Please note I wrote most of this on Friday when everything was fresh. I took the weekend to take a breath before posting, but I still stand by all of it.
50 Muslim people are dead in Christchurch, New Zealand. A white supremacist terrorist walked into two mosques and used guns to kill innocent people.
He livestreamed the attack, using a camera mounted on his head so it looked like a first-person shooter.
He said “sub to PewdiePie” on his livestream before killing people.
He mentions video games and uses internet memes in his mainfesto.
It’s almost a foregone conclusion that at some point there will be a video games and violence narrative in relation to this terrorist attack.
So because I’m upset and angry and feeling helpless and useless, I’m going to do what I can and write about the internet culture that has produced radicalized white supremacists like the Christchurch terrorist(s).
Video games are not responsible for this mass shooting. Alt-right radicalization, anonymity and lack of consequences on the internet, people with large platforms who toe the line and allow racist behavior but never demonize it or use their platform for good, racist white supremacist rhetoric, and large tech companies doing nothing about deplatforming hate speech due to “algorithms” are responsible for this.
But video game culture does, in some ways, encourage and allow behavior than can lead to extremism. Anonymity during multiplayer games allowing young (and old) people to shout racist and homophobic epithets at each other. The lack of consequences for these actions encourages and reinforces this behavior because the people on the other side of them are just voices to yell at, who then go away when the game is turned off.
PewdiePie is the most popular YouTuber on the planet and his videos are based in video games. He has linked to anti-Semitic and Nazi leanings, performed anti-Semitic jokes for videos, and used racist language. Each time he has “apologized” and his followers defend him and his actions as jokes or trolling.
The power of “it’s just a meme” or “it’s just a prank, bro” is undeniable on the internet. “Trolling” is an encouraged activity, regardless of what side you’re on. Alt-right people “troll” those they call SJWs, trying to rile them up. In return, well-intentioned leftists “troll” the alt-right by exposing their idiocy for laughs, but still signal boosting them in the process.
Pepe the Frog was adopted by the alt-right as imagery to use for racism and homopobia. The original artist began to systematically go after and take down Nazis who were trying to use the meme for evil. He stood his ground and it actually worked – Pepe has almost entirely been erased from use and having alt-right connotations.
But people like PewdiePie, with one of the largest fanbases in the world, refuse to condemn Nazis and instead just court it, skirt it, go just far enough to gain their support and promote their message but not far enough to get caught.
In 2017, PewdiePie released a video where he got people on Fiverr to hold up a sign that said “Death to All Jews.” His excuse was that he was not anti-Semitic, he did it as a joke to prove how ridiculous the internet was and what people would be willing to do for $5. He lost his contract with Disney over it, but YouTube did nothing.
Is it any wonder, when this kind of content is excused as just a joke, that a man livestreaming mass murder would say “sub to PewdiePie” before his terrorism began?
The terrorist posted on 8chan, the same board where THQ Nordic did an AMA the week before. That board had people posting and cheering for mass murder as it happened. But a video game company did an AMA there and a half-assed apology is all we got from them. Nobody has been held accountable for this, despite the company’s obvious signaling to this evil element on the internet.
GamerGate spawned the alt-right movement. People in the video games industry didn’t take it seriously until it was too late. Video game discussions are still plagued by argumentative sociopaths who believe women don’t belong in the industry and no game should ever have politics, ever. There is pressure and some people on ground level fight back, but a large majority of the people at the top do nothing.
Accountability is the most important action we need to take. The lack of being held responsible for our actions on the internet is such an insidious beast that has worked its way deep into the social media landscape. Someone with 50k followers is somehow not responsible for their words to said followers. And yet they affect more young opinions than people on television.
Why is it that the people who literally call themselves “influencers” as their job description find themselves above taking responsibility for who and what they influence?
Before social media and YouTube, it was easier to keep hateful voices minimized. Ku Klux Klan could hold rallies, but it was hard to get a spot on prime time sandwiched between Mork and Mindy and Happy Days. Now everyone has a platform. Everyone has a voice. And some of those voices vomit harmful rhetoric that radicalize young people and inspire them to hate their fellow man. And their word vomit reaches hundreds of thousands of people.
We make a big deal about free speech and censorship. How everybody has the right to say what they want. And it’s true. I don’t give a crap if Alex Jones stands on a soapbox on the corner of 4th and Broadway and yells that the end times are coming. But YouTube doesn’t have to promote it. YouTube doesn’t have to have an out-of-control algorithm that suggests shitty Nazi propaganda videos and the latest alt-right issue with Captain Marvel.
Twitter and YouTube and Facebook can ban whoever they want. And they should pose serious consequences for harmful rhetoric. Racists don’t need a platform to find and radicalize other racists. The people who toe the line, intentionally sowing seeds of racism without openly acknowledging it don’t need a platform either.
Accountability is our greatest weapon. Make the people with the loudest voices use their voice for good. If they don’t spread positivity and love, don’t let them spread anything else.
It’s easy to be evil. It’s easy to hate. It’s easy in a world inundated with awful to curl up in a ball and ignore everyone.
Choose to be good.