One eye-opening aspect of a just released study by a pair of Penn State political science professors suggests that YouTube content by popular conservative figures such as Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, and Dennis Prager actually contributes to "de-radicalization" of viewers who might otherwise be glued to "alt-right" content as opposed to radicalization.
In "A Supply and Demand Framework for YouTube Politics," authors Kevin Munger and Joseph Phillips describe members of what they call the Alternative Influence Network, which has challenged the mainstream media online — and for the purposes of the study, on YouTube.
The authors created five AIN categories — and one is "Conservatives" who include the likes of "Steven Crowder, famous for setting up booths at college campuses challenging people to 'change his mind' about a conservative/pro-[President Donald] Trump belief; Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart reporter known for criticizing the left for their use of 'feelings over facts'; and Dennis Prager, host of 'PragerU,' a channel that expresses conservative viewpoints with an educational motif."
Interestingly the study places other popular YouTube figures outside the "Conservatives" category who nevertheless have generally appealed to conservative figures and conservative audiences — e.g., podcaster Joe Rogan ("Liberals") along with anti-PC professor Jordan Peterson and former left-wing commentator Dave Rubin ("Skeptics").
For example, Shapiro has interviewed Rogan, Rubin, and Peterson; and Rogan and Rubin both have interviewed Shapiro. In fact, there's a lengthy video showing Shapiro, Rubin, and Peterson all in conversation together.
The study goes on to describe Conservatives in the following way:
Like the Skeptics, they often lampoon the use of identity politics and de-platforming by mainstream progressive social movements, but unlike skeptics, they also disagree with mainstream liberals in principle. They tend to have more traditional pro-market and socially conservative beliefs. They are different from further-right segments of the AIN, however, in that they explicitly oppose anti-semitism and open appeals to race.
What did the study find?
The telling tidbit of the study noted trends in monthly YouTube viewership between January 2013 and November 2018, explaining that between 2013 and 2016, all members of the Alternative Influence Network — including the more extreme "Alt-Lite and Alt-Right" categories — increased their viewership.
But since the middle of 2017, the study said the latter two categories "have seen a steep decline in viewership. By contrast, Conservative and Liberal content creators — who have much more in common with mainstream discourse than other segments of the AIN — have either continued to grow or plateaued in viewership."
In addition, the study said such "patterns are inconsistent with radicalization happening at a major scale; indeed, from these data alone, de-radicalization seems a more plausible baseline hypothesis. This does not rule out the possibility that some people are making the ideological journey from Liberals to Skeptics to the far-right, but this is certainly not the dominant trend."
In addition, around the time viewership of Conservative content on YouTube began "skyrocketing," the study also said "Conservative content creation also rose dramatically. Conversely, despite the Alt-Lite and Alt-Right stepping up its content creation activity in 2017-2018, viewership of such content has been declining."
More from the study:
Our preferred explanation for these trends are as follows: Previous increases in viewership of Alt-Lite, and to a lesser extent, Alt-Right content reflected such content being the most ideologically adjacent to conservative users. This content did not align with most users' views, however, and increased competition from traditional Conservative and Liberal viewpoints enticed large portions of the this audience to abandon what was once the only game in town.
Here's a clip of Shapiro and Crowder chatting about President Donald Trump's trade policy:
Trump's Trade Policy Isn't Foolproof youtu.be
(H/T: The Daily Wire)