As clickbait, personal attacks, and other false reporting flood online journalism, media outlets are becoming increasingly dangerous, writes Joseph Whitfield
The popular Youtuber, ‘Pewdiepie’, or Felix Kjellberg, has recently been the subject to a media storm concerning allegations that he had made ‘anti-Semitic’ comments and advocated ‘fascist’ beliefs. He has been coined an anti-Semite by multiple major news outlets, most notoriously, the Wall Street Journal.
One action that has led to these accusations derives partially from a video in which Pewdiepie displays two men holding a sign that read ‘Death to all Jews’. For this — and nine other videos which the Wall Street Journal found to contain anti-Semitic or Nazi imagery — the young Swede has faced fairly severe consequences. His network, Maker Studios, cut ties with him and his show, Scare Pewdiepie, which has been cancelled. He has, however, retained access to his 53 million YouTube followers.
What startles me is the unbelievable power that some media outlets have that allows them to twist the truth without facing consequences. I believe that, whilst his jokes were indeed crass and a little puerile, upon closer inspection it is clear that Mr. Kjellberg is certainly no ‘anti-semite’. The headline ‘When did fascism become so cool’ from The Independent is an outrageous misrepresentation of the Youtuber.
Whilst his choice of words were stupid, Mr Kjellberg has clearly stated that he was demonstrating the lengths to which people would go to for five dollars. He even says in the video, “I didn’t think they’d actually do it!”, and that “I’m not anti-Semitic or anything”.
The Wall Street Journal, took his video completely out of context. They portrayed the man as an active supporter of anti-Semitic beliefs. They even used a video of him dressed in a fascist uniform as evidence for their claim, one in which he was satirising the media’s representation of him by dressing up as a racist. Because of this horrible and repeated falsification, his reputation has been inexorably tarnished. Even esteemed author J.K Rowling jumped on the bandwagon without proper research, re-tweeting the aforementioned article from The Independent.
By no means am I excusing him of all blame. With such a large viewership, he simply must act as a role model and should have been more sensitive to the fact that many of his viewers are children. However, this relentless personal attack on him is extremely worrying.
Furthermore, there is an underlying issue in journalism here: fake news, clickbait, and hyperbole. Larger news outlets are capable of spreading malicious rumours, influencing millions of people and sometimes simply lying to their readers unchecked. This is particularly the case in regards to online news. Do we receive much real news anymore, or is it just another clickbait title made to draw you in?
Part of the reason Pewdiepie was targeted is that he is the most subscribed-to, and arguably the most successful, Youtuber on the planet. This means that any story defaming him, or portraying him in a negative light was bound to generate a lot of attention. The result has been the spreading of unfair and malicious lies.
He is not the first online figure to have been publicly defamed. In 2016, there was a particularly nasty case of false reporting, whereby one Youtuber, Keemstar, who runs the news channel ‘Drama Alert’, accused a sixty two year old Twitch streamer of being a paedophile and in doing so reduced the man to tears on his own video game stream. Whilst Keemstar made a public apology, the spreading of spiteful rumours about an innocent person for clicks — in a similar vein to the Wall Street Journal‘s work on Pewdiepie — borders on psychotic.
Perhaps one reason for the recent prevalence of this issue is that so many more people use online sites to get their news, rather than picking up a physical paper. Of course, for online media outlets, the more clicks, the better. Therefore, there is a temptation for writers and editors to use fantastical, eye catching headlines to lure in the reader. As a result, many outlets are running similar stories in order to captivate as large an audience as possible.
My final example of ‘false media’, is the incredible blunder that many outlets made in sharing the headline that CNN “Aired 30 minutes of pornography”. This headline went viral and was reported widely across social media, until it was revealed that the source of this news was a single tweet saying “uhhh CNN is straight up porn right now”. After this was discovered, many sites either deleted the headline or changed it to “CNN denies airing pornography”. The fact that insufficient checks or background research was performed for these articles exposes the illegitimacy of certain outlets and the danger that they pose.
All of this makes the reader further question the accuracy of all online content. One might presume that, as technology advances, and knowledge becomes more readily available, the reliability of these articles would improve. However, we are faced with quite the opposite: a degenerative news system whose main priority is money. I would simply advise caution with what you read online.