PewDiePie goes on the record

Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg is the world's most popular streamer, a goofy gamer whose reactionary tendencies were relentlessly encouraged by YouTube and its engagement machinery. Now he faces the consequences, rich but frozen out of mainstream media and invoked half-ironically by alt-right spree killers. Kevin Roose interviewed Pewds for the New York Times, the first interview he's agreed to in years. What Does PewDiePie Really Believe?

The platform's algorithms promoted engaging videos, with little regard for what made them engaging, and showered ad revenue on the most successful channels. And as all kinds of boundary-pushers raced to fill this void, it became harder to tell who had an actual ideology and who was just feeding the machines what they wanted. … Kjellberg attributes this period to a combination of immaturity, boredom and YouTube's platform incentives — which encouraged creators to increase their watch time by doing outrageous things. He says that he grew sick of playing video games and that his channel's growth had plateaued, which gave him the urge to let loose. "Looking back, it was a bubble waiting to burst — this bubble of, how far can we push this?" Kjellberg told me. "I think YouTube at that time was at a place where no one really knew where the limit was."

It's a good profile, especially its succinct explanation of YouTube's inner party of popular channels, influencers and streamers.

In Roose's portrayal, PewDiePie comes off as having been too stupid to understand what he does beyond its transgressive profitability. Kjellberg has matured since, but is forced into paralyzed indifference to political subjects. The problem is that he's so fully stocked his audience with loud far-right madmen that the challenge of moving on from them may be insurmountable.

YouTube, however, is the impassive lurking evil behind it all. I'd like to add something that still goes underappreciated: the psychological self-harm that YouTube (and other social media) encourages among people who end up stuck in its cycles of attention and reaction—especially those who become financially dependent on it.