PewDiePie, the famous video game blogger, has rescinded a pledge to donate $50,000 to a Jewish anti-hate group after a revolt by his fans, engulfing what was supposed to be a public relations effort into a cloud of controversy.
The Sweedish YouTube celebrity posted a video Thursday in which he announced he was canceling his initial pledge to the Anti-Defamation League, saying he had learned "a lot of things" about the group. PewDiePie said he wanted to instead pick a charity he was "personally passionate about," and that it didn't feel "genuine" to make the donation to the ADL.
PewDiePie — aka Felix Kjellberg — had said just a day earlier that he was making the $50,000 donation as a way to "move past" previous controversies. But the announcement was met with condemnation from fans, who questioned why PewDiePie was making a donation to the ADL, a group that has previously spoken out against him. Some of his fanbase also floated conspiracy theories across social media that PewDiePie was being blackmailed by the ADL into making the donation.
In explaining why he was retracting his donation, PewDiePie said he "made the mistake of picking a charity that I was advised, instead of picking a charity that I'm personally passionate about." Instead, PewDiePie said he plans to take the time to "properly" choose where to contribute his $50,000 donation, something made possible by a partnership with coupon-finding browser extension Honey.
PewDiePie said Thursday he saw the donation as an "opportunity" to separate himself from the alt-right. In March, the suspect in a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand told viewers on a livestream to "subscribe to PewDiePie" moments before more than 50 people were killed.
"[The donation] wasn't to try to clear my name or save grace. If it was, I would've done it years ago," PewDiePie said in his YouTube video. "But after the Christchurch tragedy, i felt a responsibility to do something about it, because it's no longer just about me. It affected other people in a way, and I'm not OK with that."
PewDiePie has been attached to several controversies in his almost decade-long career of being a YouTuber. He's uttered racial slurs and made Nazi jokes in his videos and on his livestreams. In 2017, nine videos of his were found to include "anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery." In the wake of the revelation, Disney cut ties with PewDiePie. a move that the ADL commended.
"This is clearly hate speech … PewdiePie's effort to defend it as an attempt to be funny falls flat," ADL CEO Jonathan Greeblatt said in a statement in 2017. "PewdiePie is entitled to his views, but neither Disney nor any other company has any obligation to support his wide dissemination of hate speech."
After PewDiePie made his initial announcement about the ADL donation, his fanbase was quick to criticize the YouTuber, an outspoken free speech advocate, for giving money to an organization they say has helped to clamp down on free speech by policing hate speech.
"His money would have been used to destroy the livelihoods of other content creators, which is no bueno," one Reddit user said. "I'm happy he's researched them more and saw that."