LOS ANGELES — PewDiePie, the most-followed individual creator on YouTube, has waded into a new controversy.
A day after the Swedish-born YouTuber — whose name is Felix Kjellberg — announced that he would be donating $50,000 to the Anti-Defamation League anti-hate group, he backtracked and said his initial decision was a “mistake” and that the contribution didn’t “feel genuine.”
Kjellberg has been the target of criticism for making anti-Semitic jokes and using racist language in the past. For example, in 2017, he paid two men in Sri Lanka to hold up a sign reading “Death to All Jews” as well as a man dressed as Jesus to say “Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong.”
After the stunts drew widespread attention, Disney’s Maker Studios and YouTube severed business ties with him. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt praised the decision by Disney at the time, saying PewDiePie’s behavior “crosses a line.” Kjellberg deleted the offending videos and apologized, defending himself by saying he was merely trying to show the insane things people are willing to do for money.
On Tuesday, Kjellberg announced plans for the ADL donation in a video unveiling his YouTube Red Diamond Creator Award, a new honor for channels that have hit the 100 million subscriber mark. He noted that the donation to the ADL “doesn’t make sense to everyone, especially since they’ve outright spoken against me,” but added, “I think it’s important; this just isn’t my fight anymore.”
After a raft of conspiracy theories circulated among PewDiePie’s fans about the reasons for Kjellberg’s ADL pledge, in a Sept. 12 video he said he was no longer making the planned the donation. “I made the mistake of picking a charity I was advised [to donate to] instead of picking a charity I’m personally passionate about, which is 100% my fault,” he said.
He said he originally saw the ADL donation as a way to dispel “alt-right claims that [have] been thrown against me.” Specifically, Kjellberg said that after the mass killings in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year, he felt “the responsibility to do something about it.” The attacker in the shootings at two mosques had urged people during a live-stream of the massacre to “subscribe to PewDiePie.”
However, according to Kjellberg, “It really doesn’t feel genuine for me to proceed with the donation at this point.” Kjellberg also said he “didn’t know a lot of things that surfaced throughout this whole thing about the charity that doesn’t fit at all. So I understand why people had concerns about it.” (He didn’t elaborate on what “things” he had learned about ADL.)
The Anti-Defamation League said in statement, “ADL learned about the potential donation from Felix Kjellberg when everyone else did: When he made the announcement on his channel earlier this week. We have not received any communication from him beyond that.”
PewDiePie rose to popularity with his comedic and profanity-laced takes on gameplay videos and internet culture. His channel topped 100 million subscribers earlier this year, following a widely followed race with Indian entertainment conglomerate T-Series (which currently counts 111 million subscribers to PewDiePie’s 101 million). The T-Series rivalry had spawned the “subscribe to PewDiePie” meme.