Thanks, Ezra Klein, for explaining the news to me and helping me to understand better. In his Vox piece, “The rise of YouTube’s reactionary right,” Ezra Klein points out that folks like myself who enjoy watching certain intellectual figures engage in discourse on YouTube are vulnerable stooges played and manipulated by the political far right.
Despite having voted for Obama twice and against Trump once (sorry I can’t bring myself to admit I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton), despite supporting gay marriage long before the Democratic party came around, despite supporting women’s rights, despite supporting universal healthcare (the list could go on), I’ve recently learned that I’ve been engaging in a dangerous dance with the reactionary right.
I admit I’ve watched Jordan Peterson’s lectures and debates on YouTube. I’ve viewed Dave Rubin’s interview show, even though I hear it’s financed by the Koch Brothers (gasp). I very much enjoy Sam Harris’ podcast despite not being an atheist. Occasionally, I even let Ezra Klein and his crew explain the news to me, because it’s so darn hard to know what to think with so many competing voices out there. So, needless to say, I was pretty shocked to discover that having all these alternative influencers on my dance card pretty much puts me in league with the reactionary right.
Is it just me or does anyone else get the feeling that Klein and his ilk want to shun so many of us from the democratic left that we never control congress again, that we continue to lose the White House even though we never should, and that the Supreme Court ends up with a 7-2 super conservative majority? Is it just me? If I didn’t know any better, I might think Klein and company are disinfo agents working for Roger Stone or the Mercers.
These days I keep flashing back to 1991. How old are you, Ezra Klein? I was in my fifth year of college back in ’91, a mere three semesters shy of graduation. Seems like it’s déjà vu all over again, only without the stench of stale beer and dank kind bud. We seem to have progressed little since Rodney King. Every day there are news stories and videos depicting police brutality. Guess we better get out and demonstrate. That’ll show ‘em. How far have we come since Thomas/Hill? Well, now we have Kavanaugh/Blasey Ford and mostly the same Republicans at this very moment confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. But wait, don’t lose hope, we are out in the streets expressing our displeasure quite vociferously!
Pardon me for feeling like nothing has changed in almost thirty years. I still hear Ice Cube booming in my head, “We’re gonna tear this mother fucker up.” Ice Cube’s an artist and that’s a great song. However, in practical terms, that song and all the left’s protestations have changed little about society in the intervening years. While the left has been expressing its outrage, the right has been taking over state legislatures and redrawing congressional maps. While the left’s been securing academic positions and writing nonsense books that almost no one will ever read, the right’s been think tanking and grooming candidates for future federal judgeships and Supreme Court positions. The result: Republicans are able to control congress despite routinely receiving fewer votes than Democrats. Republicans can win presidential elections without winning the popular vote. Republicans can say “fuck you, Dems” and not even give Merrick Garland a hearing before ramming through their own Jock-O-Rama.
We’ve got a bigger problem now.
What’s that, Ezra? It’s the alternative influencers. In his piece, Klein tracks down a broad enough definition of reactionary thinking to toss the whole intellectual dark web club into that mix. Then he uses a recent report by Data & Society’s Rebecca Lewis to show how naïve, politically mainstream individuals perusing YouTube get ensnared in a web of far right hate.
According to the report, one minute you’re watching Jordan Peterson debate Sam Harris in front of a packed auditorium in London, the next you’re trapped in a maze of Nazi hate with Richard Spencer sucking all the equality and compassion out of you while at the same time shooting you full of misogyny and racism. Not sure how Klein escaped appearing on one of the study’s node maps as he is only two steps away from Spencer himself. Beware, watching Klein on YouTube could quickly hurl you down a chute into a giant vat of white supremacy in the mere blink of an eye.
The AIN Network Paths map has to be seen to be believed. It looks like a vast Chutes and Ladders game of alleged right wing conspiracy. By the way, Joe Rogan’s in there too. If an Alex Jones, or anyone on the right for that matter, depicted the left in a similar manner, they would be mocked mercilessly as a crackpot conspiracy theorist. I wonder if Rebecca Lewis constructed an enormous mock up on the wall of her office before revealing it to the world. Better yet, maybe the network paths map covered the entirety of the walls and ceilings of Data & Society a la Stranger Things.
So, of course, for Lewis the answer to prevent the systematic indoctrination of individuals who are easy prey for this sort of thing is to censor YouTube channels. To his credit, I guess, Ezra Klein calls this solution controversial and doesn’t address it, but he doesn’t condemn it either. He accepts that the algorithm is a recipe for radicalization, always pushing even the most moderate viewer towards extremism.
I’m sure Ezra Klein and his Vox crew reverse engineered the algorithm and successfully isolated the portion where the evil Dr. Hate redirects otherwise well-meaning knowledge seekers into the dark dungeon of racial and ethnic intolerance. I mean, he wouldn’t just accept the word of someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on the internet, calls themselves a digital critic, and makes discoveries that magically fall in line with their ideological framework. Ezra would never do that.
Here’s an idea for Klein and his cohorts, if they’re so worried about these alternative influencers on YouTube, maybe they should get on there and do some alt-alternative influencing rather than advocating deplatforming and demonetizing which are just nicer sounding words for censoring political speech.
Okay, Ezra, now I’m going to go next door and explain intersectionality to my neighbor Merv (his friends call him Dogbreath) in hopes that it might convince him to vote for the Dems this November. Wish me luck.