Are the liberal media truly concerned about online radicalization, or just salty because conservatives are better at YouTube?
New York Times reporter and columnist Kevin Roose has turned his wildly overhyped article “The Making of a YouTube Radical” into a podcast. Roose’s 2019 article featured the misfit 20-something Caleb Cain who allegedly “turned on to far-right conspiracy theories on the platform.”
Now, Roose has launched what will be a six-part podcast called “Rabbit Hole,” to observe how the internet changes people. As liberal Vox summarized: “Roose followed one man — Caleb Cain, now 26 — who, as he put it, ‘fell down the alt-right rabbit hole’ and became a viewer of videos like [conservative YouTuber Steven] Crowder’s.” He was redeemed, according to the article, by far-left YouTubers who apparently deradicalized him to accept liberal views.
Many liberals have been increasingly concerned about the conservative movement’s power in social media. Kara Swisher who has also written for The Times wrote an entire article lamenting conservatives’ ascendant influence on the internet. More recently, Politico interviewed influential figures from around the American left-wing political machine who were concerned that conservatives learned to utilize platforms like YouTube far better than themselves.
The Rabbit Hole podcast’s executive producer of audio Lisa Tobin said, according to Fast Company, The Times was “forced” to think about getting Rabbit Hole out sooner rather than later. And when posed with the question of whether Rabbit Hole is tonally off for this moment, here was Tobin’s response:
Kevin Roose has been working for years covering how we live online and the impact of the internet, and suddenly it felt more relevant than ever since everyone was locked to their computers. Now even more of life is lived online if you’re working, if you’re trying to connect with anyone. So the question of how the internet is affecting us actually felt more urgent.
Roose was quoted at the end of the article explaining his agenda for the internet:
It didn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way in the future. We have choices, and we can shape this thing. In fact, it’s imperative we do shape this thing, because it’s going to shape us if we don’t.
The podcast first released a trailer, which focused on the Christchurch, New Zealand attack, as if that were a representative example of how the internet changes young men. “I had just talked to this guy who I thought could really help me understand what the internet is actually capable of doing to a person,” Roose explained.
The first episode then focused on Cain, featuring audio from his 2019 interview. Roose interviewed Cain as a “case study” in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, where Roose claimed many told him “you have to look at YouTube” to understand online radicalization.
During the interview, Cain described how his “falling” into right-wing radical content began with self-help videos on YouTube, which Roose describes as an “emerging wing of YouTube,” then onto popular figures like podcast host Joe Rogan. Roose also described how Cain, as a result of his time in YouTube’s self-help network, worked on himself, got a job, found a girlfriend, and improved his life overall.
Then the podcast revealed the agenda it appears to have been playing toward the entire time:
When Caleb talks about watching YouTube videos during this period in his life, he talks about experiencing this as this sensation of falling, but the thing that he doesn’t even really know to think about is that on the other side of his screen, there’s a force that’s pulling him in.
Roose suggested the force that draws in Cain, and others like him, was created by engineers at YouTube. In the last few minutes of the episode, Roose interviewed a former YouTube engineer who revealed how troubled he became by an algorithm designed to deliver people more content they will love, but unintentionally created ideological echo chambers.