23 votes

How YouTube Radicalized Brazil

24 comments

  1. [3]
    KapteinB Link
    Future history books are going to be completely bizarre. Hopefully there will be a very brief chapter about how social media's quest for maximised profits nearly destroyed our democracy. Worst...

    Future history books are going to be completely bizarre.

    Hopefully there will be a very brief chapter about how social media's quest for maximised profits nearly destroyed our democracy. Worst case that chapter will read how social media helped free the silent majority from the tyranny of the liberal elite under the glorious leadership of [insert local dictator's name here]. Either way it will have bunch of quotes from world leaders' Twitter accounts, complete with typos and CAPITALISED WORDS seemingly at random.

    15 votes
    1. [2]
      NaraVara Link Parent
      In the early to mid-90s there was a pretty strong subculture based around total hostility to advertising and a big part of early internet culture was very strongly rooted in being anti-marketing....

      In the early to mid-90s there was a pretty strong subculture based around total hostility to advertising and a big part of early internet culture was very strongly rooted in being anti-marketing. When the web started being more and more ad driven they were definitely sounding the alarm about where it was going to head, though I don't think even they predicted how invasive and privacy-compromising things would get.

      I think nowadays, we've gotten so used to surveillance-based advertising that we've totally forgotten that we used to get outraged at the manipulative effects of non-surveillance based advertising. But even quaint propaganda is still propaganda.

      14 votes
      1. elcuello Link Parent
        Some of us haven't forgotten by you make a good point sadly.

        Some of us haven't forgotten by you make a good point sadly.

        1 vote
  2. [5]
    hungariantoast (edited ) Link
    Why is left-wing/leftist content on YouTube not experiencing growth like far-right content is? It is known that conspiracy theories and these kinds of far-right and/or populist politics generally...

    Why is left-wing/leftist content on YouTube not experiencing growth like far-right content is?

    It is known that conspiracy theories and these kinds of far-right and/or populist politics generally thrive by simplifying the complex issues of our complex world, but does that explain why leftist content isn't similarly thriving?

    Could you honestly argue that right wing politics thrives on simplicity, immaturity, and easily consumable content in the form of videos, while left wing politics builds itself up on the nuance of complex issues in a more mature way with less easily consumable content, like text? Would that explain the seeming absence of leftist content on YouTube?

    I guess what I'm wondering is, does right wing politics thrive through simplified ideas transmitted through immature, more easily consumable mediums? Does left wing politics thrive through investigation and nuance, but suffer by not being able to easily transmit those ideas across easily consumable mediums like video? Instead needing a medium that's more tedious, more mature, and less massively consumable like text?


    Keeping in mind that, yes, text is less "massively" or "easily" consumable than video for most people, I think. It's very easy for most people to pick up on the details and nuance of a person's attitude or opinion from watching or hearing them. Transmitting those human factors of the author's work in the form of text is much more difficult in that the quality of work demands more effort and skill compared to just being able to make a certain face or exaggerate your voice in a video.

    Also, when I say text is "more mature" what I mean is, the people who consume content more through text than video (when the option is available) tend to be more mature. I love my family, but politically, they're very immature. They almost exclusively derive any sort of opinion on political subjects through video content they consume. It's like pulling teeth to get them to sit down and actually read an article. I'm not afraid to say that I think people who read moar are generally more mature, better informed, or at least better at defending their opinions than people who primarily consume videos.


    But what about populism? That's something that's present in both left and right circles and seems to, on either end, gain popularity through simplification of facts and ideas.

    Regardless of all that though, keep in mind that, when I say "left-wing" or "leftist" I don't mean "disagrees with right-wing", I mean actual leftist stuff, like socialist, anarchist, and communist ideas, not liberal/capitalist perspectives (through there's certainly some overlap, to be fair).


    Don't crucify me over this comment. I read this article this morning and couldn't get these thoughts out of my head, so I decided to just post them here. This is my "first take" on this idea, my first time trying to answer these questions for myself. I'll actually do some reading on these ideas when I have time later today.

    10 votes
    1. NaraVara Link Parent
      Left wing politics doesn't, but solutions oriented politics does. The thing is, though, America doesn't have any meaningful left-wing political movements. The most radical mainstream ideas in the...

      I guess what I'm wondering is, does right wing politics thrive through simplified ideas transmitted through immature, more easily consumable mediums? Does left wing politics thrive through investigation and nuance, but suffer by not being able to easily transmit those ideas across easily consumable mediums like video? Instead needing a medium that's more tedious, more mature, and less massively consumable like text?

      Left wing politics doesn't, but solutions oriented politics does. The thing is, though, America doesn't have any meaningful left-wing political movements. The most radical mainstream ideas in the national discourse that get cast as "left wing" involve Medicare for All and an extremely mildly redistributionist wealth tax. Meanwhile, you have actual mainstream right wing politicians and major media sources who are softly or overtly advocating genocide.

      There are insane and toxic leftists out there, but you never really see them outside of fringe subreddits and forums. The most toxic leftists you're likely to see in the wild are the performatively woke types, but the only damage they ever manage to do is hurt journalists' feelings on Twitter. They can't be organized into a cohesive movement because getting people like that to move in any direction is like herding cats.

      If we had major mainstream media organs that enabled toxic left-wing politics to actually make the jump to the real world we might see this same sort of thing, but we don't. The organs that sustain this kind of Right Wing organizing are propped up by insane amounts of money from insane Right Wing billionaires like the Kochs and the NRA.

      9 votes
    2. Deimos (edited ) Link Parent
      This is an interesting talk that @patience_limited posted earlier this year that has some good insight about some topics related to this. As I commented in there, the "data voids" concept is...

      This is an interesting talk that @patience_limited posted earlier this year that has some good insight about some topics related to this. As I commented in there, the "data voids" concept is really interesting, and shows how people can very easily find themselves in a bubble of content from a particular viewpoint because of the vocabulary they were using when they searched to find the "entry point".

      8 votes
    3. tempestoftruth (edited ) Link Parent
      There are quite a few reasons why the right-wing side of YouTube is so much larger. For one, the left has historically been awful at marketing itself and increasing its base of supporters. The...

      There are quite a few reasons why the right-wing side of YouTube is so much larger. For one, the left has historically been awful at marketing itself and increasing its base of supporters. The right on YouTube often uses hateful, racist, and offensive rhetoric and riles people up against perceived enemies, whereas the left on YouTube talks a lot about theory, they put current events in the context of that theory and discuss very complex issues while trying to examine all arguments made in good faith, which isn't as eye-catching or attention-grabbing.

      Many leftists on YouTube have leftist politics but aren't really interested in political action or revolution as much as they are in just creating more content, since that's their passion. Right-wingers seem to be more interested in growing their base of support and reaching more people, and thus changing their content to fit the algorithm. Most LeftTubers are sticking with the quality content they've been providing for years, even if that means slower, more organic growth; you might interpret this as a rejection of populism as you mention it.

      Right-wing YouTubers also get funding from conservative sources, IIRC there is one particularly large channel that gets funding from the Koch brothers (but I don't have a citation for that on-hand). Regardless, you can see the difference just by watching the different channels: leftists on YouTube mostly depend on their patrons, whereas right-wingers on YouTube are getting thousands of dollars from right-wing organizations to pay professional camera teams, release new content every day, and have professional newsroom-type setups in their studios.

      I think the suggestions you're putting forward are generally correct; the most famous leftists on YouTube right now are not ideologues, they're not hardliners, there's nuanced discussion about leftist theory which has historically been generated through books, and so on. I was blown away when I first saw Philosophy Tube and ContraPoints and hbomberguy, specifically the kind of detail and nuance with which they are approaching the subjects they're discussing. You don't really see the same kind of discussion or considerations from the big right-wingers on YouTube.

      That isn't to say that you can't have hateful, racist, offensive leftist content on the Internet; that just isn't really the case on YouTube, at least right now. That stuff is there, perhaps the more abrasive side of the left, but when you think about that you think about Chapo Trap House for example, not really YouTube content, and even that is not really on the same level as some of the stuff the right-wing is putting out.

      7 votes
    4. Death Link Parent
      I think you're missing a crucial element: conspiracy theory and far-right content tends to act on people's feelings of fear and anger, which in turn makes it easier to spread through shares and...

      It is known that conspiracy theories and these kinds of far-right and/or populist politics generally thrive by simplifying the complex issues of our complex world, but does that explain why leftist content isn't similarly thriving?

      I think you're missing a crucial element: conspiracy theory and far-right content tends to act on people's feelings of fear and anger, which in turn makes it easier to spread through shares and recommendation systems which run on "engagement" such as leaving angry comments.

      The model for this is older than the internet though, Fox News or other press outlets, especially those owned by Rupert Murdoch, already noticed this long ago but were never as willing to take it quite as far. Modern Fox News has gotten quite a bit more extreme now that they've had to compete with other extremist content as a result.

      By contrast the older models of Left-wing populism tended to either rely on the dissatisfaction of the mass of workers (which led to union movements and gave birth to European "Labour" parties) or by working up fear of rich shadowy "elites", the latter of which ended up being integrated wholesale into the fascist movements which sprung up before World War II. The former, on the other hand, more or less dissipated as the working classes fragmented, middle classes grew, and interests started diverging.

      The fact that the Cold War has also created a deeply embedded cultural suspicion of organized Socialist and Communist movements also means it's likely harder to get people interested as detractors usually only have to point out the ties between modern Leftist ideology and historical Marxist, Socialist, or Communist movements to make people think twice about it.

      3 votes
  3. [2]
    Deimos (edited ) Link
    Matt Stoller wrote about this article in his newsletter today. He has some interesting thoughts about how Google's business model and Susan Wojcicki's (YouTube's CEO) career and emphasis on...

    Matt Stoller wrote about this article in his newsletter today. He has some interesting thoughts about how Google's business model and Susan Wojcicki's (YouTube's CEO) career and emphasis on metrics over ethics led to this. I'd definitely recommend reading it (you can skip down to below the photo of Wojcicki): How YouTube Came to Promote Fascism

    3 votes
    1. Death Link Parent
      This together with the WIRED article about Google, really cements this idea that the pursuit of profit come hell or high water is what's driving big tech companies to make increasingly...

      This together with the WIRED article about Google, really cements this idea that the pursuit of profit come hell or high water is what's driving big tech companies to make increasingly questionable decisions or disregard the results of their actions. Like the article says Wojcicki is not the sole architect of YouTube as a vector for fear-mongering and fascist content, she merely followed where the systems in place naturally led her, and unless that system is either regulated to no longer allow this to happen or restructured to a point where it doesn't occur naturally the problems are likely going to continue, at everyone's expense.

      2 votes
  4. [10]
    nothis Link
    I see a lot of blame put on "youtube's recommendation engine" but isn't that, at the most, an acceleration of showing you the content that's becoming popular? The real story is that, around 5...

    I see a lot of blame put on "youtube's recommendation engine" but isn't that, at the most, an acceleration of showing you the content that's becoming popular? The real story is that, around 5 years ago, the right (usually not at the top of major technology trends) finally discovered social media in all its glory and noticed how well it's suited for propaganda.

    What is youtube supposed to do? Where should they draw the line? There's some moderation issues but a lot of the most popular right wing youtubers probably don't break any policy. You can blame migrants and feminists very politely.

    The problem is the rise of the right, through technology. The left better has a plan beyond blaming youtube.

    2 votes
    1. [5]
      bbvnvlt Link Parent
      Not really, no. Or at least: not just that. It actively shapes (not fully determines, but powerfully shapes) what becomes popular. YouTube (and other platforms) optimize for user engagement. They...

      I see a lot of blame put on "youtube's recommendation engine" but isn't that, at the most, an acceleration of showing you the content that's becoming popular?

      Not really, no. Or at least: not just that. It actively shapes (not fully determines, but powerfully shapes) what becomes popular. YouTube (and other platforms) optimize for user engagement. They measure success by things like the amount people watch, click, comment. Especially those last two tend to happen more with more extreme content.

      See also this piece by Zeynep Tufekci:

      In effect, YouTube has created a restaurant that serves us increasingly sugary, fatty foods, loading up our plates as soon as we are finished with the last meal. Over time, our tastes adjust, and we seek even more sugary, fatty foods, which the restaurant dutifully provides. When confronted about this by the health department and concerned citizens, the restaurant managers reply that they are merely serving us what we want.

      11 votes
      1. [4]
        nothis Link Parent
        Hmm, I think I get your point. Still, essentially the problem is youtube showing what's popular, right? How on earth would you change that? Why would youtube change it? How would you formulate a...

        Hmm, I think I get your point. Still, essentially the problem is youtube showing what's popular, right? How on earth would you change that? Why would youtube change it? How would you formulate a law that forces them? It all seems a bit futile.

        1. [3]
          bbvnvlt Link Parent
          I don't really agree, no. YouTube (and other platforms) skew heavily towards things that make people 'engage', which in practice often means promoting/suggesting things that make people angry or...

          Still, essentially the problem is youtube showing what's popular, right?

          I don't really agree, no. YouTube (and other platforms) skew heavily towards things that make people 'engage', which in practice often means promoting/suggesting things that make people angry or indignant, which is to say more extreme views. In other words, it actively promotes fringe views and making those (more) popular. You start by watching a factual explainer about the rules of impeachment, and 1 or 2 videos down the suggestion-chain YT is serving you conspiracy theories.

          And even if it would just be positive feedback making what's popular more popular, there are ways of mitigating the negative effects of this (although this would probably hurt platform's profitability). An interesting take on this is this piece by Robin Sloan, which is in the form of a post thread on a fictional social media platform designed along such lines. Quote:

          Maybe… the same algorithms that presently identify popular messages and promote them could have the opposite effect, like those circuit breakers in stock exchanges. They could be wired to the brakes instead of the gas.

          5 votes
          1. [2]
            nothis Link Parent
            Very interesting link, thanks! Is that entire website just up for this single post? I don't quite get it.

            Very interesting link, thanks!

            Is that entire website just up for this single post? I don't quite get it.

            1. bbvnvlt Link Parent
              Yes. It's posted as if on a fictional social media platform designed according to what he's talking about. Sloan likes to experiment with media.

              Is that entire website just up for this single post? I don't quite get it.

              Yes. It's posted as if on a fictional social media platform designed according to what he's talking about. Sloan likes to experiment with media.

              1 vote
    2. [2]
      elcuello Link Parent
      On the other hand I'm sick and tired of people just saying "but what can [insert tech company] do?" It's right there in the article. They've proven that the algorithm is fucked and is causing a...

      On the other hand I'm sick and tired of people just saying "but what can [insert tech company] do?" It's right there in the article. They've proven that the algorithm is fucked and is causing a LOT of misinformation. How about start fixing that or at least shut it the fuck down until it's working properly? OK, maybe none of the content providers is breaking any laws but how about these companies take a fucking stance anyway huh? This is not directed at you specifically, nothis.

      7 votes
      1. nothis (edited ) Link Parent
        I agree. I mentioned "moderation issues" in passing, probably downplaying them too much. Youtube absolutely has a responsibility to untangle their uncontrolled, ad-fueled growth and the...

        I agree. I mentioned "moderation issues" in passing, probably downplaying them too much. Youtube absolutely has a responsibility to untangle their uncontrolled, ad-fueled growth and the dangerous/illegal content that results from that.

        What I'm saying is, in this specific case, we're basically discussing a blurry line that should be clearer but the problem here exists even within the most strict boundaries. Like, I doubt there's a single Jordan Peterson talk that breaks a community guideline yet his stuff is probably a top tier trendsetter in blaming feminism for a lot of society's ills through pseudo-intellectual gibberish.

        At one point, it's probably necessary to actually speak back. I mostly see the left scoff and roll their eyes while hoping for the "obviously" flawed arguments to disappear. Yet they don't. For example, I'd say a sane counter-measure to badly argued propaganda would be a recommendation for a video that presents the opposite view. I think youtube could be set up for this right now. But when I go on youtube (with all my content blockers that basically make youtube think I'm a new users every time I watch a video), I exclusively see right-ish-wing politics videos. Maybe it's because the left simply isn't present.

        3 votes
    3. userexec Link Parent
      I think a lot of the problem is that the algorithms are designed to engage people, but the easiest way to engage someone is through emotions that aren't necessarily constructive or don't represent...

      I think a lot of the problem is that the algorithms are designed to engage people, but the easiest way to engage someone is through emotions that aren't necessarily constructive or don't represent our virtues. We're always by and large going to pull the easiest lever to get the most rewards, and in the context of content this favors things that stoke our fears, insecurities, and angers simply because those are quicker and easier to process for most people. I don't see it as so much a moderation problem--good luck moderating human nature--but rather a fundamental structural problem with how people consume content. And it's not even remotely a new problem, it's just the tools have become so effective now that it's become a societal crisis.

      I kind of imagine it as the dust bowl, just with content. Humanity still had the same urges and behaved the same way throughout history, but the content mediums were ineffective and scarce enough that consuming radicalizing content wasn't much easier than consuming content that played to our virtues. Things like yellow journalism were too localized to add up to a disaster, but now that the tools allow instant, near infinite reach, the once tiny difference in difficulty of consuming content that plays to our worst versus best traits is now practically a gulf. Failing to use dryland farming methods here and there doesn't add up to a large-scale ecological disaster, but once it's the easiest, most efficient reward mechanism and becomes ubiquitous there's a major problem.

      As for what YouTube is supposed to do, I'm not sure. I don't think it's a YouTube problem exactly. It's a digital problem. Individual tool makers policing themselves is a very nice gesture and would stem the tide for a short while, but when the whole context in which the tools are used is the problem and there are infinite tool makers, I really doubt it will permanently address the issue.

      The left absolutely better have a plan beyond blaming YouTube. Really, society better have a plan. Assuming the modern internet isn't going anywhere, how do we re-engineer so people's preference for instant gratification and easily triggered emotions is channeled toward good outcomes?

      4 votes
    4. annadane Link Parent
      When Youtube was at its best, when it wasn't showing blatant disrespect to their users, the recommended videos for "Generic video part 1" tended to be "Generic video part 2" or "Another...

      When Youtube was at its best, when it wasn't showing blatant disrespect to their users, the recommended videos for "Generic video part 1" tended to be "Generic video part 2" or "Another interesting video like that by the uploader" or "Videos related to the same subject as generic video". Now? You can watch a music video and get American Idol videos shoved in your face, you can watch basically any video and see "Jordan Peterson DESTROYS such and such". Now, it's "just an algorithm". But people have complained about Youtube for years and years and they haven't listened. They absolutely optimize for engagement and it pisses me off.

      2 votes
  5. [4]
    elcuello Link
    It's not available in private mode. Any way around it other than creating an account because that's not gonna happen?

    It's not available in private mode. Any way around it other than creating an account because that's not gonna happen?

    1. [3]
      ruspaceni Link Parent
      I screenshotted it for ya
      4 votes
      1. [2]
        feigneddork Link Parent
        Also another screenshot as the one provided cuts off at the end.

        Also another screenshot as the one provided cuts off at the end.

        1 vote
        1. ruspaceni Link Parent
          whoops, I guess I should have double checked that since it was the first time using firefoxes built in page grabber.. Thanks for fixing it

          whoops, I guess I should have double checked that since it was the first time using firefoxes built in page grabber.. Thanks for fixing it

          3 votes