The term “political correctness” (PC) was created in the 1990s and referred to the use of language by the powerful to refuse the needs of the oppressed. Although this fad subsided due to threats of terrorism, the rise of new media outlets such as Facebook and YouTube, which allow users worldwide to respond rapidly to news on a public platform, has revived the craze in political correctness. With the advent of the internet allowing for communities to globalize, the fear of offending others is prohibiting people from saying what is on their mind. This implicit censorship is both reinforced by peer pressure and the internet community in the form of clickbait articles and fake news, inhibiting free speech by making it increasingly difficult to voice unpopular opinions.
One incident in media that gained high levels of attention was PewDiePie’s controversial “anti-Semitic” video. Felix Kjellberg, owner of YouTube channel PewDiePie is the highest paid YouTuber, earning 15 million USD in 2016 and having 53 million subscribers on his channel. Known for his shocking humor, Kjellberg entertains his audience through histrionic performances in many of his comedic videos on games and social commentary. However, since August 2016, an increasing number of videos have incorporated Nazi imagery and anti-Semitic comments, which was most evident in a now deleted video posted on January 11. This video contained two independent performers from Fiverr, a freelance website where users can choose to buy service packages from other users for five USD, that held up a sign which stated “Death to all Jews”. In the outrage that followed, Disney Maker Studios ended its affiliation with Kjellberg and YouTube repealed season two of his reality show Scare PewDiePie.
Although Kjellberg expressed that his video was satirical in nature and was made to highlight the fact that people from Fiverr would say anything for five dollars, many articles vilified Kjellberg as being “anti-Semitic”. In response, Kjellberg responded to these articles in his video “In My Defense”, expressing that some media outlets were taking advantage of his situation by producing clickbait articles with titles to achieve monetary gain. He goes on to express that these clickbait articles, such as “Pewdiepie in Anti-Semitic storm after paying men to unveil sign stating ‘death to all jews’ hits YouTube”, do not capture the context in his videos as they cherry- pick provocative content and attach labels such as “racist” and “anti-Semitic” to him. This misrepresentation of Kjellberg is alarming as it is leads readers who have no background information on this topic to believe that Kjellberg sincerely meant his comments. Furthermore, it was later known that the two men who held up the controversial sign host a YouTube channel “Fiverr Funny Guys”, where they earn a living by unrolling banners for people on Fiverr such as “Happy Birthday”. However, some media outlets do not include that these men did not understand the content of the sign properly. Although Kjellberg’s video could definitely be offending to some, the response of the media through fake news and clickbait may set a precedent for entertainers to limit their ability to portray social issues through humor due to the fear that of the backlash from the distorted portrayal of media.
However, that does not mean that PC in media should be disregarded in its entirety. Certain levels of decency should be maintained such that PC is not vilified as the POTUS Donald Trump has done in his campaign speeches. Trump stated that he “refuse[s] to be politically correct” and has addressed women through derogatory terms such as “fat pigs”, “dogs”, “slobs”, and “disgusting animals”. Furthermore, in June 2015, he proceeded to refer to Mexicans as “rapists”. However, these extreme forms of degradation have created a new form of PC that is known as populist correctness. By demonizing certain actions and factions, populist correctness oppresses opposing opinions by characterizing it as unpatriotic and elitist, segregating and forcing opinions on society.
As a large portion of the readership relies heavily on online news outlets, the possible misportrayal in media outlets through concerns of political correctness, clickbait articles, and fake news are alarming. It is easy to overlook the possibility that these media sources are flawed themselves, as we are members of a society that heavily rely on and are exposed to media,. Living in an age of instantaneous information, the readership is bombarded with an influx of information. In a simple glance, it is easy to simply accept content portrayed on the media as truth, but underlying trends in our society have come to influence the content we are delivered in the form of media regulations. Yet, as every detail shown through media is deliberately chosen, it may be best to take a step back in order to scrutinize and evaluate the motives and behavior of our media outlets, as media is a powerful tool that shapes our everyday perspective.