Recently, a study was published by the Data & Society on the role of YouTube in helping propel the “Reactionary Right” to greater prominence.
The study is entitled “Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube.”
It centers around the newly minted phrase “Alternative Influence Network” (AIN) which it defines as “an assortment of scholars, media pundits, and internet celebrities who use YouTube to promote a range of political positions, from mainstream versions of libertarianism and conservatism, all the way to overt white nationalism.”
The study makes the case that these YouTubers who are part of the AIN act as “political influencers” who mirror brand influencers tactics by building audiences and “selling them on far-right ideology.”
The study, which is based on 65 content creators operating over 81 different channels, points to the collaboration between various channels (as documented by this ludicrous chart below) as evidence that pundits like Ben Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, are leading people to accept and legitimize the beliefs of legitimate neo-Nazi’s like Richard Spencer.
Despite being tactics used by YouTubers of all stripes, political or not, the study goes on to name traits like “relatability, authenticity, and accountability” as big factors in the success of AIN members as well as techniques like testimonials, self-branding, search engine optimization and strategic controversy.
The study essentially concludes that YouTube is responsible for allowing this community to grow and thrive on their platform. The author, Rebecca Lewis, calls for YouTube to take action to curb the “influence and amplification” of the AIN because of its supposed harmful effects on “the LGBTQ community, women immigrants, and people of color.”
While the study does raise some valid concerns around the amplification and possible legitimization of white supremacy and neo-Nazism, its conclusion to push YouTube to further censor content on its platform is one that will ultimately do far more harm than good.
If YouTube continues to censor speech on its platform, as it has already done with Alex Jones, it will only serve as a boon to the actual Far Right by perpetuating their self-endowed status as martyrs and endearing more people to their cause. If YouTube continues down this path, more and more people will continue to leave the platform and join whatever new one that arises in its place. You can’t kill a bad idea by banning it from YouTube.
The only way to defeat bad ideas is with better ideas.
Now, how do we make this happen you might ask? Well, the answer lies in something the study already pointed out – the collaboration between content creators. The only way to move forward and determine the best course of action is by having conversations between opposing sides of an issue. In particular, having a long form, nuanced conversations as found on various channels both within and outside of the AIN.
For many users of YouTube, this was the original draw to the platform. The ability to search out news and analysis from authentic and original sources who don’t have to go through the gatekeepers of mainstream media in order to bring you the news of the day is part of what makes YouTube so special and unique.
This is demonstrated most notably by the immense popularity of two creators named as part of the AIN, Joe Rogan and Dave Rubin. Both men produce shows that feature long-form interviews of over an hour each which still manage to rack up view counts into the millions.
These important bipartisan conversations are already taking place on YouTube between members of the Intellectual Dark Web. This group of academics, comedians and pundits includes members with widely differing viewpoints such as the aforementioned Shapiro, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson and Christina Hoff Sommers.
This loose collection of people, really only united by a respect for their audience and a love of discourse, have led the way in engaging in respectful discussions that delve into the deeper issues which our daily political battles stem from.
It’s time the rest of the YouTube community followed suit.
May the best ideas win.