The Alt-Right Are Savvy Internet Users. Stop Letting Them Surprise You - 2018-09-19
Far-right YouTube is the internet age equivalent of conservative talk radio: It's a place for ultra-conservative commentators to react vehemently, personally, emotionally to the news of the day and the creeping horrors of American progressivism. But while the commentators—who range in ideology from mainstream libertarian to openly white nationalist—certainly owe a debt to Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity in their tone and style, their strategy is all Pewdiepie and Jeffree Star and Team Ten. Which is to say, they play to YouTube's algorithms, just like anyone who is trying to become a star.
A recent study from Data & Society, Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube, details how far right YouTubers manufacture authenticity and countercultural appeal, game the attention economy to boost their views, and use that influence to build a supportive (and sometimes lucrative) network for themselves.
If you're familiar with the influencer economy, those beats will sound familiar. Stripped of ideology, Alex Jones' business model isn't so different than a Kardashian's—he just sells different vitamins. Far-right YouTube is ultimately just YouTube; the racists and conspiracy theorists who have found homes there aren't just crazy cranks, they're influencers. It might seem odd that people can relate to racist ranters in the same intimate way others relate to makeup gurus, but it isn't. Regardless of whether you're spewing hate or showing off your Target hauls, YouTube's reward systems work based on behavior, indiscriminately of content—something no amount of fact-checking will fix.