Maker Studios, a division of Disney, just severed their deal with YouTube megastar Pewdiepie. They pointed to a (now-deleted) January 11 video in which Pewdiepie paid two men to hold up a sign that read, “Death To All Jews.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that Pewdiepie had editorial independence in his deal, but this was a bridge too far.
“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,” said a spokeswoman for Maker Studios. Disney bought Maker in 2014 for $675 million. After Pewdiepie threatened to leave in 2016, Maker hung onto him by partnering with him so he could create his own entertainment network called Revelmode. The idea was to give Pewdiepie and his friends a platform to create videos, games, apps, and merchandise.
YouTube, meanwhile, declined to comment on Pewdiepie’s recent videos. However, their policy toward this kind of thing is more lenient than Disney’s. “If content is intended to be provocative or satirical, it may remain online,” they said. “If the uploader’s intent is to incite violence or hatred it will be removed.”
According to WSJ, Pewdiepie has posted nine videos that include anti-Semitic content since August. Three, the one from January 11 and two others from January 17 and January 22, have been taken down. One of those depicted a man dressed as Jesus Christ saying, “Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong.”
In the “Death To All Jews” video, Pewdiepie, who hired the men via freelancer site Fiverr, reportedly said, “I didn’t think they would actually do it.” The Indian men later apologized in a video, saying, “we really don’t know what the message meant when making the video.” All three were banned from Fiverr. Pewdiepie, however, pleaded for the service to un-ban the two men.
Pewdiepie is a hugely prominent public figure no matter how you slice it, and his recent gaffes have prompted reactions from all corners of the Internet. People on YouTube came to his defense, believing he was simply telling un-PC “jokes.” However, he also received support from places like neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, which reportedly changed its name to “The world’s #1 PewDiePie fansite” late last month.
In a recent Tumblr post, Pewdiepie addressed the controversy. Here’s what he wrote:
“I think it’s important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes.”
“I make videos for my audience. I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive.”
“As laughable as it is to believe that I might actually endorse these people, to anyone unsure on my standpoint regarding hate-based groups: No, I don’t support these people in any way.”
Jonathan Vick, an associate director of the Anti-Defamation League who spoke to WSJ, however, summed up the real world consequences of Pewdiepie’s actions nicely. “Just putting it out there brings it more and more into the mainstream,” he said. It’s an especially poor choice on Pewdiepie’s part in a time when, remarkably, people are having very real discussions on how to deal with a resurgence in real-world nazism.
Now Pewdiepie will have to face some consequences of his own.
Correction: an earlier version of this story stated that Pewdiepie’s plea for Fiverr to unban the two men featured in his video had been ineffective. It appears that they were actually unbanned after all.