The Intellectual Dark Web is winning on YouTube – for now

By Declan Carey


THE Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) is a group of political commentators furious at the identity politics of our age – and they want you to be too.

Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, and Jordan Peterson are familiar faces in the internet world and create videos discussing the erosion of free speech, among other topics, reaching millions of people.

Ben Shapiro for example launched his YouTube channel in 2016 after leaving his role as editor-at-large at Breitbart News, reaching more than 130,000,000 views.

The Rubin Report has over 2,000 videos available to watch and clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson’s channel currently boasts 2.8 million subscribers.

As traditional news outlets struggle to survive, most recently in the wake of the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show show being taken off air due to funding, the low cost of the YouTube world allows creators to reach huge audiences without many of the challenges.

On the surface, the IDW don’t make extraordinary claims: “I don’t believe other people have the right to determine what language I use” Dr Peterson remarked in an interview on transgender pronouns with CBN News in 2016.

READ MORE: What is the Intellectual Dark Web and what does it stand for?

Few would disagree. But there is an argument that by targeting free speech rather than pronouns, Peterson can avoid being directly challenged on the issue and at the same time highlight it in a negative way.

Indeed researchers found that viewers who regularly watch the IDW videos on YouTube consistently migrate to more extreme content over time, sparking fears that the group may be acting as a gateway for more radical politics.

Marta Lorimer, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Exeter and Guest Teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science, explains that alternative media sites offer platforms for far-right views and help them to reach a large number of people.

She told Redaction Politics: “For quite a long time traditional media has actually refused to cover the far-right.

“This is something that has been a really big debate and there is research on this as well that some media thought that if you start covering the far-right you are essentially giving them a platform which means that their ideas are going to reach more people.

“Media outlets have been divided between the thought that a lot of people are voting for them so we have to cover them because this is how democracy works, and others who have tried to establish the approach that they are not going to platform them, not giving them a chance to speak and this way they will maybe go away.

“New media has given them a way to spread their ideas, reach a lot of people and it has removed the gatekeeper, it has been incredibly helpful for them to have that kind of platform.

“My view is that you have to be careful about how you platform them and how society wants to platform them.

“I am not sure that it is right to not let them talk but when you do let them speak you should not give them free reign to say whatever they want, you have to have an interview to be able to counter some of the things they are saying.

“That way their ideas are going to be out there but you are also going to be able to show the counterpart.

“I am not entirely in favour of no platforming but if you do decide to platform then you have to be very careful about how you do it.”

The IDW do sometimes go further and use more controversial language to discuss their ideas.

Ben Shapiro released a video in 2016 named ‘Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Transgenderism And Pro-Abortion Arguments’ which currently has 3.6 million views.

In the clip Shapiro debates a young woman, ending with the two appearing to agree that rapists should face castration or the death penalty.

Dr Lorimer argues that in the online world, the choice of language is critical to widening the appeal of the right and attracting attention.

She said: “There is this language of emergency which is very recurrent in the way they talk about things. 

“And if you are talking about destroying, this is just the internet, this is how the internet works. You need clickbait, you need extreme titles, that’s how you gain attention.

“So part of it is sheer marketing but the other is a much border ideological framing which comes from the far right which is really talking about the fact that there is a crisis, there is danger such as the Nigel Farage breaking point poster and that’s what we’re dealing with.

“They have these ideas which you can’t really disagree with. You can’t say you disagree with free speech right? We all care about free speech but we don’t necessarily interpret it the way they do.

“To give a bit of historical reference to the French Nouvelle Droite [New Right]. Steve Bannon invented nothing, Steve Bannnon is basically going back to ideas that the French were talking about in the 70s.

“One of the big things of the Nouvelle Droite was that they were trying to make the language that the right uses more acceptable.

“So instead of talking about race, talk about identity. So for example they said they are not racist, we don’t don’t believe there is a hierarchy between different ethinic groups because that’s what racists do. We think that all ethnic groups are equal.

“A frequent thing they do is say some outrageous claim and then when someone picks up on it say no that’s not what I said.

“But meanwhile this message is being amplified so the original message is out there. It’s a fairly helpful way for them to make sure some of those extreme messages are out there but they can deny it afterwards and say oh not this never happened.”

However, groups like the IDW are not completely unchallenged on YouTube.

BreadTube is a term describing a group of online creators who advocate for the left, creating videos in support of left wing ideas.

Accounts like ContraPoints by Natalie Wynn, Philosophy Tube by Oliver Thorn and Harry Brewis’ Hbomberguy have all directly responded to the IDW attempting to point out flaws in their arguments.

The number of subscribers isn’t at the same level of the IDW, but video views are in the millions such as ContraPoints’ ‘Jordan Peterson’ video.

In the episode, Wynn takes issue with a number of Peterson’s ideas and describes his focus on self-help as a ‘trojan horse’ for a deeper political agenda.

While left and right commentators continue to utilise alternative media for debate, sites like YouTube are quickly evolving into important spaces for global politics.


Featured Image: Gage Skidmore @Flickr

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