A study from Penn State University’s Political Science Department published October 1 found that, in spite of the “gateway” theory, online conservative content leads to de-radicalization among its viewers.
Titled “A Supply and Demand Framework for YouTube Politics,” the study finds that “contrary to the ‘gateway drug’ narrative,” the Intellectual Dark Web, consisting of such personalities as Ben Shapiro, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, and Dave Rubin, is de-radicalizing potential alt-right viewers. (RELATED: Buzzfeed News Faces Blowback For Claim Ben Shapiro Radicalized A Nazi)
Contrary to the ‘gateway drug’ narrative, new study shows the Intellectual Dark Web (i.e. @jordanbpeterson @prageru @joerogan @benshapiro @RubinReport ) is de-radicalizing potential Alt-Right viewers https://t.co/fyYQfGT8xJ pic.twitter.com/NiWh3iXnMw
— Eric Kaufmann (@epkaufm) October 24, 2019
The study’s authors, Kevin Munger and Joseph Phillips divide the Alternative Influence Network (AIN), the online commentators who have risen to rival the mainstream media, into 5 categories: “the liberals,” such as Joe Rogan; “the skeptics,” such as Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin; “the conservatives,” such as Steven Crowder, Ben Shapiro, and PragerU; the alt-light, who exist to antagonize the left; and “the alt-right,” which is “firmly committed to a far-right ideology” and often express “strong anti-semitism and the belief that white people are are genetically superior.” (Related: The New York Times Sinks To A New Low With Their ‘YouTube Radical’ Profile)
The study found that even though both conservative content and alt-lite/alt-right content online has increased, the total views of conservative content continued to climb while the latter decreased. The researchers concluded that the proliferation of conservative content by personalities like Shapiro and Crowder has more likely helped de-radicalize viewers than radicalize them:
Between 2013 and 2016, all segments of the AIN, including the Alt-Lite and Alt-Right, rose in viewership. However, since the middle of 2017, both of these ideological segments of the AIN 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. These 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.
The study’s conclusion read, “alternative voices on YouTube discuss topics mainstream media fails to touch, which may help them feature more prominently in search results and recommendations… Since 2017, viewership of the furthest-right content has declined despite increases in the supply of such content. In its place has been the rise of more mainstream-adjacent conservative and liberal creators, consistent with a large share of users finding ideological communities that best fit their ideal points.”