YouTube provides a network for far right extremists such as Scot Colin Robertson, aka Millennial Woes, to promote white supremacist views and radicalise people, according to a new report.
A research institute called Data & Society has identified what it calls the Alternative Influence Network, a group of controversial academics, pundits and celebrities promoting a range of right wing political views including “overt white nationalism”.
The study tracked 65 YouTubers – some of them openly white nationalist – as they collaborated across YouTube channels. While collaborations can sometimes consist of debates and disagreements, they more frequently indicate social ties, endorsements, and advertisements for other “influencers”, the study said.
Combined, these vloggers have millions of followers who, while searching for video game reviews, can find themselves clicking through increasingly radical-right videos and end up watching white nationalists such as Robertson.
Data & Society has called on YouTube to respond with policies to combat influential YouTubers reaching young people by broadcasting far-right ideas in the form of news and entertainment.
People such as Robertson and Robert Spencer, an anti-Islam activist based in the US, are at the more extreme end of the network.
Other controversial figures named in the report include former BNP member and convicted fraudster Stephen Yaxley- Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, who founded a violent anti-Islam group called the English Defence League, renowned for street violence.
Far-right YouTubers frequently collaborate across ideological lines, the report said, adding they have created a “fully functioning media system” which, they claim, “provides an alternative media source for news and political commentary”.
Milo Yiannopoulos was also named. A British media provocateur with ties to white nationalists, he was formerly a senior editor at Breitbart News but resigned after publicly making comments in support of paedophilia.
While many views differ among the 65, the report’s author Rebecca Lewis says they all share a fundamental contempt for progressive politics, specifically for contemporary social justice movements.
Lewis said: “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 colour. And in many ways, YouTube is built to incentivise this behaviour.”
She added: “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.”
Robertson is a white nationalist vlogger from Linlithgow who found notoriety with his controversial Millennial Woes blog, broadcast on Youtube from his bedroom. He uploaded videos which were highly critical of refugees, liberals and people on the left of the political spectrum.
In one video he said: “I just didn’t want loads of black people in my country. It came down to a racial thing, a racial loyalty. I didn’t want black people, I didn’t want Indians, I didn’t want Chinese, I didn’t want Arabs, I wanted my country for my people.”
Robertson was exposed in 2017 as an ex-student living at home with his father. His latest project is called Millenniyule.
In 2017, the anti-racism organisation Hope Not Hate said that Robertson gave a speech at a far right conference in Stockholm, Sweden, where he quoted the “14 words“, a popular white supremacist slogan that states: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
Hope Not Hate said: “His short but extreme speech left the audience under no illusions about his belief in racial nationalism.”
The anti-fascist magazine Searchlight said that in 2016 Robertson spoke at a conference of Richard Spencer’s alt-right US National Policy Institute, at which supporters gave Nazi salutes and shouted “Hail Trump”.
Lewis highlighted links between Robertson and Carl Benjamin, known as Sargon of Akkad, who “frequently collaborates with openly white nationalist YouTubers”. Benjamin’s popularity grew by broadcasting via Gamergate, an online “movement of coordinated harassment against women game critics and designers”.
Since then, Benjamin “has continued to grow his following with more anti-feminist, anti-social justice content; his main channel now has over 800,000 subscribers, and a secondary channel has an additional 250,000,” Lewis wrote.
Benjamin has appeared on Robertson’s channel multiple times, and Robertson was one of several “influencers” to join in on Benjamin’s debate with Richard Spencer, arguing in favour of Spencer’s ideas of “scientific racism,” Lewis said. “Benjamin’s multiple guest appearances on Robertson’s channel reveal a friendly working dynamic between the two.”
She pointed out that Benjamin discussed this in one of his conversations with Robertson, saying that he does not embrace white nationalist ideas, but adding: “In many ways, we do have similar objectives…We have the same enemies, right? I mean, you guys hate the SJWs (social justice warriors), I hate the SJWs. I want to see the complete destruction of social justice…If the alt-right took the place of the SJWs, I would have a lot less to fear.”
Political influencers of the Alternative Influence Network also “promote a social identity” that helps them build influence and attract audiences, said the report. “Specifically, they signify an identity of both social underdogs and a hip counterculture—courting young audiences looking for a community with a level of rebellion.”
Extremist content is happening front and centre, easily accessible on platforms like YouTube, publicly endorsed by well-resourced individuals, and interfacing directly with mainstream culture. Rebecca Lewis, Data & Society
Lewis said in conclusion that YouTube has an “imperative to govern content and behaviour for explicit values, such as the rejection of content that promotes white supremacy, regardless of whether it includes slurs”.
She continued: “Discussing images of the ‘alt-right’ or white supremacism often conjures a sense of the ‘dark corners of the internet,’ filled with ‘anonymous commentators’ who don’t dare show their faces, operating on forums like 4chan, in the comments sections of YouTube, or behind ‘egg avatars’ on Twitter.
“In fact, much extremist content is happening front and centre, easily accessible on platforms like YouTube, publicly endorsed by well-resourced individuals, and interfacing directly with mainstream culture.”
However, in response to Data & Society, Colin Robertson defended his vlogs. He told The Ferret: “If left-wingers are concerned about identitarianism gaining ground, then beating us in debate would seem the obvious course of action. Instead, they want to stop the debate. This implies they don’t believe they can win it.
“The more censorious they become, the more desperate they look. Yet this is where the left is today: unable to defend their worldview, and spluttering in disbelief that their opponents are being “allowed” a platform. The sense of arrogant entitlement is disgusting, but not surprising given that the left has been the establishment for many decades now.”
Nik Williams, of Scottish PEN, an organisation promoting freedom of expression, said: “When we depend on online platforms to source information, engage with others and express ourselves, we are at the mercy of a number of opaque systems, such as the algorithms that guide users through different content, and policies that address issues such as political manipulation and hate speech.
“The network of influencers as outlined in the Data & Society report exerts a significant impact on platform users around the world who lack any capacity to scrutinise the motivations and backgrounds of the influencers and the network itself.
“While platforms like YouTube have revolutionised how people can realise their right to free expression, greater transparency and accountability is necessary to ensure that users can make a choice as to what content they view and how they can express themselves free from the influence of those beyond public scrutiny and accountability.”
It is no surprise, though still saddening, to find a Scot at the heart of this nasty web. Luke Henderson, Unite Against Facism
Luke Henderson, of Unite Against Fascism Edinburgh, said: “People think of the “Alt Right” as being an American phenomenon however the one thing everyone knows about the internet is that it shrinks the world so it is no surprise, though still saddening, to find a Scot at the heart of this nasty web.”
“It is encouraging that the far right in Scotland are not able to organise openly on the streets without facing a challenge, however this has pushed some of their key activists onto the web where they can organise in greater privacy.
“Although it would be wrong to rely on multinational companies to act as censors for what is right and wrong we should not let them off the hook. It is their domains that host these people and the tech companies should not make it easy for the Alt Right to draw new and unsuspecting people into their hate filled web.”
Anti-racism group Hope Not Hate said: “It’s clear that social media giants have long-downplayed the role their platforms have had in spreading mistrust and hatred. We’ve identified many social media enablers of hatred in our research and investigations, often able to use and abuse the tools that digital media offers today.
“They leverage each others’ messages out to tens or hundreds of thousands of viewers within a short space of time, appear on each other’s shows and platforms, and have become adept at using and abusing the freedom that digital media provides today.
“Without the huge platforms they’re offered online, many of those engaged in spreading falsehood and intolerance would struggle to find an audience: that’s where the social media companies have to up their game and accept responsibility what appears on their services. It’s also why those in the alt-right and far-right worlds cry so loudly when they’re banned, and try and falsely co-opt a free speech mantle around their toxic output.”
A YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube is an open platform where anyone can choose to post videos to a global audience, subject to our Community Guidelines, which we enforce rigorously. Additionally, we’ve made updates over the past year to tighten our monetisation policies and improve our enforcement against hate speech.
“Since this research concluded in April 2018, we’ve made more updates to which channels have access to monetisation features and deployed advanced machine learning technology to tackle more hate speech in comment features. We continue to expand this work and appreciate input from all researchers.”
The Google-owned video platform recently banned conspiracy outlet InfoWars and its founder Alex Jones for hate speech.
Jones falsely claimed parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting were “crisis actors” and he promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory alleging there was a child-sex slave ring run by Democrats under a Washington, DC pizza shop.
YouTube revoked The Alex Jones channel, writing: “This account has been terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines. All users agree to comply with our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines when they sign up to use YouTube.
“When users violate these policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.”
Meanwhile, several websites linked to neo-Nazis in Scotland have been taken down. They include Scottish Dawn‘s site, a banned terror organisation exposed by The Ferret in 2017.
A site promoting System Resistance Network (SRN), an openly fascist group recruiting in Scotland, has also disappeared.
SRN is explicit about its neo-Nazi political beliefs and wants a white power revolution in the UK. Its members prompted a public demonstration in Dundee in January after putting up homophobic and anti-refugee posters in the city.
According to Hope Not Hate – a UK wide anti-fascist organisation – SRN is run by National Action which was banned under terror laws last year.
After the ban, National Action reinvented itself as Scottish Dawn and started recruiting again north of the border, until an undercover sting by The Ferret caught two of its members on film revealing links to National Action. The UK government banned Scottish Dawn in September 2017.
The Facebook page of Generation Identity Alba/Scotland has also been taken down after the organisation violated the social media giant’s policies.
Generation Identity is part of the Identitarian movement – now spreading across Europe – which started in France and is based around nationalism, and it was using social media to recruit in Scotland last year. The movement opposes Islam and immigration but Facebook banned it permanently in June.
This story was also published in the Sunday National on 23 September 2018.