Following the Pewdiepie controversy from last week, a good deal of YouTube rallied around the Swedish star in an attempt to defend him against ‘unfair’ attacks by the mainstream media. A few high-profile YouTubers weren’t quite as enthusiastic in their defense, which has led to some backlash.
Last weekend, video game YouTuber Jacksepticeye uploaded a level-headed video about the recent Pewdiepie controversy where he defended Felix Kjellberg as a person but critiqued the delivery of some of his jokes:
“What Felix did was very stupid, I think it was a very moronic thing to do, whether it was in context or not,” Jacksepticeye said, arguing that it’s very easy to lose control of how people interpret ironic jokes.
Referencing the most notorious of the jokes, in which Pewdiepie paid some people to hold up a sign that read “death to all Jews,” Jacksepticye said he understands that Pewdiepie was trying to make a point about what’s possible on freelancing website Fiverr—but said the video did not make the intention clear. The point was further muddied by the shock value of the joke, he said. Of course, just because he thinks a joke is in poor taste doesn’t mean he thinks Pewdiepie is actually a bad person.
“I’ve known Felix very well in my personal life...we’re pretty good friends,” Jacksepticeye said. “I know for a fact he’s not a Nazi, I know for a fact that he’s not anti-Semitic person. This doesn’t excuse what he did...but Felix himself as an actual person is decent.”
“I can still be friends with someone, and not agree some of their actions that they do,” Jacksepticeye said.
It’s a mature reading of the situation that relies on nuance to make its point. Jacksepticeye doesn’t outright condemn anyone, and instead addresses the way in which all the parties involved fumbled, YouTube and the Wall Street Journal included, while also holding his friend accountable for a joke even Pewdiepie admits went “too far.”
And yet, the video has 227,115 likes and 62,199 dislikes as of this writing, a ratio that is unusual for Jacksepticeye footage (for reference, a video uploaded yesterday has 34K likes and 680 dislikes.) In the comments, people are largely arguing over whether or not Jacksepticeye’s video is a “backstab” against his friend. Here’s the top comment from a viewer at the moment:
Others in the top comments are more outright disgusted:
Where is this coming from? Well, it doesn’t help that since that video was uploaded, YouTube’s version of TMZ, Drama Alert, barraged Jacksepticeye over what he said. In a video viewed nearly 1 million times, YouTube host Keemstar spends ten minutes attacking Jacksepticeye. Multiple times, Keemstar reminds the audience that Jacksepticeye’s career was kickstarted from a Pewdiepie shoutout, as if that alone insulates Pewdiepie from any and all criticism:
On Twitter, Keemstar stoked the fires even further, even outright asking Jacksepticeye to take down his post:
Jacksepticeye relented. The video now has the following pinned comment, where he apologizes for not defending Pewdiepie enough:
I’ve seen a lot of talk after the video went up and I’m trying to get an overall picture as much as I can. Some people agree with my video, some really don’t and some agree with half of it. No one is wrong and I definitely appreciate the variety of opinions because as I said, I’m not right and I am open to discuss it further.
My main regret for this video was focusing too much on what Felix did and whether I agreed with it or not instead of elaborating on the media side of it all. I did this initially because I wanted to avoid the “youtubers vs the mainstream media” narrative that’s been going around but I can see now that that wasn’t a good idea. It made it seem like I was defending them more than Felix and I was throwing him under the bus. Absolutely not my intention. I think because I’m close friends with Felix that I thought I could criticise him a bit more and explain it to him if he disagreed but to the outside viewer this isn’t apparent and looks like I just blasted him instead in front of a lot of people.
On Twitter, Jacksepticeye also said he was “considering removing the video to avoid confusion.” We reached out to Jacksepticeye about the situation, but have not heard back. Meanwhile, a good portion of the comments on the original video seem to understand that Jacksepticeye wasn’t throwing anyone under the bus at all:
This peer pressure to wholeheartedly defend YouTubers against larger institutions has been ever-present after the Pewdiepie fiasco. YouTube’s most famous vlogger Casey Neistat uploaded a video shortly after the Maker news broke out, where he also defends Pewdiepie as a person but still argues that, as YouTube’s most visible creator, he has a responsibility to be a good ambassador.
“With an audience that size, it could provoke something that could skew the moral compass of a younger audience in a direction that really benefits no one,” Neistat said.
The video has been viewed 3.3 million times, and has accrued 117,077 likes and 124,057 dislikes. Many of the comments angrily ask Neistat if he’s still on YouTube’s side, especially following the sale of his company, which has been interpreted by some as a ‘sellout’ move. The underlying (bullshit) worry being, is Neistat even a ‘real’ YouTuber anymore? (Whatever that means.) Has he forgotten where he comes from, has he forgotten the struggles of the average YouTuber?
Two days ago, YouTube entertainer H3H3 Productions uploaded an interview with Neistat where he picks his brain on the bickering:
“Would you say that the like to the dislike ratio is an accurate portrayal of the quality of that video?” H3H3 asked. “The dislike ratio was because of a negative video about what I had to say,” Neistat responded. “When I watched the video for the first 24 hours, it was very positive. I felt like the jokes that [Pewdiepie] made were insignificant and stupid, but because he had such a spotlight on him, he’s not able to make stupid jokes the way you and I can.”
Neistat added an asterisk here, and clarified he did not approve of the mainstream media’s “hit job” in taking some of Pewdiepie’s jokes out of context. H3 responded by saying that he thought the video would have been received better if he had just acknowledged some of that complexity, but judging by the reception to Jacksepticeye’s video, I’m skeptical that it would have made much of a difference.
People latch onto YouTube personalities hardcore, they get defensive and protective of them, as they might a friend. In this case, the larger debatable narrative being pushed around is that the media is out to get Pewdiepie, and so this debacle represents an attack on YouTube as a whole. That’s why people are insisting on defending Pewdiepie’s ill-advised jokes wholeheartedly: they feel they have to present a united front, for the sake of YouTube.
“If we let outside sources censor YouTube itself, then we as a whole will miss out on an amazing opportunity to define ourselves, to govern ourselves,” Keemstar said in a Twitter video about Jacksepticeye’s remarks.
“We are giving away our power, we are letting outside sources, we are letting guys with business suits control us—and we cannot allow that, ever,” he continued. “We collectively, as YouTubers, have built this thing. It is ours, not theirs. If we decided as a community, as YouTubers...that Pewdiepie was wrong, then he would have a million dislikes, not a million likes...we have already decided that Pewdiepie has done nothing wrong, that he is innocent.
“The only ones that think he has done something wrong are outside forces, the mainstream media. Well the YouTube community isn’t owned by the mainstream media. It’s owned by us. Don’t give the power away.”
Heartfelt as it may sound, Keemstar is notoriously mercenary, and his remarks could easily be read as an attempt stir up a beef between Pewdiepie and Jacksepticeye’s fandom for his drama-themed show. Then again, given the widespread peer pressure at play here, the fear that YouTubers are losing their grip on the platform feels palpable. Pewdiepie’s situation has struck a raw nerve for many YouTubers, who feel that something big is changing.
What Keemstar fails to recognize, however, is that YouTubers have never been independent. YouTubers are at the mercy of an algorithm they don’t fully understand and cannot control, and always have been. Google, the company that owns YouTube, is already corporate. To make YouTube videos at all, to make a living as a YouTuber, is to relinquish control. Pewdiepie, meanwhile, has continued to make plenty of videos, because nobody has actually censored him. If anything, what this incident has shown us is that YouTubers can’t express dissent out of fear that everything will topple over if they’re not careful.