Scot Scoop News | Algorithms: social media’s role in modern radicalization

The YouTube recommendation algorithm works to accomplish two goals: to find the right video to get engagement, and to keep the user watching, according to a Creator Insider video. The content that attains such engagement is often highly controversial and entices public debate, which YouTube then promotes due to the structure of their recommendation system.

TikTok has recently seen a similar effect. Several influencers garnered popularity over the summer of 2022 on TikTok, most notably Andrew Tate. Often starting from slightly controversial political videos, these algorithms increase exposure to misogynistic, homophobic, and racist content, among other ideas associated with the alt-right.

Winston Singh, a senior at Carlmont, frequently uses social media. Although he primarily uses these platforms to engage in discourse about his favorite sports, he still encountered a significant amount of Tate’s content. 

“[Tate’s] videos have been all over my feed, not just on TikTok,” Singh said. “I have seen reposts of him all over Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. I just couldn’t escape it this past summer.”

Although finding some content entertaining at first, Singh’s opinions quickly changed once he began seeing Tate’s more radical takes.

“I found [Tate] quite interesting when everyone was talking about him at first. My problem started once I heard him say stuff like ‘I wouldn’t give CPR to a fat dude because it’s gay’ and all his nasty stuff towards women,” Singh said. “I quickly started ignoring his content after that.”

On TikTok, videos of Tate began to emerge in May of 2022 on several accounts run by his supporters. Such accounts would repost clips from podcasts on which Tate was a guest. Initially, users saw motivational quotes about hard work and stories about his interesting lifestyle, making Tate rise drastically in popularity. 

While some of his videos are relatively harmless, Tate’s misogynistic and homophobic content began to spread on TikTok. He sought to promote the lifestyle of the “alpha male” to a young and impressionable audience through his channels, which ended up being breeding grounds for toxic masculinity.

To him, accomplishing the status of an alpha male coincided with his treatment of women and his bigoted views. Common conceptions of an alpha male include being in a position of power, having great influence, and being largely intelligent and successful. Some young viewers carry the belief that Tate encapsulates all these characteristics and therefore admire his lifestyle. Tate, like other right-wing proponents, uses the idea of the “red pill” in his content and considers himself to be outside of the “Matrix” created by the left wing.

Even before his TikTok fame, Tate had a troubling history regarding his treatment of women. During its 2016 season, Tate was kicked off the UK show “Big Brother” after a video surfaced of him beating a woman with a belt and continuing to threaten her with violence. Tate told “The Sun” that the video was an act of role-play and this controversy was swept under the rug until after his rise to fame in 2022. 

TikTok initially intended to keep Tate on their platform, likely in the interest of monetizing the attention garnered by his content, but swiftly banned him when Meta (Facebook and Instagram) took Tate off their platforms in late August.

“Tate’s message is truly evil,” Singh said. “But it doesn’t surprise me that this happened. Misogyny has become very common and casual online, and it’s quite concerning. I think Tate was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Another popular right-wing influencer is Ben Shapiro, who spreads ideas of libertarianism and conservatism. He hosts “The Ben Shapiro Show,” an opinionated podcast on his blog, The Daily Wire. Shapiro’s presence is primarily on YouTube, where he shares his podcast clips. While not part of the alt-right community, he provides one of the first steps in the radicalization process. Shapiro, like others, has made a name for himself for his critiques of social justice warriors, feminists, and liberal identity politics.

Steven Crowder is another internet personality who became popular during the same time as Shapiro. He garnered popularity through his “Change My Mind” show on YouTube. Crowder posted videos where he would go to college campuses, set up a table with a sign that held one of his opinions, and proceed to debate students over it. 

His most viral “Change My Mind” shows have been over his opinions of there only being two genders, being pro-gun, and believing male privilege is a myth. These videos gained attention due to their dramatic nature and often humiliation of the college students as their debate abilities did not match those of Crowder.

The most significant danger Crowder and Shapiro brought to YouTube was their choice of guests on their shows. Such guests often provided far more extreme takes and represented a further step into radicalization.

While the radicalization process goes far deeper, the starting point is often with YouTube and TikTok personalities talking about popular political subjects, but in a manner that provokes public debate and interactions. As the algorithm detects attention towards these creators, it will feed more content to the user, creating a cycle of consumption followed by the recommendation of more, often increasingly extreme, content.

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Written by Politixia

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