The mainstream media’s attack on Pewdiepie is an illusion of good intentions.
Remembering our job as journalists.
When I first came upon this situation with Pewdiepie and the Wall Street Journal, my initial feeling was shock. And then it turned to confusion. Why are we talking about this? For those of you that do not know about this situation, I’ll fill you in, but I encourage you to watch his video if you want to really get the gist of what is happening because context matters.
So the brief: Pewdiepie had uploaded a video that featured anti-Semitic messages. One video in particular that got attention was the video where he asked two Indian men (known as the Funny Guys) to hold up a sign that said “Death To All Jews” via a site called Fiverr. There were several other videos that featured a similar type of content, which were promptly deleted from his channel.
Pewdiepie’s humour is derived from what we call “troll culture.” It isn’t exactly irony and it isn’t satire — but it’s a major culture in the internet and I assume that he was following this trend, and also because he favours this type of humour. He doesn’t actually intend to demean those people. Nevertheless, he did acknowledge that this particular joke with the Fiverr guys did go too far and he promised not to do it again, which I think was right to do. But I want to explain how the media portrayed him with the wrong intention.
Think of it this way. I know for a fact that there is a lot of political humour based on what’s happening with Trump. Remember when Trump said “grab them by the pussy?” Well, let’s say that Pewdiepie asked the Fiverr guys to hold up a sign that said “grab them by the pussy.” To be correct, that is technically extremely misogynistic and offensive content and that should have gotten a lot of media backlash. And I’ll bet you that this whole hype around Pewdiepie would not have happened if Pewdiepie had asked the guys to hold up a sign that said “grab them by the pussy” because it goes against the mainstream media’s intent, which was to grab a hit piece against Pewdiepie.
Because it would have looked, frankly, desperate if they took that and called Pewdiepie a misogynist. Because we all know that if Pewdiepie had done that, it would not be an act of misogynistic intent but rather poking fun out of the ridiculous situation which is Trump actually saying and actually meaning those words.
And I know that everyone makes the argument about how a certain right wing media took that seriously, and now suddenly Pewdiepie is their icon. I do think that this was somewhat consequential but not to a degree in which Wall Street Journal had to go knocking on Pewdiepie’s home address. They should have done that before publishing an article attacking him.
And I don’t think that the right wing media using Pewdiepie as their icon normalises anti-Semitism. The extremist right wing media will use whatever they have at their disposal if it fits whatever propaganda they wish to do. And a lot of times, they actually twist things out of context and even blatantly lie. It is the mainstream media’s job to make sure that these false and misleading claims are righted and corrected, and make sure that people don’t take these things seriously.
By writing an entire article about how this fuels anti-Semitism is only going to make the extremist right wing media gain legitimacy. What the Wall Street Journal should have done, if they truly wanted to diminish anti-Semitism running course (which is happening, that part is true), is not pick at a guy who makes internet videos (as everyone so condescendingly writes about YouTubers when in fact it is a rather difficult job), but rather point out the extremist right wing website for making misleading and false accusations, and condemn them from doing so again.
Simple fact-checking after they found this extremist website would have spared everyone from so much trouble, not to mention adhering to journalistic ethical codes. They could have gotten some comments from Pewdiepie, who would have confirmed that he has no ties with the website whatsoever. (He already did make a statement about it, in fact.)
I’m not saying that the rising anti-Semitism in the world is not a serious issue. I’m saying that there is a right way of approaching things and a wrong way of doing so. When tackling the rising hatred against minority groups, you need to look at those who actually mean it and those who are legitimately able to hurt those groups. (Does that remind you of someone?) Calling attention to these things using provocative articles do not help deter the anti-Semitism rising in the world, but rather further undermines the trust and legitimacy we place on the mainstream media.
I realise that the media is also a corporation, but I recommend the media to grasp the fact that people do not want clickbait articles — people want actual journalism. This is why new media outlets are gaining more and more audience whereas the audience in the mainstream is media is rapidly declining.
YouTube is a home to many independent voices and creators, and recently, even news outlets such as The Young Turks, which is an independent media outlet that focuses on fact-checking and actual progressivism. I really do not want to see unnecessary censorship on this platform just because some people decided to take an extremist website seriously instead of calling them out. It started with Pewdiepie, but who knows?