Political Influencers on Social Media
Examining the ways, directly or indirectly, Steve Bannon’s wet dream has come true.
I normally like to do a show over a topic before writing an article, but I figured this would be a helpful way to lay it out all out there, since I’m not able to do a show until later on this week.
I understand that some of you might be like, “Duh…This isn’t new information.” OR — better yet, there might be some of you who want to say this is a “liberal talking point.” That’s fine, but to think that “mainstream alternative” YouTube figures who come from the left-wing spheres of the world don’t have these influences within their circles, you’re not living in reality. The study that I examined definitely had a “leftist” perspective — but you can look through that clutter and extract some very important information here — it outlines a template. These templates lay the foundation for how this entire ecosystem works.
This article isn’t an attempt to “slander” or dunk on any individuals specifically — it’s more to draw attention to some pretty basic foundations within the marketing world. I understand a lot of you don’t look at this type of thing as marketing — but you should, in my opinion. Information IS the new economy — your data, your reactions, your engagement — all of that is currency. If you’re going to participate in the information and attention economy, you have to think of it as an exercise in branding. I’m not saying that I’m over here on some type of moral high ground either — I realize I’m a participant within this game (not to the extent that the people I’ll discuss are involved), but to say that I’m over here acting as a complete observer wouldn’t be honest, considering you likely received this article off of a mailing list. All I’m saying is — be aware that everyone’s trying to sell you something — in the truth economy, that can get real weird.
Before I go any further, here’s the link to the full PDF. Try not to cringe too hard at the title, I know it’s very one-sided and cringey, but hang in there with me.
I came across this study called “Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube” and it caught my attention immediately. I remember seeing a similar report featured in the New York Times years ago — I read it and laughed, because it was so full of platitudes and moral superiority — it’s the perfect example of why these messages don’t translate outside of people’s circles, more or less. Having said that, this particular report, while still incredibly, in my opinion, condescending of those who have participated in that particular circle of the internet, there’s something to be said about how all of this actually works. How do I know? I saw, for myself, how easy it is to fall down this trap. You think you’ve found the truth — you’ve found out that the people you’ve always been lied about to aren’t actually “as bad” — but that’s just it. They’re normalizing some really, in my opinion, crazy s*** under the guise of “bridging the gap” and reaching across the aisle in good faith.
What inspired me to even look into this again was a clip from Steve Bannon. I always found him to be a character of interest to me — not because of what he represented, but more because of the “mystique” that was Steven K. Bannon. If you watch documentaries and interviews from Bannon, you’ll see how easily he can charm people — even warm them up to his ideas. He’s one of those guys who can make an innocent person start to believe that they really have been wronged by the government — by the Democrats — by the mainstream Republicans — by the administrative state — -by your own neighbor. He knows how to capitalize on the emotions and fears of people to get them to do and act in certain ways that push the narratives of his own agenda. It’s not a liberal talking point to say that Steve Bannon’s just one piece of this larger puzzle, nor is it a liberal talking point to mention that he, in a clip from a 2019 documentary called The Brink, said that, “There will be a split in the Democrat party…just you wait. We’re showing populists on both sides that this is bigger than the two party split.” You think that was a joke?
As with any other brand or product, you need faces and personalities to legitimize whatever it is that you’re selling. I can think of no one better than Jack Posobiec or Candace Owens who fit this bill for the right-leaning figures on the internet. James O’Keefe, Tim Pool, Destiny, Jimmy Dore (ooooh, I said it), and so on….all fit the bill. They’re not all of the same caliber nor do they serve the same purpose, specifically, but they’re influencers in their own right. Some have a more miniscule role, some serve a greater purpose.
I found this section to be incredibly fascinating because it totally resonates with what I’ve personally experienced and with what I’ve seen. The rejection of mainstream media — which, for the record, is definitely warranted in many instances, is a key component of this type of influence. If you can convince people to simply ignore mainstream media, rather than learn how to better analyze and scrutinize media, you’ve got a mechanism of control that’s far greater than what any of the people in mainstream media squawking about Trump were ever really able to articulate, in my opinion. Why? You’ve not only sown distrust when it comes to the entire Trump saga — you’ve given credence to the people who have built their entire brand on going against the mainstream media. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either, by the way. Go against the mainstream media all you want. My issue is more with the people who then take that — and operate under the guise of being ‘independent,” when they are in fact, not even close to anything resembling independent. You’ve not only dismantled the trust in mainstream media, but you’ve now encouraged people to identify with this faux counterculture movement that’s basically being funded by the Knights of Malta. Congrats.
Now, again, I’d like to point out that I understand this study is particularly biased in terms of the approach to the entire ecosystem. They’re coming from a liberal perspective — but you can easily navigate the information if you know how to cut out the “fat” if you will. I used to take issue with a point that’s been made here, to be honest. “Within the AIN, a hodge-podge of internet celebrities claiming a variety of political positions impart their ideologies to viewers and each other. The boundaries between different political groups of influencers and the ideological positions they promote are often slippery.” If you would’ve asked me whether I agreed with that or not a year ago, I would’ve said it was overreacting — I would’ve said that was just a liberal talking point and that people overused that type of language too much. Now, after studying what I have on this topic and have seen the way certain people have moved in this space — starting with someone like Steven Bannon, I can’t help but think they were certainly onto something. After all, Steve Bannon will be the first to tell you that this was so much larger than Trump — -this was all about “Economic Nationalism.” Considering the fact that Steve Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs guy with lots of connections and information on the economic changes that have been in the works since well before 2001, is trying to push an economic populism narrative, there are valid questions and concerns here. Why would he be fomenting such populism while knowing full well that the economic system itself was going to cosmetically shift, regardless? This is raw power and greed and control. It’s a tale as old as time, and if you don’t see the direction this is going, please tell me where you think I’m missing something.
I don’t even consider myself to be a “leftist” — I’m not a rabid feminist, nor am I out here advocating for all of these scary leftist ideologies that Steven Crowder has been telling all of you about. I’m just pointing out the fact that, “Hey, maybe engaging with all of these people who do not espouse the sacred leftist” beliefs that many of you hold oh-so-dear, isn’t actually working.” I used to think that getting the message out there by any means necessary was the solid strategy, but after all this time, I’m just seeing people gain more followers and clicks — not seeing any fundamental changes on the ground by going out there and dismissing people with real concerns after you’ve had your fourth appearance with Tucker Carlson. Do you think Tucker Carlson’s audience is going to be swayed by Jimmy Dore going on the show to talk about Medicare for All? Sorry — that’s NOT happening. You know why they bring guys like Jimmy Dore on Tucker Carlson, right? In case you don’t (which, many of you clearly don’t), it’s because there is NOTHING more enjoyable to that crowd than to see a disaffected leftist start to warm up to the right. I’m not even over here saying you shouldn’t have conversations with people on the right, either. I’m just saying that by many of your own logical points — the consistency is lacking.
I’ll admit — I’d seen these types of charts before and I would typically roll my eyes. However, now that I understand the technical side of YouTube a little bit better, you can now see the actual pathways that are laid out here. You can get into the mix of any of these spheres, and one of the pathways will lead you to a creator in the middle, who will then automatically direct you to a creator on the other side. While this was more apparent to me on the right-leaning side early on, it exists in the left-wing sphere as well. If you watch Revolutionary Blackout Network, you’ll likely get suggestions that take you to Jimmy Dore, Kyle Kulinski, TYT, and so on. While they are apparently at opposition with each other, there are common “neutral” factors here — like Joe Rogan — or in some cases, The Hill and that ilk. Then you get into the smaller networks and channels, many of which I used to engage with or was on. Again — this isn’t some hit job to try to smear a bunch of people that I briefly worked with — it’s more a lesson to everyone to have a better understanding of what we’re working with here and why we’re operating in the circles that we are assigned via the algorithm. It’s not nearly as natural as you think.
Think about it. Once again — I ask you to keep in mind that these ideologies that are being sold at the behest of a far larger project — are just like a product. You have to sell the idea and give it legitimacy. I’m not saying that I’m such a social justice warrior — if anything, I’m annoyed, because I feel that people who actually abuse the title of “social justice” in terms of selling something for their own gain, get out of any real scrutiny, when you categorize anyone who identifies as someone from the left as an SJW. You literally cannot talk to people these days without hearing that in the main points of their arguments against the “woke” and it’s so frustrating!
Dave Rubin’s journey was a classic example of the testimonial. He, like many of us, realized that the corporate Democrat party has been guilty of lying, just as the Republican party has. This was highlighted by the Wikipedia email leaks and all throughout the 2016 election. For many of us, we knew this before that — I’d say a lot of revelations started to come out in 2011–2012 when Obama’s drone practices overseas came to light for a lot of us who were not in tune with what was really going on internationally. We’d only been educated from an American perspective (or any Western power, for that matter) — frankly, I’d been ignorant. The reason someone like Dave Rubin had such a compelling journey wasn’t that he’d suddenly “found the light” — it was that it gave people a feeling of not feeling “alone” in a time that, in my opinion, was constructed to make people feel more alone than ever, so that they’d gravitate to sh** like this. It worked — it worked really well.
One of the most telling points that someone’s more of an influencer — or they’ve fallen into a circle of influencers, whether they know it or not, is their dismissal of the mainstream media at almost any chance they can get. They’ve trained people to respond to someone like me, after making a comment like that, with “You’re a liberal shill.” Excuse me? Last time I checked, you can extract information from the mainstream media. Their framing is typically horrible, but I’d love to know when the framing was ever objective or fully honest? These alternative figures build their brands lamenting over the fact they’ve been lied to by the mainstream media as they beg for money so they can educate the masses on the fact they’ve been lied to. I’m so sorry — but I think the “masses” are well aware they’ve been lied to. I don’t know if they need anyone else to tell them to subscribe to their channel, so they can inform the masses on ways they’ve been lied to. Call me cynical, but in this day and age — it’s pretty clear to all of us.
Building your brand on not being mainstream media is fine — but that doesn’t excuse you from presenting the truth, if you’re framing yourself as the speaker of all that is good and true. People like Steve Bannon are well aware of this — why else do you think he would want the populist left to fall under this spell too?
Here’s the easiest formula for building trust with an audience online:
Identity: “We’re anti-war! We’re anti-establishment!” We don’t know what that actually means — because so far, from the “anti-war” movement, I’ve only seen them rail against “regime-change wars” — not the silent wars and pillaging that’s been going on over Africa’s resources for decades. Nah. No problem when Tulsi Gabbard and her special operations in Africa come up — right? Mami wouldn’t dare! It’s unreal…the cognitive dissonance that comes from this crowd.
We’re all fighting the “elites” right? This is what it’s all about? Understand how the Steve Bannons of the world have used this to their advantage — and they’ve done a real number on the anti-war left, if you want my honest opinion.
I cannot tell you how many disagreements I’ve gotten into over people — people will go to the end of the earth to defend a bad take their favorite creator might have had. It’s understandable, we’re only human and I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself. When we understand why we do that — and how the greater agenda that’s laid out here is to capture that true feeling of loyalty, I feel that we can better navigate this system.
EVERYONE wants the underdog to win — especially when you see him fighting back against the man. That’s a story that resonates with people, over and over again. They’re really capitalizing on that these days, too.
That’s a huge piece of why Jimmy Dore is so revered and successful in the pseudo leftist online space, in my opinion — and it’s exactly why Candace Owens has been so successful in her endeavors on the “other side.”
“These strategies reveal a tension underlying the content produced by these influencers: while they present themselves as news sources, their content strategies often more accurately consist of marketing and advertising approaches. These approaches are meant to provoke feelings, memories, emotions, and social ties. In this way, the “accuracy” of their messaging can be difficult to assess through traditional journalistic tactics.”
How many times have you heard Jackson Hinkle call himself a “Patriot Socialist Communist American” — bro, what? I appreciate the candid shameless behavior on his part — he doesn’t make it too hard to call him out for exactly what it is, so I’m not losing sleep over the kid, but he sure knows how to trigger people.
Operating under the increasingly meaningless label of “leftist” — or even better, “homeless leftist,” all types of weird characters can get into movements and completely change the direction of the conversation. I’m not even a Medicare4All activist, but I’ve noticed how they’ve not even included people who have worked for decades on moving through this legislation (which, to our disappointment, Sebs and I have yet to have a conversation with an M4A activist on the concerns we have, but that’s for another day.)
This is just basic marketing 101 — so if you’re not factoring this into your media consumption, you may want to go back to basics. I’m not mad about it, but to pretend like your favorite journalists on the internet aren’t thinking about stuff like this is just foolish.
This one — is probably my favorite. “Debate bro culture.” Think about it. How many times have you tuned in to see your favorite creator DESTROY someone on the “other side?” I can think of no one better than someone like Vaush. Everyone loves to hate the guy — they also love to get the chance to debate the guy. Now, I understand that to someone naïve, they may think they’ll convince people in his audience to finally abandon him, for once and for all. Frankly, no one leaves any different from how they came in. It’s a mutually beneficial controversy. Why? Both get more subscribers, activity, and traffic directed at their channels. As the saying goes, “All press is good press.” Vaush doesn’t debate people under a certain amount of followers — so you can look at that as a type of template for this environment.
Everyone loves the bloodsport. YouTube knows this, creators know this, media moguls know this, EVERYONE knows this. We’d be fools to not think it’s a strategy that’s employed frequently in this space, too.
So — in closing:
What’s my bigger point here? It’s not to lecture you from a certain perspective — if you read the rest of my Substack or Medium articles, you’ll see the growth and progression of my perspective and how I see the world we’re operating in. I’m not here pretending to be perfect or out here saying that I’m the knower-of-all things. I fuck up — I have before and I will again. I’ve met a lot of really great people in this space, and I’ve met a lot of really shitty people within this space. I’ve never been shy about the fact that I’ve been learning as I go. It took me awhile to understand that while I was naïve in some regard, I wasn’t entirely wrong when I noticed that I was operating in a space with people who were doing this for a career, versus doing this to get information out there. Even worse, I believe that many people who are doing this for a career do start out with good intentions. They don’t understand how the entire format is literally there to feed you into a specific group of nodes where you’ll operate. Nothing is natural — because anything that varies from the prescribed path is a problem for people who stand to benefit from the larger influence that this has on our society. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not out here selling myself as completely objective — hell, I’m not a journalist. I’m a reasearcher who likes to talk with people from all walks of life and learn about their experiences. You can find my work, along with my dear friend, Sebs Solomon’s work, over at Doom&GloomHQ. We’re happy to engage with the audience and follow-up with questions, and we’re happy to be scrutinized like O just did throughout this entire article. There are plenty of great people out there who do great work — even if they don’t care for me personally. I write this as a word of caution for those of you who find yourself spending hours defending your favorite content creators while ignoring the real questions and concerns — because they’re out there. Not everything is a “liberal talking point.” Period point blank. Steve Bannon’s been gunning for this audience and I’d say, at this point in time, it’s working out marvelously.