Teachable Moments – PewDiePie, That Word, and Bad Influencers

Yesterday, Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, used a racial slur while streaming a game of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG as it is often called). The internet and even one independent developer are taking PDP to task (and rightfully so) for his use of the N-word. But, it appears that many of his fans have come to his defense. Facebook pages and Twitter feeds that mention the incident are being bombarded by his defenders (among other people) who are claiming that it just isn’t a big deal. Not only do I wholeheartedly disagree with this, I think this is something that parents need to look at closely. This is a teachable moment the likes of which we might not see for a while.

Mr. Kjellberg didn’t set out to turn himself into a role model. He is just a man with a good camera, a strong internet connection, and an interest in weird video games that he decided to share on YouTube. He built a HUGE (57 million and counting) subscriber count over the years. He is a millionaire who was profiled by ESPN Magazine among other outlets. All of this comes with one thing… influence. The term “influencer” might be a marketing cliché at this point, but it isn’t because it’s wrong. People who generate content on the web can’t help but influence the people who consume it. Whether he likes it or not every word he says on camera has more weight to it than the average person’s words.

What makes his use of the N-word all the more troubling is that a huge portion of his audience is made up of children and young teens. They watch his videos. They emulate his style. They dream of becoming YouTubers like him. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the words he uses might have an impact on them too? If something is bad, but not so bad that PewDiePie won’t say it…  does that make it just a little bit more OK?

(Editor’s note: If you NEED some context as to why the word in question is bad it has been written about at length. This is a thoughtful opinion piece that was published in the New York Times on the subject.)

This is an opportunity for us, as parents, to step in and talk to our kids about the fact that words have power. I’m a game critic, so I’d be going way out of my wheelhouse to get into WHY some words are bad and others aren’t. But, some words, the N-word included, are abhorrent and should not be used. Period. Full Stop. Even if you choose not to expose your child to this specific incident, it is an important conversation to be had.

Our children consume tons of content from online personalities every day. They aren’t public figures held to ethical constraints by their employers. Professional Athletes can be fined. Journalists can be fired. But, YouTubers are self-employed, are only beholden to their audience, and many of them only care about the advertising dollars they generate. Our children need to taught to think critically about what they are watching. They need to know that sometimes people online will say bad things and that that doesn’t make it ok to repeat them. They also need to know that if someone does say bad things and they continue to watch them, then they are actively supporting offensive behavior.

PewDiePie is a public figure with enough reach, especially amongst young people, that our kids will likely have seen this video or at least heard about it (or him). Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.  Both of you will be better for it.

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