This report identifies and names the Alternative Influence Network (AIN): an assortment of scholars, media pundits, and internet celebrities who use YouTube to promote a range of political positions, from mainstream versions of libertarianism and conservatism, all the way to overt white nationalism. Content creators in the AIN claim to provide an alternative media source for news and political commentary. They function as political influencers who adopt the techniques of brand influencers to build audiences and “sell” them on far-right ideology.
This report presents data from approximately 65 political influencers across 81 channels. This network is connected through a dense system of guest appearances, mixing content from a variety of ideologies. This cross-promotion of ideas forms a broader “reactionary” position: a general opposition to feminism, social justice, or left-wing politics.
Members of the AIN cast themselves as an alternative media system by:
- Establishing an alternative sense of credibility based on relatability, authenticity, and accountability.
- Cultivating an alternative social identity using the image of a social underdog, and countercultural appeal.
Members of the AIN use the proven engagement techniques of brand influencers to spread ideological content:
- Ideological Testimonials
- Political Self-Branding
- Search Engine Optimization
- Strategic Controversy
The AIN as a whole facilitates radicalization through social networking practices:
- Audiences are able to easily move from mainstream to extreme content through guest appearances and other links.
- Political influencers themselves often shift to more radical positions following interactions with other influencers or their own audiences.
When viewers engage with this content, it is framed as lighthearted, entertaining, rebellious, and fun. This fundamentally obscures the impact that issues have on vulnerable and underrepresented populations—the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants, and people of color. And in many ways, YouTube is built to incentivize this behavior. The platform needs to not only assess what channels say in their content, but also who they host and what their guests say. In a media environment consisting of networked influencers, YouTube must respond with policies that account for influence and amplification, as well as social networks.