Update: PewDiePie has made a statement about the shooting, offering his condolences to the victims and their families and noting his disgust at the shooter’s reference to him.
It’s time to talk about PewDiePie again. Sorry!
There was a mass shooting targeting Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, today. According to New Zealand police commissioner Mike Bush, multiple victims have died at two mosques in the South Island city. The Otago Daily Times, a newspaper based in Dunedin, New Zealand, reports that there are at least 27 victims, and that “three men and one woman” are in custody. A manifesto credited to one of the shooters was posted to the largely unregulated message board 8chan, a site known for hate speech and conspiracy-mongering that has had multiple scandals involving child pornography and swatting. That manifesto credits Donald Trump and Candace Owens as inspirations for the shooting. One of the shooters also livestreamed at least part of the massacre on social media, and that’s where PewDiePie enters into the picture.
Before walking into a mosque and calmly executing dozens of innocents, the shooter in the livestream reminds his viewers to subscribe to PewDiePie.
That manifesto might be bullshit. There hasn’t been conclusive proof yet that whoever posted it is actually connected to the horrible crimes in Christchurch. Conservatives and supporters of Trump and Owens are already downplaying the manifesto, saying it’s clearly a disingenuous attempt to further divide people and encourage the race war that’s mentioned elsewhere throughout its dozens of pages. Even if that was the intent of whoever wrote this manifesto, you’d have to be ignorant of Trump’s years of blatant racism and Owens’ tweets about declining European birth rights to believe they couldn’t possibly ever influence Islamophobia. Again, though, the manifesto hasn’t been definitively linked to any of the shooters (assuming there are more than one of them).
The PewDiePie reference, though, is indisputable. A shooter name-drops the massively popular gaming YouTuber, and then proceeds to massacre a mosque full of regular people trying to worship in peace. You can see and hear it for yourself, although we strongly discourage you from seeking it out.
We’re not saying that PewDiePie has ever intentionally encouraged these kinds of disgusting, inhuman actions. We’re not arguing that PewDiePie in any way supports this shooting or agrees with the racist, white supremacist sentiments behind them. We’re simply pointing out that PewDiePie does have a history of racist humor, from using the N-word to paying Indian users of Fiverr to hold up signs with anti-Semitic comments. More recently, and more worryingly, PewDiePie praised an openly neo-Nazi YouTube account in one of his videos, which resulted in a notable increase in followers for that account. (PewDiePie later retracted that praise, calling it an “oopsie.”)
Again: we’re not saying PewDiePie inspired this Islamophobic mass murder. PewDiePie’s own actions, though, have made it possible for people who might be white supremacists or neo-Nazis to view him as a sympathizer. Just three months ago PewDiePie directed his millions of followers to a YouTube account that proudly espouses white supremacy—an account that praised Hitler and mocked the murder of Heather Heyer by a neo-Nazi in Charlottesville in 2017. PewDiePie, one of the most popular and influential YouTubers of all time, with a massive following among young and impressionable viewers, has committed multiple incidents of mainstreaming various forms of racism and prejudice. If a single PewDiePie fan followed his recommendation to that neo-Nazi’s videos and developed hateful and bigoted thoughts, it’s too many, and PewDiePie would be to blame.
Perhaps the Christchurch shooter mentioned PewDiePie as a joke. Maybe he was trolling. Maybe it was a cynical attempt to radicalize PewDiePie fans who will defend their favorite YouTuber from any accusation of wrong-doing. Whatever the intent, the only reason PewDiePie could even be credibly mentioned in such a context is because of PewDiePie’s own actions and poor decisions.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s to make sure you know what the children and teenagers in your life are watching. If you have a child, or a niece or nephew, that’s into videogames, keep an eye on what they’re watching on YouTube. You can’t trust tech companies or their algorithms to have the best interests of you and your family—or even society at large—at heart; in fact, you should openly not trust them, at this point. You might think your kids are just watching some goofy clown make silly voices while playing videogames, and then miss the moment when that clown tells them to go follow a neo-Nazi. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the like have already proven, time and again, that they’re unwilling to adequately screen their platforms, so it becomes our responsibility, as adults, to make sure impressionable minds aren’t being seduced by destructive and hateful ideologies. You clearly can’t trust PewDiePie or YouTube to do that for you.