The mainstream media, an industrial complex propped up by selling fear through clickbait, remains fixated on a political poltergeist haunting the people’s online platforms, their polling places and the press’ propagandistic narratives: the shitposting bigots of the alternative right. While the alt-right was once an amorphous subculture comprised of both edgy right-wing provocateurs to legitimately hateful white supremacists and anti-Semites, the label has rightfully deemed public enemy number one after its continued association with the worst of humanity’s ideologies.
Despite the internet’s plethora of far-right conspiracy theorists and dogmatic radicals worthy of heavy criticism, an irresponsible blogger for Vox Media has just published their own conspiracy theory linking popular YouTube personalities, such as PewDiePie, Laci Green and Ben Shapiro, with this specific form of political extremism based on little to no evidence. If the integrity of the mainstream media hasn’t already been corrupted enough, this latest fake news scandal just takes it to another level.
Currently reigning with over 76 million subscribers, PewDiePie, otherwise known as Felix Kjellberg, posted a video celebrating the overwhelming support he’s received in his subscriber competition against a corporate-produced music channel T-Series. In a since-edited video, PewDiePie suggested his subscribers check out numerous smaller YouTube channels who helped in his rise such as “E;R”, which he thanked for making “great video essays” on anime series he enjoyed such as Death Note (2006).
After the video was published, however, users started digging into E;R’s content and found obscure pro-fascist jokes and dog-whistles through disturbing Nazi imagery, anti-Jewish slurs, and spreading the conspiracy that Heather Heyer, the counter-protestor who was murdered during the Charlottesville “Unite The Right” rally last year, falsely died of a heart attack. In his defence, PewDiePie released a follow-up video describing this incident as an “oopsie” and joking he’s now somehow promoting anti-Semitism by merely “recommending someone for their anime review.”
“The irony here is I’m supposed to be the Nazi, but I don’t understand any of these god-damn references,” PewDiePie laughed during his segment PewNews. “All I said was I like this guy’s anime review. Anyone out there with a level-headed brain can tell I don’t know this guy any more than this. [The channel creator] apparently likes to have hidden and not-so-hidden Nazi references in his videos and obviously if I noticed that I wouldn’t have referenced him in the shoutout.”
This isn’t the first time PewDiePie’s name has been thrown in the middle of a “shame campaign” for false anti-Semite ties. In the past, the comedian made several YouTube videos littered with edgy jokes such as one where Kjellberg and his pug, Edgar, watch a speech by Adolf Hitler in Nazi-style uniforms and cheekily smile. Another video showed Indian freelancers holding a sign joking that Keemstar, another controversial YouTuber, called for “death to all Jews” while they shouting they subscribe to his channel. The media’s most egregious non-controversy was perpetuated by The Wall Street Journal when they published an out-of-context video of PewDiePie doing the “sieg heil” Nazi salute as evidence he was far-right when the video was specifically about how the mainstream media take such clips out-of-context.
“I said publicly a year and a half ago that I was going to distance myself from Nazi jokes and that kind of stuff, because I want nothing to do with it,” PewDiePie continued to explain. “Generally, I’ve done that. I don’t really have a reason to dip into that again — it’s just stupid.”
Vox’s pretend-journalist Aja Romano, however, has dragged him back in by taking the alt-right witch hunts to another realm of unsubstantial. The journalist wrote that PewDiePie’s millions of followers “tend to skew young, with the majority of his subscribers younger than 24 and 11 percent of them younger than 17” and are prime for radicalisation, echoing statements made by Vox subsidiary The Verge that recently falsely claimed E;R received 150,000 new subscribers since the shoutout, not the actual 28,000.
“Should PewDiePie have known better?” the journalist asks. Yes, and this should extend to those who want to portray this non-scandal accurately. Sure, it’s no secret the far-right has a secret love affair with the YouTube platform. Though limited research makes these discussions difficult, a recent investigative report from J.M. Berger, a scholar of anti-ISIS counter-extremist research at the EU, found nearly 30,000 Twitter accounts have tweeted 75,000 alt-right produced YouTube content since 2016.
This is triple the number of links coming from Facebook. While the report claims this makes YouTube the most popular tool of the alt-right’s online recruitment efforts, this is also the most popular video-sharing platform in the world, mean it’s potentially the most powerful tool for spreading any type of ideology, be it standard liberalism or far-right radicalism.
Berger didn’t offer qualitative data on how these videos portrayed the alt-right and lead to radicalisation, which is fundamental to understanding the discourse, Vox has cited a second report from tech journalist Robert Evans that conducted an analysis of how far-right Discord users described their “red-pilling” towards the alt-right. This “in-depth analysis”, however, cites 15 of their very small sample size of 75 users as finding YouTube moderates as their gateway drug.
“I was a moderate Republican once,” wrote one Discord user within Evans’s report. “It was people [on the fringe of the mainstream right] that got me to where I am now. That’s why I like those groups even still, because if we just had the Fascists, we’d never be able to convert anyone.”
This approach was seemingly endorsed by E;R when asked “What is the best way to red pill people on the (((Jewish Question))),” the owner of the E;R channel responded, “Pretend to joke about it until the punchline /really/ lands.” Hence why his videos were littered references to Steven Universe characters as analogues for Jews, jokes about people should be “anti-Gem”, implying the Jewish people are the untouchable subject all must view as good, while ending a few of his video essays with the notorious slogan known as the “14 words” just for the sake of memes.
While PewDiePie mistakenly endorsed such sneakingly hateful content, which can be understandably bypassed by the regular person (such is the intention of dog whistles), the same can’t be said the other way around. Following the endorsement, E;R told his audience that PewDiePie is producing the same kind of “redpilled content” their side view as beneficial to their cause (because any publicity, no matter how damning, is considered good publicity for the unmarketable damned) and they should go subscribe.
This shoutout relationship is only one-sided given PewDiePie not only deleted the aforementioned videos but removed E;R’s name and links from the shoutout entirely. Disassociation isn’t enough for Vox, however. Romano proceeds to use PewDiePie’s Twitter followers as evidence of somehow having connections to the “Gamergate, Mens’ Rights activist, Pick-Up Artist, incel, Reddit’s r/The_Donald, atheist, skeptic” Illuminati cult of our nightmares.
From there she continues to list off content creators who happen to follow the comedian such as Laci Green, an intersectional-feminist commentator known for making pro-sexual liberty videos, who once made a “red pill video” where she tepidly suggested talking to people of the centre-right. This is the extent of the American-Iranian’s delving into the alt-right sphere, but ooopsie, because all context is dead, we can consider this poison in the well on Romano’s behalf.
Other names include divisive characters such as Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro, two establishment right-wing reactionaries of the “intellectual dark web” (IDW) who, based on their Jewish background, wouldn’t even be accepted into the alt-right if they wanted based on the “one drop of blood rule”. This same blood rule, deeming any relation to their demonised ethnic-groups as grounds for expulsion from the alt-right, also applies to the mention of classical liberal pundit Carl Benjamin, otherwise known as Sargon Of Akkad, who has been routinely mocked by members of the alt-right as a “quadroon” for having a black grandfather during his vicious debates against their fascist ideology.
Romano admits “it might not seem particularly meaningful that PewDiePie follows this specific group of people on Twitter,” yet proceeds to link to the Alternative Influence Study from Data & Society that, through a lack of qualitative analysis and flawed methodologies, makes the case association, no matter how positive or negative, leads to radicalisation. The journalist mentions that PewDiePie once reviewed a self-help book by Jordan Peterson, another member of the IDW, implying such meaningless actions lead to a pattern of extremist messages spreading like a virus within the culture.
“Because the AIN is a social network as much as a professional one,” the report’s author, Rebecca Lewis, writes, “collaborations can carry more weight than they would in a traditional news media environment. Influencers often introduce their guests as friends and describe their personal relationships to the audience. This type of social networking between influencers …social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions.”
As countered by YouTuber Dr. Layman, her snowball sampling chart, while a fascinating display of political YouTube, has an underlying biased sympathy for “The Hypodermic Needle,” that ancient media analysis theory which assumes audiences are naturally mindless creatures who consume the messages of all the products they’re exposed to passively. This theory is no longer considered entirely credible given multiple viewing factors, such as bias, framing, priming, cognitive dissonance, context, among others all play a role in forcing any argument to stick in the mind person to person.
While it does show YouTube’s problem of fostering an online web towards extremists often left untouched, suggested in the mention of legitimate alt-right and alt-lite content creators Lauren Southern, Stefan Molyneux and Richard Spencer, this research doesn’t present the case Romano wants.
It’s not controversial to say the platform routinely enables harassment, extremist propaganda and defamatory conspiracy theories claiming large numbers of politicians and celebrities molested children in a pizzeria, but do PewDiePie, Green or even Shapiro have any connection to this outside of some anime, meme and book reviews? Are we serious debating (very tepid) correlation vs causation?
Sure, there is a responsibility on the part of the world’s largest entertainer to know who exactly he’s endorsing. This was clearly shown in PewDiePie making amends for these mistakes in multiple videos and deletion of all links. The media, in turn, should know when to post retractions, corrections and apologies for their support of boogeyman narratives larger than life, all the while damned be the collateral damage of their smears. As stated by Vox’s own editor-in-chief Ezra Klein, people shouldn’t just scroll through “one of the must underestimated forces in politics right now”, and neither should we lie about who is within their ranks. Extremism, after all, deserves more serious consideration than any defamatory blogger can ever offer.
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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