Between the “adpocalypse” that drained advertising money from YouTube, and highly-publicised fiascos involving popular content creators, YouTube’s had a rocky 2017. Now, many who make a living off the website are dreading the fallout from the latest Pewdiepie debacle. The question many are grappling with at the moment: has the face of YouTube itself become a liability for the platform?
Over the weekend, a clip featuring Felix “Pewdiepie” Kjellberg playing Battlegrounds went viral. In the footage, the Swedish star calls another player the n-word in a fit of frustration. The clip exploded on social media for obvious reasons: here was a YouTuber with 57 million subscribers largely consisting of kids and teens, using a racial slur very casually. In response to that, one indie developer announced that it would try to cut off Kjellberg’s access to its games, and urged for other developers to take the same measures against the popular YouTuber.
Plenty of debates have cropped up among people reacting to the situation. Some have debated what is acceptable to say during aggravating gameplay moments. Some argue that keeping certain words out of your vocabulary should never be an issue, while others admit that they, too, have said regrettable things while playing a game online. There are those who feel tired that someone like Kjellberg, who now has a history of objectionable conduct, continues to dominate headlines and dictate public discourse. Others, meanwhile, are arguing that gaming as a whole has a problem with racial slurs, and that it’s unfortunately common for large games to have awful chats.
On YouTube, Kjellberg has cracked deep enough fault lines that the community seems primed for an earthquake any moment now. As always, Kjellberg does have defenders, some of whom believe using the n-word does not make you a racist. Notably, though, personalities aren’t all going to bat for what Kjellberg actually said. Instead, many people are denouncing the slur and expressing disappointment:
If you are defending PewDiePie's use of the n-word then you can fuck off from both Nerd³ spaces and my personal spaces. We don't want you.
— Matt Collins (@Mattophobia) September 11, 2017
PEWDIEPIE WE ALL TRUSTED YOU LMFAO ?
BUT HARD R THO?? DIDNT HAVE ANY OTHER WORD??
ARE THERE EVEN BLACK PPL IN UR CITY
i'm deceased pic.twitter.com/AoLcDtCAqz
— ♡♪!? (@SkyWilliams) September 10, 2017
I would like to see you get out of this one @pewdiepie In before all his deluded fans say he didn't say "nigger" on stream today
— K.S.I (@KSIOlajidebt) September 10, 2017
When ur first reaction is to rip out the N-Word in frustration instead of the tried & true "Mother F**ker!", somethings up. Examine yourself
— Joe Vargas (@AngryJoeShow) September 11, 2017
Most seem worried that this incident will have long-standing ramifications for everyone on the platform:
Pewdiepie is just a liability at this point. For everyone in the business.
— Jim RESISTerling (@JimSterling) September 10, 2017
Anyway, I'm off topic. Pewdiepie has fucked up. He's once again put YouTube in a precarious place. There will be fallout from this.
— Daniel Hardcastle (@DanNerdCubed) September 10, 2017
The point is they've never been fair use and we've had a tacit agreement to let it lie, until someone went and fucked it up.
— John Bain (@Totalbiscuit) September 10, 2017
Pewdiepie needs to be more responsible because his actions affect all of YouTube, not just him. I don't care what he specifically said
— Trap Ketchum (@shofu) September 10, 2017
PewDiePie effects the monetization of all channels on youtube. So consider that before defending him.
Also racism is very obviously bad.
— Normal Human (@GeekRemix) September 11, 2017
but if we're now deciding who can play a game on youtube based on their personal politics, shit's gotten scary as hell.
— Boogie2988 (@Boogie2988) September 11, 2017
Just when ad rev was going back to normal Pewdiepie drops the N bomb... gg were fucked.
— Kristopher London (@IamKrisLondon) September 10, 2017
When you haven't even got over the last adpocalypse and Pewdiepie drops a racial slur on stream. pic.twitter.com/T7A1H9Mia3
— NoahJ456 (@NoahJ456) September 10, 2017
If YouTubers sound wary, it’s because they’ve already been put through the wringer this year. After the Wall Street Journal reported on Kjellberg’s Nazi references, many large advertisers pulled out from the platform. Enormous channels and small outfits alike felt the consequences, with many creators reporting that their earnings on YouTube plummeted for months. More recently, companies started coming back to YouTube, and ad revenue started to bounce back. Even so, many YouTubers are still operating under a tightened belt thanks to strict monetisation guidelines that make it difficult for video-game-focussed channels to make a living.
Kjellberg, many argue, sets precedent on the platform by virtue of being the biggest channel. Some personalities would hesitate to say the “adpocalypse” was Kjellberg’s fault, but nobody can ignore just how visible his specific channel was during that period of time. He may not even want this responsibility, but the sheer size of his audience grants him that importance anyway. Whatever happens to Kjellberg could happen to anybody.
There’s more than advertiser money at stake: depending on what happens next, Kjellberg’s action could impact the entire YouTube landscape. There’s the legal aspect—if the indie developer prohibiting Kjellberg from playing its games goes to court, could that case have an effect on all other channels who do Let’s Play-style videos? Will more developers take a stand against YouTubers who play their games? Will YouTube itself step in and dictate more rules about what is allowed on the platform, or how its users are allowed to act? Nobody knows. YouTubers, even the ones who don’t blurt out racial slurs during game time, feel that they are at the mercy of forces beyond their control.
For now, the YouTube machine will keep spinning: