An ongoing feud between Felix Kjellberg, better known as Pewdiepie—the most popular YouTuber in the world—and popular Twitch streamer Alinity Divine, is a perfect example of how women are still objectified, vilified, and exploited in the gaming community, simply because they are women.
Earlier this month, Kjellberg, who has more than 63 million subscribers, uploaded a video of himself testing the Tobii eye tracker, which is able to show in real time what a user is looking at on the screen. Kjellberg invited fans on Twitter to send him videos to view, and recorded the results. One of the videos he watched, "SEXIEST TWITCH GIRL STREAMERS APRIL 2017!!! #2," was a compilation that featured Alinity.
While Kjellberg struggled to keep his eyes off their chests, he "jokingly" called women in the video “stupid Twitch thots,” a derogatory term for women that stands for “that ho [whore] over there.” Alinity saw a video and retaliated by filing a copyright claim with YouTube.
In his latest video on the subject, uploaded Wednesday, Kjellberg chastised Alinity for filing the claim, and suggested that Alinity somehow deserves the abuse she is getting online for wearing revealing clothes. He shows examples of times when she wore a sheer top and her bra straps showed, or when she played Just Dance in a dress.
“You’re just playing games with the shortest skirt ever, that’s our fault for looking at it in any sexual way, right?” Kjellberg said in the video. “I know you don’t portray yourself to be the smartest person, but I know you’re not that dumb to not be aware of what you’re doing,” he says. “Showing your underwear on screen? That’s our fault, right?"
To understand how this escalated, you need to be familiar with the “Twitch Fails” genre of videos. Go to YouTube, type “Twitch Fails” into the search box, and you'll find an endless list of videos in this genre. The videos themselves show all kinds of things that both men and women record themselves doing on Twitch, but women showing cleavage, and often Alinity herself, are almost always featured in the thumbnails.
After seeing the eye-tracking video, Alinity said on a live broadcast that she was going to file a copyright claim against Kjellberg. She said that an agency called CollabDRM manages copyright claims for her, and issue claims on YouTube when they find someone posting her content in their videos. After the backlash from Kjellberg’s response, she apologized and claimed that CollabDRM did it all without her knowledge. Kjellberg cut Alinity out of the video after she complained on her broadcast.
But none of this is really about a copyright battle. It’s about women who stream on Twitch, a topic that Kjellberg, Alinity, and their supporters on both sides keep coming back to.
YouTubers like Kjellberg criticize women for what they wear and how they act on stream. If they are popular, it's only because of their bodies, and if people objectify them for that, that's their fault. At the same time, Kjellberg, like many YouTubers, is not above using the content these women create and putting them in the thumbnails of their own videos for their personal gain. When women do it, they are whores. When men do it, it's criticism.
Kjellberg said in one of his reaction videos to Alinity that it’s not his intention to upset anyone with the videos he makes. In the latest video, the description reads, “This goes without saying but I dont condone anyone harassing anyone on my behalf.” The video now has almost three million views and almost 65,000 comments, most of which are along one theme:
But what Kjellberg is doing isn’t just opportunistic and gross, he is telling his audience of millions that men are not responsible for their actions and that when women dress a certain way they are asking for it. In doing so, he and others who perpetuate this behavior make it worse for YouTubers like Alinity. Besides his YouTube videos, he has also amplified the harassment and threats of some of his followers.
Sunday, Kjellberg retweeted a video of a fan of his saying they were going to report Alinity to the "Canadian immigration control" to his 16 million followers. The implication here is that Alinity got a fraud marriage to establish residency and should be deported, something that goes beyond online harassment and threatens her physical safety.
The video Kjellberg retweeted is a clip ripped from one of her video streams in which Alinity explains that she immigrated from Colombia to Canada after marrying a Canadian man. After being married for a year, she divorced him, she said. Alinity later explained that she did not commit marriage fraud, but taken out of context, the clip makes her seem opportunistic.
Alinity told me that over five years of streaming full-time, the hate from angry men has gotten worse and worse. “It’s shifted from them [viewers] being perverts, to just straight up calling me a whore,” Alinity told me in a phone conversation. “They’re trying to control my body—people telling me how I should dress and how I should act. They’re trying to diminish my value by saying, ‘this is just what you are, and you should get out of here.’”
Kjellberg did not respond to a request for comment sent to an email listed on his YouTube channel.
A common rallying cry for men mad at women for streaming is that they get subscribers just because they’re women. A 2016 study of one billion comments sent on Twitch showed that in female streamers’ channels, the most-frequently used words were things like "boobs," "hot," "omg," "smile," and "babe.” For men, it’s more like "melee," "shields," "glitch," and "reset." On Twitch, men make up 65 percent of streamers, according to 2016 statistics from social media analytics site Statista. Thirty-five percent are women.
This is much larger than just Kjellberg. Some of the men who harass women on their Twitch streams then turn around and monetize them on YouTube. They recycle female streamers’ clips into video compilations and slap a “booby streamer” or “hot girl fail” title on them.
The thumbnails for most of InternetFails, a channel with 180,000 subscribers, for example, are screenshots of women in compromising positions:
Another channel, Ultra Twitch Fails, has top-performing videos raking in around 700,000 views each, including Hottest Twitch Girl Fails 2017 #1 ft. CinCinBear, Alinity, Pink_Sparkles, Celestiavega, Abigale and All Twitch GIRL Fails Compilation of 2016.
In the past, YouTube and Twitch have each issued statements about how hard they’re working to prevent hateful speech on their platforms, but the comment sections of any of these “booby streamer” compilations is an endless spigot of hate. I’ve reached out to YouTube and Twitch—a spokesperson for YouTube directed me to the platform’s copyright policies, and Twitch did not respond.
Alinity told me that she has no problem with YouTubers using her Twitch clips if they’re done in a tasteful context. For example, Alinity said that the YouTube channel Livestream Fails asked for permission to use her clips, and lists the Twitch links for each streamer featured. She’s gotten viewers coming to her channel through channels like these that give proper credit and are showing funny or interesting moments, and not representing her in a sexual way. But others will clip moments where she stands up, or walks away, or some piece of clothing slips and shows more skin than usual—and when those get clipped and uploaded to YouTube, she’s upset by it.
Following Kjellberg’s videos, Alinity says she’s had several women approach her in private to talk about how fucked up the harassment and toxicity has been—but they fear coming forward publicly, after what happened to her. “I can’t express to you how horrible it’s been,” she said.
“I’m gonna be honest with you, if this wasn’t my job this would have pushed me off the internet a very long time ago,” she said. “It makes me wonder maybe this is why women are so underrepresented on Twitch in general.”