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White Nationalists Exploiting YouTube’s Youth Appeal

News Brief

When a debate involving the infamous white nationalist Richard Spencer arguing the case for racism was live-streamed on YouTube in January this year, it was briefly the site’s number one trending video worldwide, and it has gone on to attract hundreds of thousands of viewers.

That is one finding of a new report looking at how self-styled “alt-right” extremists such as Spencer have become increasingly effective at using the Google-owned site to get their message across, as they seek to exploit the site’s reach among young people.

The study, produced by Data and Society, a New York-based research group, shows how a range of political ideologies, ranging from libertarians to right-wing extremists, have used the the techniques of commercial brand influencers to build audiences, promote their ideology and make money in the process.

“Social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions,” said Rebecca Lewis, the report’s author.

YouTube and other content-sharing sites face growing pressure to filter the material they allow online. But the Data and Society makes clear how difficult it is to differentiate and set common standards, with far-right influencers cultivating alternative social identities and positioning themselves as “countercultural social underdogs.”

The focus of the debate involving Spencer was so-called “scientific racism,” with participants reviving claims of significant scientific differences between races of humans. The study found that Spencer’s performance went down, eliciting scores of positive comments on the site and on social media.

“I honestly think this is a sign that people are hungry for what’s good for humanity,” one commenter wrote. Another followed up by saying: “Ethnic nationalism is freedom for everybody.”