Right-wing YouTube, left-wing YouTube

This June 2019 video from the USA is called HOW BREADTUBE CAN BEAT THE ALT-RIGHT.

Translated from Dutch ‘liberal’ monthly Vrij Nederland, by Pim van den Berg:

YouTube facilitates extreme right-wing radicalization. This was demonstrated, eg, in a study earlier this year by de Volkskrant daily and De Correspondent that charts radicalization on the social video platform. The radicalization of the right appears to be much more extensive than on the left and with a few mouse clicks you can end up from a ‘neutral’ front page to the places of YouTube where climate denialists, homophobes and transphobes, racists, anti-Semites and haters of women make their daily living by publishing countless hours of footage.

Out of frustration with the continued popularity of the extreme right on YouTube, more and more left-wing video makers are now taking matters into their own hands. They turn directly to popular, right-wing YouTubers to combat the radicalization of their (young) viewers and to put alternative ideas against it. They are trying to capture YouTube back from the right-wing radicals who got it.

An interesting article, though I have some criticism.

The article suggests that the far right is more popular than the left on YouTube. It does not mention one of the reasons why this might be so: YouTube, like its parent corporation Google and other internet corporations, censors anti-fascist content. While the Dutch Nederlandse Volks-Unie Adolf Hitler admirers, German neo-nazis, etc. are not removed.

Still, there is more left-wing content on YouTube than this article mentions. The article basically limits itself to the Anglo-Saxon part of YouTube. While in Germany, videos against the climate denialism of the extreme right AFD party, and the climate laziness of the ‘centre-right’ CDU-CSU and the ‘centre-left’ SPD in their coalition government, attracted over four million, respectively over sixteen million, views. The videos called on YouTube watchers not to vote for these three parties.

These left-wing YouTubers have been named “BreadTube”, a socialist word joke that refers to the 1892 book The Conquest of Bread by the Russian anarcho-communist writer Peter Kropotkin. In the book, “conquering bread” is a metaphor for claiming what is necessary for a worthy and secure existence.

Many of the first fans of left YouTubers were anarchists. Which one of them was the first to use the term “BreadTube” is unclear, but it is no longer anarchist. BreadTube is not an official collective, nor is there an organization behind it: it is above all a useful term to label the popular movement.

The Alt-Right Playbook

Ian Danskin is part of it. On his channel Innuendo Studios, he makes videos about politics, philosophy and pop culture, especially games, for his 200,000 subscribers. Last year he started a video series entitled “The Alt-Right Playbook”, in which he gradually explains the beliefs, strategies and rhetorical pitfalls of the political right, portrayed by endearing, simple cartoon figures on a grey background.

This video is called “Death of A Euphemism”.

In “Death of A Euphemism”, for example, he explains how Trump’s racist views and policies are not necessarily new, it was previously just not acceptable to openly propagate them. The fact that Trump can speak so openly about “rapists and murderers” from “shithole countries” indicates that those statements have found sufficient support in American society.

“I do not have concrete goals like “de-radicalize fascists” or “turn people to the left”, but I hope a little that they do,” says Danskin via email. “With “The Alt-Right Playbook” I mainly try to understand complex political problems and to share what I gradually learn. Hopefully, I have some solutions at the end, and my audience will then use them.” …

This video is called The Alt-Right Playbook: The Card Says Moops.

Theatrical jacket

BreadTubers are aware of the dusty, pedantic image of the left. Some video makers therefore put the theory in a theatrical look. In her video “The Left”, ContraPoints – real name Natalie Wynn – performs as two speakers, each played by Wynn herself. The first one is a fascist, certain of his cause, propagating the threat of a crippled and destroyed white man’s world crystal clearly and passionately. Then she plays a left-wing activist, an uncomfortable figure dressed as a human-cat, including ears, who protrudes through the squeaking feedback from the microphone about the metaphysical views of Hegel.

Wynn films long monologues on topics such as Jordan Peterson and incels – young men who have not had sex yet and gather on forums and social media to blame women for everything that bothers them. Topics that concern young, right-wing people. But in the first place she is compassionate and understanding of the reasons that her potential (radical) right-wing viewers have for their hateful views. Bathed in pastel light, dressed in baroque costumes and armed with humour, she takes the sharp edges off her subjects and brightens up the philosophical theory with which she substantiates her arguments. …

The British YouTuber Oliver Thorn has made it his trademark under the name “Philosophy Tube”. With his theater background, he goes further in the decoration than Wynn and Danskin: in “Abortion & Ben Shapiro” he changes his elegant British accent to play a parody of American right-wing influencer Ben Shapiro. …

In his video “Climate Denial: A Measured Response”, Harris Brewis (“Hbomberguy”) responds to Shapiro’s statement that if the sea level will rises meters in the coming century, then people can safely sell their houses and move, nothing to worry about.

After a short zoom on Shapiro’s self-satisfied face, the image shifts to the floral wallpaper of Brewis’s empty studio. Suddenly a hatchet blasts through the back wall. Moaning and roaring, Brewis chops a hole with multiple blows, through which he sticks his head through as Jack Nicholson in The Shining. He shouts straight into the camera: “One small problem: SELL THEIR HOUSES TO WHOM, BEN? FUCKING AQUAMAN?!”

The humour, theoretical foundation and beautiful decoration convince and work contagiously, but it takes more time and effort to make than the videos of many right-wing YouTubers, who often talk randomly to the camera about the conspiracies of imaginary enemies of the so-called superior, white, western society. …

A YouTuber like Danskin only releases a video once a month. It is the flip side of care and nuance, and one of the reasons that the radical right thrives on YouTube. The more videos you can release, the more advertising revenue you can get and the less you depend on crowdfunding and sponsors.

Left YouTube is marginal in the Netherlands. Cherry Baguette, with her analyzing of the views of Baudet and Wilders, or Oscar and the Anticapitalista Podcast, which recently published a refutation of a video by [right-winger] Jensen, attracts a few hundred views at most.

In the case of Oscar and the Anticapitalista Podcast, I cannot check whether Vrij Nederland is right about a ‘few hundred views’. As it has been removed from YouTube. YouTube censorship? Self-censorship?

But even though BreadTube is structurally at a disadvantage, it seems to be growing faster than YouTube on the right.

Bernhard Rieder conducts research into the history and politics of algorithms and software, including at the University of Amsterdam and at the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI). The aforementioned research by De Correspondent and the Volkskrant was conducted with the data tools that he developed with the DMI. …

Due to the higher quality of their videos and stronger arguments, they also remain relevant for longer. “Yes, Ben Shapiro publishes many more videos, but if you compare the total number of views on his channel with that of ContraPoints, you see that she is not far behind. And her videos are also a lot longer, so viewers spend a lot longer with those videos. ”

“I don’t know how much is right about the numbers,” says Danskin. “But if they are correct, that confirms the suspicion that I have been around for a while: BreadTube is growing while conservative YouTube has reached its ceiling.”

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