YouTuber Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg has withdrawn a $ 50,000 pledge from an anti-hate group, which he used as an atonement for earlier allegations of racism and anti-Semitism after his fans responded.
The The Swedish vlogger had pledged funds from a sponsorship deal to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonprofit anti-Semitism organization. But he apologized to fans who had developed conspiracy theories that he had been pressured to make the donation, in a video uploaded on Thursday.
"I made the mistake of choosing a charity I was advised to choose instead of a charity that I personally care about," said Kjellberg in the video. "Which is 100% my fault."
Kjellberg, whose channel had more than 100 million subscribers in August, has met with controversy in the past for publishing anti-Semitic jokes, videos and Nazi images. In 2017, Disney dropped PewDiePie as a sponsor after a report revealed that he had posted nine videos with insulting rhetoric, including one in which he paid two men to hold up a sign saying "Death for all Jews."
He was also hugged by right-wing extremists, including the Christchurch gunman, a gunman in New Zealand who killed 51 people in a mosque while broadcasting live, calling on viewers to "subscribe to PewDiePie."
Kjellberg removed some of his videos after the shooting in Christchurch and said in a statement that he realized some of his jokes were "ultimately offensive" and he felt "absolutely sick" that the alleged shooter had mentioned him. The ADL donation was seen as his most recent attempt to distance himself from right-wing hate speech, but his fans were not happy.
"All that this particular incident shows is that at least some of his followers have anti-Semitic leanings and were loud enough to make him change course, which seemed like a public relations opportunity to some of his past incidents to clean up, "said Matt Rivitz of the social media activism organization Sleeping Giants.
The controversy surrounding Kjellberg underscores the issues that YouTube faces with extremism on the platform, Rivitz said. The company came under fire in June because it had not removed the vlogger Steven Crowder from the platform after he had spent years targeting video journalist Carlos Maza. Meanwhile, a group of LGBTQ YouTubers are suing YouTube's parent for alleged censorship of their content and incentives for volatile behavior.
"YouTube has a problem of extremism, regardless of this particular incident," Rivitz said. "They've proven time and again that engagement and ad rates are more important to them than responsibility, which is why advertisers have such difficulties with them."
YouTube did not respond to the request for a comment. The ADL said she had not heard directly from Kjellberg about the donation.
"ADL learned of the possible donation from Felix Kjellberg when everyone else did so: when he made the announcement on his channel this week," it said in a statement. "We have not received any further information from him."