Disney’s Maker Studios and YouTube have severed ties with gaming influencer Felix Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie, after he posted nine videos with anti-Semitic images and jokes.
The moves came after the Wall Street Journal reported that PewDiePie had posted the videos, which were removed but not before they accumulated 23 million views. PewDiePie has more than 53 million subscribers, and he is YouTube’s biggest star.
The retreat from the PewDiePie endorsements shows that it’s perilous for brands to associate themselves with unpredictable media personalities, particularly one who revels in taking controversial positions as jokes.
A spokesperson for YouTube said in a statement, “We’ve decided to cancel the release of Scare PewDiePie Season 2 and we’re removing the PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred.”
And a spokesman for Maker Studios said, “Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward.”
YouTube’s community guidelines prohibit hate speech.
Social Blade, which monitors social media data, said PewDiePie’s videos have attracted more than 14.7 billion views, and Forbes magazine reported that he made more than $15 million in the year that ended June 30, 2016.
PewDiePie’s videos included images that said “Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong” and another with a sign that said “Death to all Jews.”
On Sunday night on Tumblr, PewDiePie said he did not support the anti-Jewish imagery at all and was trying to make a point that “people on Fiverr would say anything for $5.”
He added, “I think it’s important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes. I make videos for my audience. I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive.”
“We are pleased by Disney’s decision to sever ties with PewDiePie following his posting of videos on YouTube containing swastikas and other anti-Semitic content, including one image of two men holding a sign saying ‘death to all Jews,’” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement. “This is clearly hate speech, which YouTube itself defines as ‘content that promotes hatred against members of a protected group,’ and PewdiePie’s effort to defend it as an attempt to be funny falls flat. PewdiePie is entitled to his views, but neither Disney nor any other company has any obligation to support his wide dissemination of hate speech.”
Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s cut of the jokes.