Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg has found himself embattled in a new controversy after recommending an anti-Semitic video channel.
In Kjellberg’s most recent edition of “Pew News,” a semi-satirical series where Kjellberg offers his own take on news events or YouTube cultural discussions, he dedicates the last portion of the video to shouting out smaller YouTube creators he enjoys watching. One of those creators is E;R (otherwise known as “EsemicolonR”), an essayist who often includes anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic, and cruel language in his videos.
“You also have E;R, who does great video essays,” Kjellberg says in the video. “He did one on Death Note, which I really, really enjoyed.”
Kjellberg’s E;R shoutout didn’t go unnoticed by those in the YouTube community. Hasan Piker, a host on The Young Turks’ YouTube channel, tweeted out his concerns over Kjellberg bringing newfound attention to E;R’s channel. Piker noted that even if Kjellberg hadn’t seen most of E;R’s videos, understanding the responsibility that comes with shouting out a channel is crucial to someone of Kjellberg’s stature. Therefore, not being aware of these videos — or being aware and moving along with a moment of praise — is irresponsible.
“Yesterday PewDiePie ended #Subscribetopewdiepie in a video where he promoted some of his favorite channels,” Piker tweeted. “One of them was straight up a neo-nazi’s YouTube page where he makes video essays on children’s cartoons with added nazi propaganda.”
It’s a pattern
E;R’s videos are disturbing. They often use the guise of film, anime, or cartoon criticism to convey anti-Semitic and hateful thoughts or imagery. This is particularly disturbing when linked to Kjellberg, who dealt with his own controversy after showing men holding up a sign reading “Death to All Jews” in 2017.
In one example — a video Kjellberg publicly liked, leaving a comment underneath — E;R uses aerial footage of the moment when a car drove through a crowd of people during the white supremacist-led “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last year. The incident left multiple people injured and one protester, Heather Heyer, dead. E;R turns a scene from Netflix’s live-action Death Note movie, describing how a death is carried out when a name is written inside the titular notebook, into a joke about Heyer’s death using actual footage from Charlottesville.
Although that’s the video Kjellberg is the most visible fan of, E;R’s Death Note video is just one offensive video in an ocean of hateful content. A video from 2016 with more than 2.1 million views called “Steven Rapeyverse, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Fuse” is particularly egregious. It calls the Steven Universe creator “a Jew,” includes sexist and ableist jokes, and includes a four-minute unedited speech from Adolph Hitler.
Many of E;R’s videos are similar, with plugs to his BitChute channel and Gab profile — both websites that are heavily affiliated with the alt-right. E;R’s personal Gab account features comments about the “Jewish Question,” a hateful conspiracy theory.
Comments on the Steven Universe video, ranging from when it was first published two years ago to just a couple of days ago, talk about glorifying Hitler or thanking E;R for bringing attention to some of Hitler’s speeches. One commenter boasted that a video with openly anti-Semitic views, which had more than 60 percent of people “like” it, was a success.
“That was actually my first time hearing so much of one of Hitler’s speeches,” another commenter wrote. “I’m almost 30. I just never bothered. I knew he was charismatic and could rile a crowd but that was terrifying. Makes you wanna pay attention a bit more.“
E;R was aware of the issue his videos brought to YouTube. He wrote in the description of one video published earlier this year — the same video that Kjellberg commented on — that he understood he needed to watch his speech if he was going to remain on the platform. E;R said he had to scrub a recording of racial slurs because YouTube was looking for “any” reason to kick him off the platform. YouTube has clear policies that prohibit hateful content or harassment of individuals and specific groups, but E;R’s channel is another example of content that YouTube can miss. The Verge has reached out to YouTube for comment.
Since Kjellberg’s shoutout, E;R has amassed an approximate additional 15,000 subscribers. That’s 15,000 more viewers, some of whom may be extremely young, tuning into anti-Semitic and hateful content. Pointing people to certain channels, especially ones built on hateful content, further radicalized young viewers on YouTube.
“One way scholars of social movements often talk about recruitment is in terms of the capacity of the movement to bring in new recruits and then retain them,” Joan Donovan, a research lead at Data & Society, told The Daily Beast earlier this year. “Social media is optimized for engagement, which is both recruitment of an audience and retention of that audience. These groups often use the tools of analytics to make sure they continue to grow their networks.”
E;R’s channel is only growing because Kjellberg pointed his massive audience of more than 75 million subscribers toward him. Kjellberg, meanwhile, is the third most popular channel on YouTube as of today — and remains the most popular independent creator.
Correction December 10th, 5:15PM ET: An earlier version of this story reported that E;R gained 150,000 subscribers. He gained 15,000 subscribers. The story has been updated to reflect these changes.
Update December 11th, 3:20PM ET: Kjellberg removed his shout out to E;R’s channel. In a new video, he stated that he wasn’t aware of E;R’s previous videos at the time and that he had only watched the Death Note essay. He added that he’ll continue to shout out smaller channels, but understands the responsibility he has when talking to his audience.