Ill-Conceived Notions

An experiment in digital humanities

Pseudo-celebrities are emerging from YouTube to educate anyone who is willing to listen. The playing field is relatively level on YouTube, in that you don’t need to come from a position of power in order to be heard (Brewis in Sarkar, 2019a). All that’s needed for success are well-argued ideas, the opportunity for the audience to engage directly, and for the concerns of the audience to be validated (Suler, 2004). This opportunity, however, is not always approached with good intentions. They run the risk of facilitating echo chambers (Nguyen, 2018), of encouraging hate speech (Murthy and Sharma, 2019), and radicalising viewers towards acts of violence (Klein, 2019). The present study examines two creators who, for better or worse, are influencing the political landscape of the digital age.

As Beers Fägersten (2017) explains, there is no presupposition on the phenomena involved in most aspects of YouTube content creation: there is no history, no original from which a copy can be made. There is, however, a progression. It is difficult to track, since one can usually only observe the consequences of thousands of interactions that occur globally and simultaneously. Parallels can be drawn with the pre-digital world (Mulder, 2019), but it is crucial to acknowledge online behaviour as new and different in any study aiming to authentically represent it (Suler, 2004), and a universally recognised lexicon is needed both to describe and engage with it (Wynn in Sarkar, 2019b).

The downfall of this ahistorical movement is a collapse of basic trusts in society. People have become so radically engaged in uncovering ‘the truth’ that foundations of reality are deemed unreliable, where human accounts are dismissed as infected by emotion, where experts are suspected of lying to the public to force them into submission (Wynn in VICE News, 2019). The political understandings of younger generations are focused on the perceived war on culture waged by social justice warriors and advocates for political correctness, and ‘gamers’ and neonazis who feel their respective spaces are being invaded (Klein, 2019). There is a community which began with leftist YouTube creators that has spread to Discord, Twitter and Facebook, which are for support, making connections, sharing ideas, and building a culture of acceptance, which has exploded in the past 3 years (Sarkar, 2019b). However, these spaces pale in comparison to the communities of the ‘manosphere’ (Farrell et al., 2019), climate change deniers (Brewis, 2019) and new atheists (Klein, 2019) that challenge established knowledge and misdirect hatred to vulnerable groups.

In order to rebuild the trust that society was built upon, stemming from the general consensus that experts know what they’re doing, we need a re-conceptualisation of the idea of experts. Anyone with access to the internet can declare themselves an expert, and the knowledge you have doesn’t matter so much as the way you express it, and the audience you express it to. This is true of any YouTube community, since at first glance, some of the most biased and bigoted speakers can appear the most trustworthy, and marginalising, unapproachable personalities can have the most well-researched arguments. ContraPoints is not easy to watch, especially if you’re not a fan of crudeness, profanity, and overt sexual references. Stefan Molyneux is humble and consistently asserts his advocacy for intelligent arguments and moral ways of living. However, these first impressions do not reflect the reality of the communities they have built. The stories they tell, the emotions they invoke, and the real-world actions they are inspiring remain ambiguous. This study will begin an exploration of how their stories of reality are told

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