they could ruin your work and your reputation. Because I still believe that you care about what younger people might make of all this.

You know, l don’t think the WSJ articles were very good. And yes, this might have to do with the “old” media still not understanding the “new”. But maybe there’s also parts of the new media not understanding the old. It’s not a one-way street.

Yes, the world outside of YouTube is even more complicated than YouTube itself. And I know that you hate being told what to do (same here!). So I can only hope that if you read these words at all, you at least think about them for a minute. I’m afraid you can’t escape a certain responsibility for your words and actions once you’re as big as you are. And I’m afraid that no, it’s not as easy as calling it all just a joke. But I am sure that your work and behavior can have a positive influence on your audience, the world even and YouTube for sure – and at the same time remain as funny, entertaining and pewdiepie-ish as you want it to be.

Thanks for reading this. Stay awesome. Become even awesomer.

Best, Johnny


P.S.: After my letter was published, I had some interesting and good discussions with Pewdiepie fans. Apart from the „it was just a joke“ argument, that I see a little different as one can read above, there was one argument that struck me as pretty important. The right-wing applauding would have never happened, this argument says, if the WSJ had not portrayed Pewdiepie as a Nazi the way they did in the first place.
Even though I stand to my letter and I still believe that Pewdiepie would do good if he addressed his new right-wing supporters as harshly as he addressed the WSJ, I think this argument has a point. So I'd like to add another open letter, this time to the Wall Street Journal:


Dear WSJ,

I value your work very much. But your re-editing of Pewdiepie videos sucked.

Best, Johnny

(German version / deutsche Version)

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