Ill-Conceived Notions

An experiment in digital humanities

I said at the start of this study that it will likely be outdated by the time I finished it, and this proved somewhat true. In my final week of writing, ContraPoints released a new video, very similar to ‘Incels’, which would have changed my interpretation of her other content had I seen it sooner. In the same time, Ribeiro et al. (2019) published foundational work in pinpointing paths of radicalisation on YouTube by examining the behaviour of commenters across 360 right-wing creators, including Molyneux. Had this information been available just a few months ago, this study could have taken a different direction. More research may even have come out after that which could change its significance again, in an infinite cycle that will always be just about behind in holistically illustrating the neopolitical landscape of the internet.

That being said, this study achieved its purpose in founding a close inquiry of the strategies of neopolitical creators that guide the understanding of their audience. While much more studies into many more creators would be necessary before any generalisations can be made, I found this study has enabled me to view this genre of content from more nuanced perspectives, by illuminating overlaps that viewers may dismiss. The creators have clear ideas of their audience and design their content accordingly, so it may be difficult for fans to admit that creators they don’t like share qualities with creators they admire. They also have specific, but not obvious, ideas of what their language means, and how viewers should understand it. Molyneux barely offers any suggestion that ‘Muslims’ are diverse in their geographical origins, goals or beliefs, neither historically nor contemporarily, framing them as a unified force focused on stealing the wealth of the West. ContraPoints does not offer a deep analysis of Marxist theory, making references to its meaning and interactions with other leftist ideologies, but not the historical underpinnings or sources where this can be verified. They make assumptions about what their audience either knows already or wants to know, which can guide what they choose to elaborate on, but also what they choose to dismiss, meaning viewers may not be encouraged to challenge the understanding of those concepts that they have already. This could be addressed, however, in efforts to build a universal lexicon.

Lexicons based on prior research are necessary for studies of an emerging community (Farrell et al. 2019; Beers Fägersten 2017). As creators everywhere on the political spectrum have mentioned, discussions often suffer from a lack of common understanding of ill-defined terms, and ill-conceived notions that arise from them. This study did not aim to quantify the sentiment or emotions of YouTube commenters, as similarly themed studies tend to do (Duarte et al., 2017). This field is drastically unexplored and unrepresented in academia, only really receiving any kind of investigation by mainstream and pop culture news outlets, and even at that the publications are scarce. As I’ve outlined, parallels can be drawn between social/linguistic behaviours of digital and physical communities, and even between categorically distinct digital communities. However, a working lexicon for neopolitical channels does not exist, nor does a scientific review of their insular behaviours, and conclusions on any aspect of the communities cannot be drawn until this is done.

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