The world is watching over a billion hours of video content per day on YouTube, and easy-to-use recording and streaming tools can turn anyone with a smartphone into a broadcaster. Social media platforms are rewarding this new crop of “content creators” with the ability to become a household name and earn money from their videos. For the propagandists of the radical right, the advantages of reaching more people through video and audio propaganda are obvious, and the additional monetization opportunity is irresistible. This second article in my series on radical right alt-tech answers two questions: How is the radical right using video to achieve its goals, and as more of them are de-platformed or de-monetized on big video platforms, where are they going next?
From infection to funding
Video is a powerful propaganda tool, and when combined with algorithms that are designed to keep us hooked and unlimited streaming capacity, it is no surprise that current hate group participants describe in their own words that their radicalization pipelines were almost totally dominated by online video content. The videos pushed out by dozens of top radical right content creators take advantage of YouTube’s unique ability to deliver hate through repeated exposures to increasingly extremist messages.
The video-watching experience itself is also an important part of the radicalization process. Videos direct viewers to learn more by visiting outside web sites, secret Facebook groups, image boards, and other locations where extremist messaging is much more extreme and overt. Content creators can also advertise their books and merchandise, and, if the video is streamed live, viewers can engage in a real-time chat. For people flirting with radical right ideologies, chatting with other users offers a chance to learn the specialized vocabulary and conversational features of these communities, to build camaraderie, and to inculcate new users into important social norms. Live-streaming has also been used to disastrous effect, with both the Christchurch and Poway synagogue shooters attempting to become e-celebrities by live-streaming their attacks.
Most platforms offer donation opportunities as well. For example, the “Super Chat” feature on YouTube also allows content creators to make money from their hateful rhetoric as viewers make donations in real time during the stream. As an example, on May 1, 2019, British white supremacist Mark Collett streamed the 100th episode of his YouTube show This Week on the Alt-Right. For three hours, he interviewed “an all-star lineup of special guests” who had appeared on his previous 99 episodes. My quick analysis of the live Super Chat transcripts shows that Collett earned over $1015 during this single broadcast, over $300 per hour. Other estimates show he has previously earned almost $10,000 through Super Chat.
Streamers Under Pressure
YouTube occasionally responds to media reports showing how white supremacists are using the platform to recruit and make money. The company responds by banning or “demonetizing” users, videos, or entire channels, but how Youtube applies which remedy to which content is unclear, and the remedies are unevenly applied.
For content creators, the risks of being removed from YouTube are serious, so they regularly employ countermeasures to fly beneath the radar. In the case of This Week on the Alt-Right, following his 100th episode Collett deleted some videos, changed some settings to “private”, and closed the channel to new content, rebranding under a new series name. By doing so, he can still use YouTube to publish new videos and he retains his large subscriber base.
Other content creators are not so lucky, and after being banned, they resort to gaming the system. Re-branding under different names is a common tactic, as are borrowing channels from friend’s accounts, creating backup channels in case one gets banned, deleting videos or setting them to “private” directly after the live-stream, and so on.
This cat-and-mouse activity does come at a cost: content creators must constantly publicize the new location of their stream, and they sometimes forgo monetization opportunities. For a high-profile e-celebrity looking to make an income from hate, demonetization and a loss of thousands of subscribers is a significant blow. The network effects and veneer of social acceptability that come from a presence on the large social media platforms are also important to top-tier radical right e-celebrities.
But the most extreme radical right communities – the ones that openly traffic in racist accelerationism and exterminationism, issuing calls for martyrs and inciting a race war – will take these setbacks in stride. They realize, like ISIS before them, this digital hide-and-seek is just the cost of doing business.
Alt-tech Arrives on the Scene
The constant threat of being de-platformed from mainstream social media means many content creators on the radical right are open to looking at alternatives. A growing “alt-tech” infrastructure is trying to fill the gap, providing copycat products from web hosting to video streaming services.
Two of the alt-tech platforms that are gaining ground in this space are Entropy by Chthonic Software and the DLive platform. Entropy calls itself a “wrapper” around YouTube streaming and Super Chats. Viewers who watch a YouTube stream through Entropy can still donate to the stream, but Chtonic processes the payment instead of YouTube, taking 15% of the donation as opposed to YouTube’s 30% take. Entropy also offers a separate chat stream, allowing viewers to avoid YouTube’s content filters.
Entropy’s ability to support de-monetized Youtubers and extremist chat rhetoric is catching on. In fact, the company founders explained in an interview that Entropy’s very first streamer was popular video personality and white nationalist Jean-Francois (JF) Gariepy. Another racist vlogger, Jason Köhne, regularly streams his No White Guilt podcast on both YouTube and Entropy. Below are two screenshots showing the same No White Guilt stream as it appears on YouTube and in the Entropy wrapper.
Another alt-tech streaming service that is catching on with radical right content creators is DLive and its blockchain-based “rewards system” for video streamers. DLive promises to return a very favorable 90.1% of donations back to streamers, but considering its smaller user base, DLive is still not nearly as financially lucrative as YouTube. To remedy this, DLive is trying to increase the size of its network by enlisting streaming mega-stars such as Pewdiepie (real name: Felix Kjellberg) to stream on the platform.
As a group, radical right streamers have been slow to move their streaming entirely onto DLive, but a few of the larger names are paving the way. Robert Ray, aka Azzmador, contributor to neo-Nazi web site The Daily Stormer, leader of their meetup groups (“book clubs”) and current fugitive, streams his show The Krypto Report on DLive regularly, as do Köhne of No White Guilt and Red Ice TV. The donations for each show are displayed on the site in “lino points,” a crypto-currency, and range from around 470 lino points (about $6) for Köhne up to more than 8,500 lino points (about $117) for a typical episode of Azzmador’s show.
The goals of hate groups and violent extremists who spread video propaganda using streaming social media services like YouTube and Facebook Live are varied, but they all generally want to achieve the same four goals: they want to see their ideas spread into mainstream public discourse, they want to recruit new adherents, they want to solidify the commitment of existing members, and – when possible – they want to financially enrich themselves.
With video as one of the fastest-growing and most financially lucrative uses of social media, the fact that the radical right is using it is predictable. So as hate groups are gradually de-platformed from mainstream video-streaming platforms, they will just as predictably seek out new safe havens, and the nascent “alt-tech” infrastructure seems more than happy to provide them. The question is whether these smaller companies will be able to tolerate the presence of hateful, extremist rhetoric on their platforms, and for how long?
Professor Megan Squire is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and Professor of Computer Science at Elon University in North Carolina, USA. See her profile here.
© Megan Squire. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).