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The Making of a Radical: NY Times Gets It Wrong

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A laptop computer showing YouTube's logo on March 27, 2014 in Istanbul, near a poster of Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old boy who died nine months after he was hit by a tear gas canister while going to buy bread during the 2013 protests in Istanbul. Turkey banned YouTube and Twitter after both were used to spread audio recordings implicating the prime minister in a huge corruption case. Is this where we are headed in the West? (Photo: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
A laptop computer showing YouTube’s logo on March 27, 2014 in Istanbul, near a poster of Berkin Elvan, the 15-year-old boy who died nine months after he was hit by a tear gas canister while going to buy bread during the 2013 protests in Istanbul. Turkey banned YouTube and Twitter after both were used to spread audio recordings implicating the prime minister in a huge corruption case. Is this where we are headed in the West? (Photo: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Commenting on a New York Times piece on the making of a radical, Ben Shapiro took to The Daily Wire to call out the Times‘s assumption that those who buy into conservative messaging will eventually end supporting the “alt-right.”

Shapiro writes,

“The suggestion by The Times was simple: If you watch typical conservative content hosted by people like me, you will eventually end up watching material hosted by alt-right figures. The only solution, presumably, would be for YouTube to downgrade material The Times dislikes.”

He went on to further discuss the concerning rise of Leftist political agendas who use censorship as a weapon, which Clarion Project is closely tracking.

The New York Times piece Shapiro referred to, titled “The Making of a YouTube Radical,” introduces the following primer, using the case of Caleb Cain, a liberal college dropout, who claims he was “radicalized” by YouTube’s algorithms that pulled him down a virtual “alt-right rabbit hole” and “brainwashed” him:

“Caleb Cain was a college dropout looking for direction. He turned to YouTube. Soon, he was pulled into a far-right universe, watching thousands of videos filled with conspiracy theories, misogyny, and racism.”

Caleb describes how he “fell down the alt-right rabbit hole,” adding that he was “brainwashed” before pulling away from the ideology.

As Shapiro points out, the tone and assumption throughout the article is watching conservative content is a slippery slope toward hate and bigotry.

The article ignores the clamp downs on speech we are experiencing today from our tech giant warlords, who are increasingly citing speech they don’t like as “hate speech.” YouTube has even begun red-flagging historical videos charting human history as offensive content. The tech giant received backlash as it deleted an award-winning history teacher’s World War II videos in what is being described as a “hate speech” purge.

In addition to not being able to see the Orwellian nature of this phenomenon, movements to stifle speech in an attempt to insulate environments also ignore another aspect of human nature: Those turning to YouTube, including at one point Caleb Cain, are looking to belong.

The need for human connection doesn’t dissolve through censorship. Rather, this need is met through old-fashioned, face-to-face dialogue.

Dialogue has the capacity to de-escalate and eventually disarm the austere and myopic messaging branded as alt-right, socialist or religious extremism. All three are of concern at this hour, yet the media repeatedly emphasizes one over the other — the alt-right — and further blurs alt-right messaging with traditional conservatism. To socialism, the intolerance of the political Left and ideologies of extremist religious fanatics, it gives a pass.

As we’ve seen through stories Clarion Project has covered on the beauty of dialogue, authentic dialogue models — and not censorship — help destabilize the pathways that nourish the making of a radical. For example:

What’s key here is that these conversations took place over months, if not years. A conversation isn’t an overnight solution; it takes time to build rapport, gain trust, listen and hear.

If YouTube is looking for immediate solutions, they need to step away from censorship models and step toward reframing their algorithms.

 

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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.