I sometimes get a lot of stick for my strong belief in Freedom of Speech.
All speech at that. It’s not because I don’t believe there’s no such thing as hate speech – I absolutely know words can be cruel and hateful, try growing up in a hyper-religious household as a child born out of wedlock and being mixed-race to boot and then come back and try explaining to me that words have no long-lasting consequences. They absolutely do. And that’s a very good point – nailing one of those very early on here. Freedom of Speech does not equal Freedom from Consequence. You can say what you want, but you must absolutely be prepared to deal with the inevitable consequences of your words. Be that losing your job, or a lucrative contract and/or sponsorship, or just pushing companies you need to give you material to do your job away – even right down to the possibility someone might turn around and serve you a tasty knuckle sandwich on rye. Everything has consequences – words very much included in that.
So whilst I don’t like or subscribe to PewDiePie in any way, I do believe he should be allowed to say anything he wants.
He’s an edgelord, let’s be real about that. He does shocking and stupid things for clicks and subs and he has 55 million subscribers so it’s clear there are a lot of edgelords (and probably former edgelords – and ladies, edgeladies exist! Edge edge edge edge sorry Tim Langdell I can’t help myself edgy edge edge!) who make him incredibly successful at what he does. And he is. He’s easily the largest channel on YouTube, and this is effectively how he got there – pushing the boundaries, being naughty and irreverent and seeing where the line was, and how far he could cross it before the world bit back.
And now, to push those boundaries further being the biggest channel on YouTube, he’s got to be even more edgy – dropping an “N”-Bomb during a livestream! Oh noes!
(Actually, my opinion on the “N”-Bomb is that considering its so widely used in music by various people of a variety of skin tones – not all necessarily “black” by any means – that it’s lost a lot of its power already. I think the genie is out of the bottle in this in much the same way “Nazi” has lost so much meaning the last couple of years. If everyone who disagrees with you on anything is a Nazi, then really no-one is right? It’s a word. It’s an insult. It’s the new C-Word. Shocking, but said enough times, with such little regard for its roots, what is left of this term? And frankly, I’m more worried about Nazi being normalised as a term than the “N”-Bomb; slavery is over, has been for a good couple centuries now, but fascism is still an ever-present danger in a political era of uncertainty and I’m far more concerned with an extremist political ideology that might seek power in turbulent times than a few white guys thinking they’re so cool by dropping the “N”-Bomb… but hey, agree to disagree and all that jazz.)
However, whilst I do laugh at the pearl-clutching Mary Whitehouse wannabes who are currently crying ‘Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children!?’ (With huge bonus points if you read that in a Helen Lovejoy voice), I am also of the viewpoint that PewDiePie needs to start controlling himself a little, and perhaps – dare I even suggest this? – grew up a bit.
Actions have consequences, and the rise of channels like PewDiePie’s is causing a massive advertiser revenue crisis on YouTube. Yes, YouTube is censoring unsafe political viewpoints across the board (not just on the right, the left are getting screwed too and it’s easy to forget that!), and the primary driver for things like this is… well… PewDiePie. On paper, 55 million potential eyes should have them running to sign him to any contract deal under the sun, but in reality – he can be a bit of a knob. Sorry, but it’s true, and it makes it hard because to advertisers, being seen on a channel is an implicit endorsement of said channels content.
Advertisers have grown concerned about the free for all underlying the YouTube community, and the end results are tighter restrictions done by automated bots with no sense of context, humour, sarcasm or wit. Google, who run YouTube, are spending billions of dollars on bandwidth so it’s not like this is some kind of cheap operation to run or anything. But they also rely on advertisers to help fund that bandwidth, those servers, the platform at large, and if advertisers start getting skittish – which they are – then YouTube begins to make moves to put some confidence back into them, meaning its the creators who suffer both tougher rules and restrictions and, since some will never come back to advertise, a smaller slice of the actual advertising revenue pile.
Of course, PewDiePie is not entirely alone on this front – but with such a large audience, he is unquestionably the face which people will see first.
Which leaves others having to deal with the consequences of his actions – and in truth, I don’t think PewDiePie really understands this. Or at least, not in a broader spectrum. His channel is enormous; YouTube would be stupid to let him go (more on this in a bit), but if they did or he decided to break out, there’s little doubt a massive portion of his audience would follow him. He would likely succeed now in anything he does, because he’s so enormous and so popular. But that doesn’t mean that nothing he does has consequences – far reaching ones.
Many are starting to call PewDiePie not an ally or an inspiration, but a liability.
First of all, whatever happens, if he goes – that doesn’t mean the rules will magically spring back to how they once were. What changes are made are going to stick, which means rules designed to keep people like Felix on the straight and narrow apply to everyone equally. The tougher the rules get to keep him “content-friendly”, the more others suffer and the more their channels and advertising revenue suffer. And if one day he does break away to do his own network – which is possible – people will wonder why a man with such a huge viewer base didn’t jump ship sooner, and save everyone a lot of pain in the long run since now the rules are set in place and smaller channels find themselves unable to grow or move on from a platform like YouTube.
But equally, Felix Kjellberg also needs to realise there are actual legal issues brewing that could affect the Internet long-term.
YouTube has long existed in a grey vacuum; it doesn’t really do anything explicitly illegal, and is big enough that few companies would dare to issue a legal challenge to anyone for fear that YouTube might in the end back up the content creators. But this won’t last indefinitely without some goodwill, and if the Firewatch devs succeed in arguing that they reserve the right to not want their content seen on a channel, then DMCA takedowns and more generalised licensing arrangements move into place. The big loser in such a scenario would be YouTube itself; suddenly facing not only potential litigation on multiple fronts, but also federally-imposed content guidelines pushed by the likes of the FCC which ultimately would mean not only higher legal costs, but additional licensing costs, additional wage costs if such commissions determine that YouTube needs to pay creators X amount of dollars for its work and what have you. It would then also affect other sites in a domino-effect, with Facebook and Twitter not far removed, and the likes of Gab, Vid.me and Minds.com which are relatively new additions to the circus having to change to accommodate new federally-imposed sanctions and restrictions.
No precedent has been set; the moment one is, you can be sure the floodgates will open and that will furthermore impact those seeking to make a living on YouTube with videos and content. They’ll probably need to cement licensing arrangements – which means that you’ll end up with either a massive mess or the likes of a Future Publishing situation, where one gigantic behemoth agrees to act as umbrella for everyone and can dictate who stays and goes on a whim, and such things stifle creativity and most importantly competition, which is a hugely important thing in any medium but particularly on YouTube where people need to feel able to call others out where necessary.
In effect, PewDiePie is in a position where what he does has a huge reach and lasting impact, and we can argue whether that’s a good thing or not until the end of time itself but the situation on the ground is that that is how it currently is. And as I said, it won’t be just YouTube or its creators or channels that suffer – tougher guidelines and restrictions and rules would affect everyone, even crappy little blogs like this one. If we can’t be honest for fear of legal action, if we can’t speak our minds for fear of recrimination from petty-minded companies and corporations, then we all begin to disappear because the risks and costs involved won’t be worth the hassle. And yes, that will affect the likes of WordPress, and others, who need us using and paying for these tools and domain names in order to make money.
Even if he seems oblivious to this or unwilling to accept it, PewDiePie has a responsibility to represent us all (I know, terrifying, isn’t it?). And it’s become increasingly apparent to most of us, over time, that Felix may be quite a selfish individual who doesn’t care who he hurts as long as he gets to do what he wants to do. But he’ll be hated and reviled. And worst of all, the man who is currently hailed as The Biggest Channel on YouTube may, in fact, someday soon find himself lumbered with the ignominious title of “The Man Who Destroyed YouTube”, or heck, “The Man Who Destroyed Independent Content On The Internet”.
And whatever ego you have, I’m pretty sure that’s an accolade no-one wants, it would send PewDiePie down in infamy and he will for decades be “that guy”, a pariah on the societal scene and a running joke for the mainstream media to poke fun at. I certainly wouldn’t want to be that guy. How many will be angry? Hell, we lament people tossing death threats over trivial nonsense on the Internet but robbing tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people the ability to express themselves or make a living? I’d start looking to invest in a nuclear bunker.
So yeah. If you’re reading this PewDiePie – no-one cares that you’re edgy. That’s fine. I like to swear too – heck, if this wasn’t about you being a bit of a twat, I’d have probably talked about how I think Final Fantasy 7, which saw its 20th Anniversary yesterday, was actually a bit overrated as an RPG (I know!). We all like being a little on the edge – and we all know that you’ll always offend someone, somewhere, whatever you do. And I more than most know there’s a real catharsis in saying the opposite of what people like to hear.
But please, grow up. At least… a little bit, because you’re starting to cause problems for everyone else. You’re not an island. You’re not inconsequential. You are a huge channel, and what you say and do matters in the long run. You may not like it, but you are important. And whilst we may not implicitly like you – we rely on you to at least do a half-decent job of representing content creators across the Internet.
And if you don’t like that, then yes. You are a “liability”.
At which point even I’d concede it’s time you left YouTube and started your own network. But hey, that’s responsibility for you… time to embrace it. Who knows? You might like it…