What the PewDiePie “Scandal” Can Teach Us About the Importance of Context and Minimizing Harm

If you have been on the internet at any point since Valentines Day of this year, you have likely seen a large amount of controversy surrounding YouTuber “PewDiePie,” who has over 53 million subscribers. But are the claims made about Felix Kjellberg, the Swedish creator of the YouTube channel, only being made by some news organizations to get clicks on their content?

Kjellberg has more viewers of his entertaining and comedic content than any other channel, as well as a large number of brand deals. Two of those deals ended earlier this month after The Wall Street Journal accused him of creating videos with “anti-semitic” messages: a YouTube Red show called Scare PewDiePie and a collaboration with Disney’s Maker Studios.

YouTube and Disney severed ties with YouTuber PewDiePie after the Wall Street Journal accused him of creating “anti-semitic” videos in February 2017. Image source: CRAVEOnline

The Wall Street Journal’s largest supporting evidence of the claim against Kjellberg was a video that he made in January which demonstrated his use of the service Fivver, an online platform where users can pay as little as five dollars to have nearly any type of work completed for them. In the video, he paid two Indian men to hold up a sign which read “death to all Jews.” The video has since been deleted, but has been re-uploaded to YouTube by other users. (Watch below)

Kjellberg has since apologized for the offensive comments and stated that he was only trying to uncover the lengths that some will go for just five dollars. He has acknowledged that his jokes were made in poor taste in his February 16 video, “My Response.” (Below)

In the video, Kjellberg also denounces the actions of the Wall Street Journal for writing the article, claiming that the publication did not reach out to him for comment about his videos. According to his video, The Wall Street Journal spoke to his sponsors and business partners rather than giving him a chance to comment. Kjellberg called the events “an attack by the media to try and discredit me, to try and decrease my influence and my economic worth.”

While it can be seen as unethical of Kjellberg to make offensive jokes, his job is to entertain. The Wall Street Journal’s job is to be unbiased and minimize harm — values that the writers of the article did not adhere to by costing Kjellberg a substantial amount of income in brand deals without reaching out to him for a comment.

Even more scandalous, followers of the PewDiePie channel have found old tweets from Ben Fritz, one of The Wall Street Journal’s three reporters who wrote the article, which are also “anti-semitic” and racist in nature.


The questionable tweets were written by Wall Street Journal Reporter Ben Fritz between 2009 and 2015. Image source: TheSun

Kjellberg posted a video on February 24 in response to seeing Fritz’s tweets, in which he had the two Indian men from the video which caused the initial uproar hold up a sign reading “HypoFritz.”

Maintaining credibility as a journalist is more important now than ever; especially in a time where the press is being deemed “fake news” by our President. It seems to me that The Wall Street Journal may have only written this piece to create a controversial conversation and gain clicks and revenue on their website, since it seems to violate the code of journalistic ethics in more than one way.

Context is important, and sometimes there is more to a story than what meets the eye in a catchy headline.


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