Over the weekend, The New York Times decided to print a front-page story depicting YouTube as nothing more than a den of far-right radicals. The piece was published just days after YouTube began its most recent “purge” of personalities that the left decries, even while predictably taking down the channels of journalists, scholars, and other innocent bystanders.
The Times didn’t rely on studies or internal evidence from YouTube for their report — they focused on the viewing habits of one guy, and used that to cheer on Google’s anti-free speech policies.
Both in print and online, the piece greets you with photos of an array of “far-right” personalities who were allegedly a part of “making a YouTube radical.” But as Caleb Hull noted, the NYTimes’ pictures of “radicals” on YouTube include Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, who wrote the seminal classic Free to Choose; Ben Shapiro, founder of the Daily Wire and receiver of mountains of hate mail from the anti-Semitic alt-right; and University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson.
These three are intermixed with other accounts who are either shock-jock alt-right like Paul Joseph Anderson, or just outright racists.
In other words, the NYTimes is accusing anyone who holds mainstream conservative ideals of being extremists. They don’t see any difference between Milton Friedman and Richard Spencer.
Next, the Times goes out of its way to blame YouTube’s algorithm for creating playlists of extremism for the subject of their piece, Paul Cain. Mr. Cain offers up his YouTube viewing history for the Times to examine, which the story says is “a log of more than 12,000 videos and more than 2,500 search queries dating to 2015.”
Stop right there — “more than 2,500 search queries.”
That’s about five videos per search term. Here’s something you should know about algorithms and artificial intelligence platforms: they don’t just randomly guess what the viewer wants — they are taught by the information you feed them.
In this case: Mr. Cain wasn’t a hapless bystander being supplied racist videos by YouTube — he sought these videos out. The Times is alleging that this guy — who willingly chose to seek out, search for, and watch these videos — is a “brainwashed person.”
If this is true, I’m currently getting brainwashed by Chicago Cubs propaganda since I turned on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.
The final proof for the NYTimes that Cain is a radical comes in this line: “BY THE NIGHT OF NOV. 8, 2016, Mr. Cain’s transformation was complete. He spent much of the night watching clips of Ms. Clinton’s supporters crying after the election was called in Mr. Trump’s favor.”
I mean… Who didn’t?
Now, there’s no doubt Cain jumped off the deep end. The story says he watched nearly 4,000 YouTube videos in 2016 alone, and increasingly included racist conspiracy theories, misogyny, and other bigotry. He’s not a stable man.
But this isn’t the story of how YouTube made Cain a radical — it’s a story of how Cain is YouTube junkie who gets all his meaning in life from YouTube videos. And that’s when the Times brings in the heroes of the story, creators from the group BreadTube.
The Times piece bills the BreadTube group as just a plucky group of liberals trying to fix the world, “a new group of YouTubers who are trying to build a counterweight to YouTube’s far-right flank.”
That’d be great if it were true.
All Cain did was go from one extreme of the internet to the other. BreadTube is part of the ChapoTrapHouse part of the left, the self-styled “dirtbag left.” It’s full of Jew-hating anti-Semites praising Jeremy Corbyn, pushing extreme socialism — which the Times describes as discussions of Marxist economics (insert a hard eye-roll) — and all the destructive, woke politics you see in the news.
The Times almost has a revelation on this point; the author writes: “Near the end of our interview, I told Mr. Cain that I found it odd that he had successfully climbed out of a right-wing YouTube rabbit hole, only to jump into a left-wing YouTube rabbit hole.”
But that point is shoved aside. The Times doesn’t see there being a problem with far-left video creators pushing lies and evil ideas of the world. (Crack open a book and see how well anti-Semitism and Marxism have mixed over time.) The only problem is with the right.
It’s like when the left was suddenly outraged at Facebook for giving data to the Trump campaign when the Obama campaign’s social media tactics got non-stop praise.
Nic Carter made a fantastic point about what is really happening here: “Pearl clutching about the YouTube algorithm isn’t about saving America’s youth from radicalism, it’s about driving a wedge between establishment mouthpieces like the NYT and the amateur content creators that have been outdoing them for a decade… If the mainstream press can strongarm YouTube into created a stilted, heavily regulated environment for content creation, they entrench themselves at the expense of upstart/insurgent outlets.”
The Times doesn’t care about radicalization, they don’t care about Cain, and they don’t care about persuasion or ideas. They care that they’re losing position and weight to places like YouTube, and if they help push a large censorship mob, they protect their place in the world.
This is about a gatekeeper terrified of the new world. Instead of restricting places like YouTube, we should encourage them to open up more. That will ensure the creation of more Madisonian factions, which is precisely what we need — not strong gatekeepers.