We all know that feeling. You decide you have some extra time on your hands and you immediately reach for your phone. And though you originally intended to only watch the highlights of yesterday’s football game, 45 minutes later you end up in the “weird” parts of YouTube, taking in videos you never meant to watch. For many, this may mean something along the lines of “Dave Rubin Calmly Destroys a Crazed Hyper-Victim,” a video that has racked up more than 10 million views on YouTube. For some reason it seems more and more difficult to find an inner satisfaction from watching such content.

This particular phenomenon of sorts has led to an unmistakable rise in conservatism on YouTube. Led by polemicists, comedians and thinkers such as Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder and Michael J. Knowles, this conservative wave has surprisingly stained the backend of YouTube red. Channels such as PragerU (1.8 million YouTube subscribers), Steven Crowder (over 3 million subscribers) and The Daily Wire (over 1 million subscribers) serve as a testament to this growth. That’s not to mention individual videos such as “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Transgenderism and Pro-Abortion Arguments” and “FEMINIST & SJW OWNED COMPILATION 2017 #2 (Destroyed Edition)” raking up 3.9 million and 4.4 million views respectively. And these channels are growing too. Stats show Steven Crowder’s channel has increased its monthly views from 2.2 million in January 2016 to over 40 million today. 

We’re seeing this increasingly conservative wave in the millennial population, of which, according to a study by the Case Foundation, more than 50 percent of millenial constituents identify as conservative, compared with 43 percent identifying as liberal, a marked difference from years past.  Could it be that YouTube accounts for some of this trend?        

First of all, much of the appeal of conservatism on YouTube stems from the picture that most conservatives paint of the left. The left is always portrayed as intolerant and fragile (i.e., calling them snowflakes). We see that all the time with videos focusing on so-called social justice warriors who appear entitled and act increasingly on emotion rather than a logical basis. There are obviously very intelligent people on the left, but by focusing on these extremes, conservative thinkers are capable of easily exploiting gaps in logic and advancing their viewpoint.

Possibly more effective is the portrayal of conservative ideology as a university-styled collection of courses. This is seen with the popularity of Prager University and its five-minute-long educational videos. The website literally portrays the “university” as a way “to get smarter”, boasting over 1.7 million views. Regardless, its tidbits have become hugely popular and have been quietly influencing people with easily digestible facts. Takes against feminism and the gender wage gap, and for gun rights and school choice are largely prevalent among its collection and have been very successful in attracting attention and viewership.  These conservatives are generally smart people. Heck, Shapiro is a University of California, Los Angeles and Harvard Law School graduate. Dinesh D’Souza is a Dartmouth University alum. To all these people wondering why a lot of these conservatives’ bases are increasingly uneducated, it’s because of the credibility these conservatives draw to their names. It’s very easy for someone to say, “Hey, well I don’t know. But that guy went to Harvard Law so he must be right.” The irony of this lies in the fact that most of these right-wing thinkers actually advocate against this line of thought. They constantly push for individuality in thinking; Shapiro has repeatedly denounced the argument that a call for one’s credibility or experience automatically justifies one’s thinking as fact. But nevertheless, much of the populace still seemingly falls for this trap.

That’s not to mention that most of these speakers are also just simply great debaters. They know when and where to call out logical fallacies and moments of ad hominem, and are capable of staying true to one single premise. When people like these go up against everyday students, it’s very easy for them to seem like they have the more intelligent and rational way of thought. And perhaps it is simply this approach — of presenting such views through debate — that makes it easier to bring people over to their side. Rather than just lecture on ideology and why it is good policy, showing through debate that it is seemingly better than the other perspective is perhaps more potent as a persuasive technique.

 If those on the left want to turn around YouTube’s red wave, the only way would be to showcase why their ideas are superior. People like Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks have started this counter-movement. It just hasn’t grown to the level of influence that the right has seemingly developed.

Adithya Sanjay can be reached at asanjay@umich.edu

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