The Pewdiepie Fiasco, One Month Later

It's been a little over a month since the blow-up surrounding Felix "Pewdiepie" Kjellberg, and the Wall Street Journal report leading to the cancellation of his premium show. Since then, a lot has happened to the YouTuber and to at least one of the reporters who worked on that story.

For Pewdiepie, it's been a month of roiling emotions, including anger, intentionally taboo jokes, and an intensified critique of the press, some of which he now tells Kotaku that he could have handled differently. For one of the reporters involved in the piece, it's been a month of Twitter backlash from furious Pewdiepie fans, but that reaction has been met mostly with silence by him and the outlet that employs him.

To quickly recap: The original WSJ article reported that Disney was severing ties with the YouTube star after the paper presented it with several examples of Pewdiepie making jokes about Jews or Nazis, including a video in which he paid freelancers to hold up a sign that read "Death To All Jews." While Pewdiepie said some of the references had been taken out of context, he also apologised for jokes he that he admitted went too far. A day later, YouTube cancelled the second season of the Scare Pewdiepie premium show.

The Journal article had three bylines, but since it ran, the person who has suffered the brunt of harassment on social media has been business entertainment reporter Ben Fritz. Fritz had the third byline, usually an indicator of having been least involved with a piece. For weeks now, Fritz's Twitter mentions have been a mess of people demanding that he get fired, blaming him for damage done to Pewdiepie. Rolfe Winkler and Jack Nicas, the first two bylines, have gotten slight pushback on social media, but not nearly as much. On YouTube, Fritz has become the face of the newspaper thanks to a video where those freelancers from Kjellberg's earlier video decided to hold up a new sign that read "Hypofritz." The portmanteau, which has now become a hashtag, spun out of old Fritz tweets dug up by Kjellberg supporters. In the 2009 Tweet, Fritz is talking about a Hanukkah party and remarks that he "had no idea Jews were so adept at frying". That, combined with Fritz's South Park avatar on Twitter, were enough to brand Fritz a hypocrite in the eyes of Pewdiepie's fans — the thinking being, how could someone who seemingly appreciates crass humour "go after" a comedian like Pewdiepie?

Fritz has not reacted to this publicly, but regardless, those who have been swarming his every tweet with questions about why he still has a job have put the bulk of the responsibility on a single journalist, who people assume must feel a certain way about Kjellberg's brand of humour. We reached out to Fritz and the Wall Street Journal, but they did not comment. In a follow-up piece on February 16, well before the harassment kicked into high gear, a WSJ spokesperson said that the paper "stand[s] by the reporting".

As the weeks went by, Kjellberg continued to pour petrol on the fire. Rather than refraining from making Nazi references, he made some more, though with the new context of skewering his critics. In game footage from last month, Kjellberg pretended to kill Hitler in jest, so that he could get a "free pass" on his humour. The YouTube description for this video, which is currently the top featured footage on his channel, says the whole thing is "sponsored by WSJ". In another video, he called a character a "secret Barbie Nazi" for lifting her arm, which Kjellberg has repeatedly suggested is a goof that alerts the Wall Street Journal to nefarious content. Earlier this month, Kjellberg uploaded a Conan Exiles video where he pretends to play as Hitler while also name-checking the Wall Street Journal. More recently, he pretended that a cardboard cutout of Danny Devito called Kjellberg a Nazi, in reference to the wider controversy. Some call-outs offer a visual gag where Ben Fritz, or the word "Hypofritz" are pictured. These references have become sparser recently, but they still pop-up as in-jokes from time to time.

Kjellberg's decision to keep banging that drum is a bit surprising when you consider that he apologised for the stunt that set everything off, claiming that he was taking it as a "a learning and growing experience". Moreover, in a different follow-up on March 3, Kjellberg said, "Obviously I'm not going to see [the controversy] some way to provoke or start drama, I have really no intentions of doing that... it's not something I thrive on." Despite acknowledging that his jokes went "too far", and claiming that he didn't want to start drama, Kjellberg did not make a clean break from what was happening. Many of these jokes are forced, and Kjellberg knows it: At one point during the Conan Exiles video, he grimaces after saying, "Hitler did nothing wrong," noting that his tired shtick is "not a video, it really isn't".

More than a month since this all started, Kjellberg says that making these jokes were his way of dealing with a difficult time.

"I think when events like this have occurred you can either stay sad, angry or laughing afterwards," he told Kotaku in an email. "I think laughing is the best way and making jokes is by no means a way to further provoke. I'm moving forward from everything that happened but that doesn't mean I'm going to pretend it never did."

Kjellberg's audience has not abandoned him. The footage where he pretends to kill Hitler, or references the Hypofritz sign, are some of his most watched videos in the last few weeks, raking in millions of views. The optics of the situation work in his favour when you consider that the video from the Journal accompanying the original article took at least one clip out of context. At one point, the WSJ presented a Nazi reference that Kjellberg made without noting that he was actually asking his fanbase to stop making swastikas in his mobile game. Not all clips pinpointed by the media were miscategorised, of course, but the fact any were at all makes it easier for people to buy into the idea that the media is out to destroy Kjellberg, rather than doing the basic duty of reporting on influential figures that people care about. To his audience, Kjellberg can appear as a wronged party here — even the Fiverr freelancers are on his side:

All the same, posing the media as a boogieman makes for good video. On YouTube, some of the most common video formats involve rivalry. Sometimes, these clashes can be good-natured, and are played-up for pure entertainment: Kotaku alumnus Patrick Klepek had a series of videos where he played devilish Mario Maker levels created by Giant Bomb personality Dan Ryckert. Kjellberg himself has pretended to feud with a satirical YouTuber called "Dillon The Hacker", and more notably, the basis of Kjellberg's cancelled YouTube Red show was to present Jacksepticeye, another YouTuber, as the pseudo "villain". (They are friends.) Judging by the views on Kjellberg's videos, audiences appreciate rivalries, even when there are no stakes involved.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have actual quarrels and beefs unfolding between YouTubers, where emotions run high and feelings get hurt. Often, these spats are followed obsessively by "drama" channels, YouTube's version of TMZ. Due to their volatile nature, the "benefit" of these fights is a toss-up for the actual people involved, even if millions of viewers eat it up like popcorn.

But through the Wall Street Journal, and to a lesser degree Ben Fritz, Kjellberg has inadvertently found the perfect rivalry target. Unlike other YouTubers, the Wall Street Journal is not going to send out a response video every time Kjellberg pulls out a new shenanigan. The Wall Street Journal not going to subtweet the YouTube mega star, as an actual YouTuber might. For the most part, beyond a single article defending its reporting, the only thing the Wall Street Journal can be is this paradigm is the silent nemesis. The divide between old media and new media is stark here: Though people work at the Wall Street Journal, it, as an institution, is not humanised in the same way Kjellberg can be through a single vlog. Kjellberg can mess up by his own admission, but he will still be largely defended by a fandom who has appreciates Kjellberg's branding as "dude who could be your friend".

When I asked Kjellberg about his quarrel with the media, he disagreed that it was anything like his playful video beefs. This one, he said, came out of real feelings. "What happened with me and the media is obviously different than me vs Jacksepticeye, etc," he wrote. "I went strongly out as 'me vs the media' in my initial response video. Which looking back on now was a bit childish. I do think I've been misrepresented a lot over the years and many of my frustrations came out."

In the past, Kjellberg has alleged that the media, Kotaku included, only pays attention to his gaffes rather than his good deeds, such as charity work. (Not true.) With the recent blitz of negative coverage, Kjellberg feels that many outlets are painting him as a Nazi sympathiser/enabler, a characterisation that, in his mind, doesn't ring true. As far as Kjellberg is concerned, the media is so eager to paint him as the bad guy, they can get basic facts about him wrong. When that happens, Kjellberg plays it off for laughs on Twitter and on YouTube for an audience that is ready to denounce traditional media as a whole.

"Yes, it's frustrating to be misrepresented especially concerning serious issues, but it can also be fun to just joke about," Kjellberg said. "If there's a 'pewdiepie vs the media' now, the way I see it is just for laughs."

As for the members of the media that were part of this crossfire, when asked about the barrage of tweets against the Journal reporters, including Fritz, Kjellberg said, "Fans getting involved directly on my behalf is something I'm always against. It's byproduct of having an audience this scale. But taken from past experiences, I know they will move away soon as well."

For a good while, Kjellberg had one of Fritz's tweets featured on his on Twitter page, but he recently took it down. Hopefully, it's a sign that he, and maybe his fans, are ready to move on.


Comments

    Before I read the article I was like "let me guess, a whole bunch of moronic online trolls, the type whose job it is to save the world from SJW's and PC in general, have spent ages trying to personally damage a reporter for just doing his job and/or trying to destroy the paper involved". While the tool behind the issues (the one who has actually done wrong) carries on being a tool?!! *reads*

    So close. THIS type of Hammer Horror type online lynch mobs scare and insult my intelligence way than the apparent real terrorists. the sooner social media networks start policing the platforms being used for so hate, the better. its 2017 why is twitter and the like so unwilling to protect people and companies from such gang 'violence' just because they were doing their job.

      Is it any wonder some game companies are reticent to engage with these people and be seen as cow-towing to some audiences they really don't want?

        Just for future reference, "kowtow" means "to act in a subservient manner" or "to worship".
        "Cow-tow" means "to pull bovine with rope".

      So close. THIS type of Hammer Horror type online lynch mobs scare and insult my intelligence way than the apparent real terrorists. the sooner social media networks start policing the platforms being used for so hate, the better. its 2017 why is twitter and the like so unwilling to protect people and companies from such gang 'violence' just because they were doing their job.

      This entire paragraph is a joke, right? Right? Please be a joke.

        Daily we see multiple online lynch mobs ranging from this rubbish, because one youtuber thought he was smarter and cleverer than he really was. Is that a reason to wage war on a newspaper and reporter? The other day we had some loser misogynist shame a female artist over Mass Effect and it wasnt even her job, once again bringing out threats and the like. Jim Sterling gets attacked and his website bought down because he dared to give a game a low score. Including death threats. This is DAILY. Numerous times of day. Real people, doing real jobs facing verbal violence and mayhem because some loser stranger thinks his way of life is better than theirs. In the case of Charlotte Dawson and many others this cyber bully has lead to deaths and/or at the very least depressing, fear and like.

        So yes, I was being hyperbolic, but really not by much.

          I agree but the lynch mobs go both ways, sometimes fuelled by those who in turn come under fire. So many sites were out to paint PDP as a literal Nazi over a stupid attempt at humour that they turned into a lynch mob of their own. Another I can recall was when Max Temkin (CAH) had an anonymous sexual assault allegation posted against him online - the media had pretty much declared him guilty overnight.

          It's abhorrent behaviour all round, but it's become prevalent since people seek to hyperpolarise issues into a crusade for blood at the drop of a hat. Is it any wonder they attract the worst of people when you're out for character assassination in the name of claiming some ambiguous moral high ground?

          (Cue downvotes from all sides)

      just because they were doing their jobI can't hear this from anyone any more without thinking of a story a friend told me once of a guy on the train who didn't care for the transit officers doing their thing. "You know who else was just doing their job? The Nazis."

        Groan, wow that didnt take long for someone to stoop to Godwin's Law.

        there is a difference when we are talking about a reporter covering a story and both him and the newspaper facing a wave of ridiculousness hate by mass waves of unintelligent trolls, from soldiers following orders to the vilest degree during wartime.

          *Shrug* Didn't read the article yet, just spied that line as I was scrolling past and had a chuckle to myself thinking about the story.

    As ever, Patricia's able to work some of this out for people who aren't into this stuff as much as others.

    At the heart of this Gamer Youtuber central stuff, it's competition. Pure and simple. Games can only compete with so much other forms of media or entertainment. So when ones like PDP or those pretending to be PDP begin acting competitively with games (ie, a title, a publisher, or the industry altogether), antagonising towards them, I don't see why we/games media expect a response. A change in strategy.

    It's like Patricia says, the Wall Street Journal isn't going to waste its time retorting him.

      Yeah, just like they didn't waste their time making/posting a slanderous video on him...

    I got half way through this article, and then it struck me....
    I really just don't care enough about this tool (PDP) to finish reading it
    Second rate "celebrity", got popular, thinks they can do/get away with anything, had his assumption "corrected"
    Be an "adult" and live with the consequences of your actions!

      he wont though as long as his half-wit audience support everything he does.

      The entire article just reads as him chucking a massive tanty, while the WSJ do the mature thing and not lower themselves to his level.

      More people watch one of his videos than those who will ever read this article.
      Let that sink in

        and your point is?

    Eh, he didn't lose anything really. By the sound of it he gained more creative control going forward due to the termination of his contract and his channel gained more followers than he lost. I would personally call it a win for the swede.

    This is pretty much going to be par for the course though, left and right are going to set into this constant state of witch hunts that only serve to strengthen the victims core consumer base.

    >Pdp loses some subscribers from the left, but gains more centre and right wing sympathizers.
    >Wsj loses centre and right wing subscribers (not that they had many), but gains left wing sympathizers.

    So the wheel just keeps on spinning.

    So some people are angry, some aren't and nothing has really happened in the end as it gradually loses ground on all fronts.

    Yep, that essentially sums up every hotbed issue at the moment.

      I was hoping for someone to post a tl;dr and your one seems to have summed it up pretty well...

      Its pretty much at the point where attacking someone is just virtue signalling as you don't end up getting anything other than five seconds of fame (Wsj) and an increase in viewer count (Pdp), but watch as someone totally claims that attacks are doing something and that mob justice is only ever done by "the other side".

        The WSJ will be around long after PDP is no longer a thing. They don't need 5 seconds of fame articles.

          Ok guest. I am sure it will continue to linger, I mean anyone could maintain that blog.

    Nah everyone has forgotten about Felix & his stupid way of trying to show how exploitive Fiverr is. Everyone has moved on to that JonTron bloke & his wacky view on immigration & whatnot, but he'll be old news by next week when something else crops up & the short attention span mob will move on to lynch that.

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