PewDiePie calls for an end to the ‘Subscribe to PewDiePie’ meme after New Zealand shooting

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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 30: Comedian PewDiePie attends his book signing for "This Book Loves You" at Barnes & Noble at The Grove on October 30, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
In a video on Sunday, Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg finally addressed the mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that left more than 50 people dead, and drew an uncomfortable association to the famous YouTuber.

The New Zealand attacker live-streamed the shooting, and referenced the “Subscribe to PewDiePie” movement in the livestream. The meme is based on a battle between Kjellberg, YouTube’s top individual creator with more than 95 million subscribers, and T-Series, a Bollywood studio in India, who were competing for the most subscribed to channel on YouTube. Kjellberg tweeted about the connection at the time, calling the attack disgusting, but never addressed it at length on his YouTube channel. Kjellberg later made several other jokes about “Subscribe to PewDiePie,” in a mostly facetious way, but many other creators backed away from it altogether in wake of the tragedy.

Now, Kjellberg is calling for his subscribers to stop the meme entirely, and addressing the uncomfortable implications of the New Zealand attack.

“To have my name associated with something so unspeakably vile has affected me in more ways than I’ve let shown,” Kjellberg says in the video. “I just didn’t want to address it right away, and I didn’t want to give the terrorist more attention. I didn’t want to make it about me, because I don’t think it has anything to do with me. To put it plainly, I didn’t want hate to win.

“But it’s clear to me now the “Subscribe to PewDiePie” movement should have ended then.”

After addressing “Subscribe to PewDiePie” and the a few of the hateful content that has arisen from the meme — including the defacing of a World War II memorial in New York that Kjellberg condemned — Kjellberg also raised his battle with T-Series. Kjellberg made two diss tracks about T-Series, a popular staple within the YouTube network, which were celebrated by his subscribers, but condemned by critics. Although Kjellberg has criticized racist remarks made by his subscribers and fans about T-Series in the past, he made some of his own racist jokes in one video, “Congratulations.” Kjellberg also made a joke about genocide in the video, referencing the multiple controversies he’s had over anti-Semitic content.

Kjellberg acknowledged that while he made the tracks “in fun, ironic jest,” he has offended and hurt people by his actions. Ultimately, the videos were seen as so offensive that India’s High Court moved to block them from being seen within the country.

“They were not meant to be taken seriously,” Kjellberg said in the latest video. “This negative rhetoric is something I don’t agree with at all, and I want it to stop … and to make it perfectly clear: no, I’m not racist. I don’t support any form of racist comments or hate towards anyone.”

Having his name and his community associated with acts of hate and terror is “so disgusting,” Kjellberg said. He added that he didn’t want “all these hateful acts to overpower all these amazing things” the community was doing, including raising money for charities in India and around the world. Kjellberg ends his video by requesting that when his channel does reach 100 million subscribers, he doesn’t want it to be seen as defeating another channel — he wants to keep it positive.

“This movement started out of love and support, so let’s end it with that.”

“Subscribe to PewDiePie” is one of the most prominent examples of how quickly an initially innocent meme can snowball into something defined by the hateful actions of others. The joke may have started off as commentary on a specific YouTube issue within the community — a David vs Goliath fight between one of the platform’s most popular independent creators and a corporation — but that’s not what it stands for anymore. Kjelleberg’s decision to use YouTube, his most important platform, to deliver a message about ending something he could no longer control, was inevitable.

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