Disney has severed ties with Pewdiepie, the world’s highest-paid YouTube star, after he posted several anti-Semitic videos.
Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie) has posted nine videos featuring anti-Semitic comments or Nazi imagery, the Wall Street Journal reports. These include a video of men paid by Kjellberg to hold up a sign reading “Death to All Jews” (Kjellberg later referred to this as a joke gone too far) and another with a man dressed as Jesus who says, “Hitler did nothing wrong.” Multiple videos feature swastikas, while another includes photos of Hitler, with Kjellberg wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap. The Nazism has expanded to audio: In a January 14 video he played the Nazi Party anthem, and in a February 5 video he features a “Sieg Heil” voiceover.
PewDiePie has taken down three of the nine videos in question. Google, the parent of YouTube, had previously pulled ads from the videos in question, though YouTube did not take down any videos from the site despite the platform’s rule that bans any video that “promotes or condones violence against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin (or) religion.”
“We’ve decided to cancel the release of Scare PewDiePie Season 2 and we’re removing the PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred,” a YouTube spokesperson told Forbes, referencing Kjellberg’s YouTube Red series and the program that feeds the platform’s top content to brands.
Kjellberg’s PewDiePie channel, which gained popularity for videos of Kjellberg playing video games while offering crude comment, has over 53 million subscribers, and he has received over 14 billion views, more than anyone else on YouTube. Last year, the Swedish gamer made $15 million thanks to the ads that play during his videos, his participation in a YouTube Red series, merchandise sales and his best-selling book This Book Loves You.
Walt Disney Co. bought Maker Studios, the multichannel network that partners with Kjellberg, for $675 million. Though the specifics of the deal between Maker and Kjellberg are not public, it is likely that Disney helps with some of Kjellberg’s business matters—such as merchandise, video and app production—in return for a share of his revenue. Kjellberg must now take care of these more technical aspects of his business alone.
Without a powerhouse media company helping to finance his endeavors, PewDiePie will see a decline in his earnings this year. Brands will also be less likely to advertise with him now that he is not part of the Google Preferred program, and because pre-roll ads make up the bulk of his paycheck, this will surely lead to an earnings drop. He will also take a hit from the cancellation of his YouTube Red series, which paid him a six-figure salary.
“Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward,” a spokeswoman for Maker Studios told Forbes.
“We are pleased by Disney’s decision to sever ties with PewDiePie following his posting of videos on YouTube containing swastikas and other anti-Semitic content, including one image of two men holding a sign saying ‘death to all Jews,’” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told Forbes. “This is clearly hate speech…PewdiePie’s effort to defend it as an attempt to be funny falls flat. PewdiePie is entitled to his views, but neither Disney nor any other company has any obligation to support his wide dissemination of hate speech.”
Kjellberg addressed the issue in a recent Tumblr post, in which he alluded to the videos and the fact that certain neo-Nazi groups, like website Daily Stormer, embrace them.
“I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes,” he wrote. “I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary.” He did not, however, go so far as to apologize for the videos.
“His videos normalize anti-Semitic speech, and there was no real response from him about how wrong this really was,” says Jonathan Vick, the Associate Director of Cyberhate Response at the Anti-Defamation League
In a since taken-down January 17 video, Kjellberg also addressed the “death to all Jews” video, saying it was a joke. “I think there’s a difference between a joke and actual like, f*ck, death to all Jews,” he said, once again without actually apologizing. He goes on to suggest some people painted the situation unfairly, adding that what he did was different from saying, “Hey guys, PewDiePie here. Death to all Jews, I want you to say after me: Death to all Jews. And, you know, Hitler was right. I really opened my eyes to white power. And I think it is time we did something about this.”
Fiverr, the Tel Aviv-based company through which Kjellberg paid the men to hold up the anti-Semitic sign and the man who dressed up like Jesus, has reportedly suspended Kjellberg’s account, as well as those of the men he paid.