In the “fake news era,” long standing components of traditional media have been flipped on their heads. This includes the avenues by which people consume their news. Quietly, Youtube has become a platform upon which radical conservative ideas can flourish.
It has become evident that the alt-right has a significant presence on Youtube which they utilize to help to carry and spread their messages. A Vox study analyzing alt-right twitter activity found the most common site linked was Youtube (74,000 links) followed by Facebook coming in distant second (23,000 links).
It is clear to see why this is the case. Youtube provides a platform to “broadcast yourself,” regardless of views. Additionally, the site receives heavy traffic. According to a Pew Research Study, 73% of U.S. adults and 94% of 18-24 year old U.S. adults visit Youtube. With the fake news culture permeating far-right circles, it is no surprise far-right content creators are gravitating to the platform.
Carl Benjamin, better known on Youtube as Sargon of Akkad, has amassed over 800,000 subscribers, a number that has doubled from where it stood two years ago. He has accumulated over 250,000,000 views. His content consists entirely of right wing political commentary. Pinned on the front of his Youtube page is an interview with Trump’s ex-chief political strategist Steve Bannon entitled “Bannonism: Revolt of the Little Guy.” Benjamin is the cornerstone of a large, ever-growing network of similar creators.
Steven Crowder has 3,105,145 subscribers and 628,851,554 views. Stefan Molyneux has 878,444 subscribers and 256,975,320 views. Lauren Southern has 672,686 subscribers and 53,930,632 views.
Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci describes in the New York Times how easy it can be to come across these creators. “[During the election] I watched a bunch of videos of Donald Trump rallies on YouTube. Soon I noticed something peculiar. YouTube started to recommend and “autoplay” videos for me that featured white supremacist rants, Holocaust deniers and other disturbing content.”
This is not by accident. A recent report by Rebecca Lewis in Data&Society describes this as being the result of “search engine optimization,” a process by which political influencers strategically use politicized keywords for marketing purposes.
The Lewis report describes other ways in which far-right creators spread their work. Many frame their arguments in the form of personal stories. Lewis relates these “ideological testimonies” to product testimonies in marketing. Many engage in “political rebranding,” in which creators brand themselves and their politics in such a way to set them apart and give them a shtick. This often results in appealing to gendered and racial tropes. Others engage in “strategic controversies,” a practice in which one harnesses a scandal to attain viewership.
The strategies far-right Youtubers implement share many similarities to social media influencers. Perhaps this is why reports indicate far-right Youtube media is effective. The tactics are effective. They work for influencers, and they appear to be working for the alt-right as well.
Some argue the issue is bigger than it appears. Research suggests far-right videos do not simply provide a home to those with preexisting radical views, but they convert as well.
The Lewis report describes the collection of far-right content creators as a social network.
As a social network, collaborating is vital to individual success and has significant influence on the development of the network as a whole. Creators frequently invite their friends to be guests on their shows. Sometimes, the personal relationship between the host and guests is shared.
This culture helps viewers to find new content to consume. They are likely to trust the viewing recommendations of creators they already respect. However, when creators support their collaborators and friends with more radical views, a slippery slope towards radicalization can ensue.
The results of a recent investigative piece by Billingcat’s Robert Evens supports this argument. He studied the private Discord chat logs of 75 alt-right conservatives. “15 out of 75 fascist activists we studied credited YouTube videos with their red-pilling [far right conversion].”
Some were converted by the previously mentioned Sargon of Akkad. They referenced Steven Crowder as “the great red-piller.” Evans concludes that “Fascists who become red-pilled through YouTube often start with comparatively less extreme right-wing personalities, like Ben Shapiro or Milo Yiannopolous.”
“I was a moderate republican once,” said one user. “It was people [on the fringe of the mainstream right] that got me to where I am now.”