A new Anti-Defamation League study labels conservative commentators and members of the “Intellectual Dark Web” as “gateways” to extremist content.
The five authors of the Anti-Defamation League study titled “Exposure to Alternative & Extremist Content on YouTube” investigated the idea that YouTube’s algorithm radicalizes those on the right. The study’s list of “alternative” YouTube channels that may lead to radical content included mainstream conservative commentators like The Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro and comedian Steven Crowder, and widely popular members of the “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW) like podcast host Joe Rogan and author and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. The authors of the study stated:
“we find that exposure to alternative YouTube channels that can serve as gateways to more extreme forms of content and to extremist or white supremacist channels is disturbingly common among a group of Americans.”
The study looked at YouTube channels that it classified as either “alternative” or “extremist.” The authors consulted previous studies and lists from leftist groups like Data & Society, a group funded in part by liberal billionaire George Soros, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to compile lists for this study.
The list of “alternative” channels, which the authors insisted could lead to more extreme content, include a list of many prominent conservative and IDW content producers. In addition to those already mentioned, some of the channels included NewsmaxTV host Michelle Malkin, Timcast podcast host Tim Pool, Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe, radio host and PragerU founder Dennis Prager, radio host Larry Elder, BlazeTV host Dave Rubin, and independent political commentator Lauren Chen. The channels also included The Daily Wire contributors Andrew Klavan, Michael Knowles and Candace Owens.
The “extremist” channels list was compiled in part from the SPLC, which has received criticism from Influence Watch for “characterizing non-violent conventional conservative organizations as equivalent to violent extremists.” The SPLC has wrongly targeted people and organizations in the past. For example, it promotes an infamous “hate map,” which played a role in Floyd Lee Corkins’s shooting at the Family Research Council headquarters in 2012.
The ADL did not provide the full list of YouTube channels used in the study when contacted by the Media Research Center.
The study concluded that users who viewed extremist videos were more likely to get recommendations to view similar videos, and were more likely to view the recommended videos. The study reluctantly admitted that users who are not already predisposed to extremist beliefs, do not get exposed to more extremist content.
“We do not find clear evidence that YouTube frequently exposes people with neutral or mixed views on issues such as race to alternative or extremist content.”
Authors of the study included: Annie Y. Chen, Research Associate at Dartmouth College; Brendan Nyhan, professor of government at Dartmouth College; Jason Reifler, professor of political science at the University of Exeter; Ronald E. Roberston, PhD student at Northeastern University; and Christo Wilson, an associate professor of computer science at Northeastern University.
When discussing the findings on Twitter, study co-author and Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan made clear his liberal bias concerning the study’s subject matter. Nyhan said in a tweet that the results were “[m]ore consistent with demand finding supply (alas).” This finding does not support the usual leftist talking point, as summarized by Media Matters, that radical videos “rise up in the recommendations algorithm, leading more new viewers to see them in their list of recommended videos.”
Nyhan noted on Twitter that the “[f]indings raise serious concerns,” and summarized the caveats from the study to include that the sample was “not nationally representative,” and that “YouTube has changed a lot; findings surely would have differed in the past.”
Nyhan was an organizer of Bright Line Watch, a leftist group that pushed the idea that former President Donald Trump was a challenge to democracy. The group admittedly takes funding from leftist groups like Democracy Fund, a group that helps fund groups like Politifact and Rock the Vote.
The study was funded and released by the Anti-Defamation League, a group that has taken a sharp turn to the left under the leadership of current CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt. Greenblatt was a former staffer in the Obama administration.
The ADL, founded to combat anti-Semitism, has recently taken on liberal causes with no seeming relationship to its founding principles. The organization pushed for the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act and for “unfettered abortion,” “disregarding concerns over religious freedoms raised by members of the Orthodox Jewish community,” according to an article in the New York Post. The ADL has publicly stated that it has received donations from companies such as Apple, Uber, and J.P. Morgan, according to Business Day.
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