Kevin Roose, a technology writer for the New York Times, made a front-page splash on Sunday with “The Making of a YouTube Radical – How the Site’s Algorithms Played Into the Hands of the Far Right.” A caption underneath a photo of the story’s subject: “Caleb Cain likens the far right on YouTube to a “decentralized cult.”
The interactive version is graphically rich, dominated by an enormous collage of some of the ostensibly harmful YouTube clips Cain watched over several years, and the 4,000-word plus print version take up two full inside pages.
The online subhead:
Caleb Cain was a college dropout looking for direction. He turned to YouTube….Soon, he was pulled into a far-right universe, watching thousands of videos filled with conspiracy theories, misogyny and racism.
Roose opened dramatically, like a revenge tale:
Caleb Cain pulled a Glock pistol from his waistband, took out the magazine and casually tossed both onto the kitchen counter.
Cain claimed he was getting death threats “from right-wing trolls in response to a video he had posted on YouTube a few days earlier. In the video, he told the story of how, as a liberal college dropout struggling to find his place in the world, he had gotten sucked into a vortex of far-right politics on YouTube.”
Roose, who works for the anti-gun Times, didn’t blink about the impulsive gun purchase.
Mr. Cain, 26, recently swore off the alt-right nearly five years after discovering it, and has become a vocal critic of the movement. He is scarred by his experience of being radicalized by what he calls a “decentralized cult” of far-right YouTube personalities, who convinced him that Western civilization was under threat from Muslim immigrants and cultural Marxists, that innate I.Q. differences explained racial disparities, and that feminism was a dangerous ideology.
Over years of reporting on internet culture, I’ve heard countless versions of Mr. Cain’s story: an aimless young man — usually white, frequently interested in video games — visits YouTube looking for direction or distraction and is seduced by a community of far-right creators.
Some young men discover far-right videos by accident, while others seek them out. Some travel all the way to neo-Nazism, while others stop at milder forms of bigotry.
For Roose, right-leaning YouTube is a continuum of bigotry. He leaves the status of YouTube personalities on that continuum distressingly (purposely?) vague, which made it convenient to taint them all with the smear of alt-right bigotry. He loosely threw in internet comedian and provocateur Steven Crowder (who is separately being demonetized by YouTube after pressure from gay rights groups) and his “shock-jock antics.”