Why is 'PewDiePie' trending after the New Zealand shootings?
Published Friday, March 15, 2019 9:05AM EDT
The internet’s most popular YouTuber was trending alongside thousands of tweets condemning Islamophobia and sharing the hashtag “#NewZealandStrong” following mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques on Friday.
“PewDiePie” is the username for Felix Kjellberg, an internet personality and video game commentator with more than 89 million subscribers on YouTube, the most of any other account. The username was reportedly uttered in a live video broadcast online by the shooter before the attack.
“Subscribe to PewDiePie,” a man is heard saying in the clip, which was removed by Facebook early Friday morning. The shootings left 49 dead and dozens injured.
PewDiePie has garnered more than 20 billion views for his vlogs and video game commentary, which are considered by many to be humorous. The hashtag “#SubscribeToPewDiePie” was popularized by his fans in recent months in efforts, both seriously and in jest, to keep his subscriber base stronger than Indian music record label T-Series.
The 29-year-old YouTuber tweeted early Friday in response. “I feel absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person,” wrote Kjellberg. “My heart and thoughts go out to the victims, families and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
He has faced a series of controversies online for statements made in his videos. In 2017, he paid a pair of men to hold up a banner reading “Death to all Jews,” which he claimed was “just a joke” to demonstrate “how crazy the modern world is.” The Disney Digital Network cut ties with PewDiePie after the controversy. The same year, he called another video gamer the n-word during a livestream, leading some fans to tweet their disapproval with the “#PewdiepieIsOverParty” hashtag.
"I'm disappointed in myself because it seems like I've learned nothing from all these past controversies,” he said in a video apology. “I'm really sorry if I offended, hurt or disappointed anyone with all of this. Being in the position that I am, I should know better."
Last year, he endorsed a YouTube channel called E;R or “EsemicolonR,” which some users have dubbed “straight up a neo-Nazi” for showing clips of Hitler speeches and apparently mocking the death of a woman at a 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a video response, Kjellberg said “oopsie doopsie” and claimed he was unaware of the neo-Nazi content on E;R. He revoked his endorsement of the channel and re-edited a video to remove the recommendation.
In December, a Seattle middle school teacher reportedly received threats after a video circulated of him criticizing PewDiePie’s videos in a social studies class for promoting anti-Semitism and racism. "Every time you retweet one of these things or every time you promote this idea, you are promoting ignorance, racism, genocide and anti-Semitism,” the teacher said. Messages on the anonymous online message board 4chan reportedly called for the release of the teacher’s personal information.