Acting as if we’re going to remember this story in two days isn’t genuine. Like pretty much every other incident of right-wing terrorism from the last few years we’ll have a small collective song and dance about how horrible the incident was, perhaps get mad at twitter at some smug media pundit saying something intentionally cruel to draw attention to themselves, pen a few badly written blog posts so we can feel some vague sense of catharsis and gesture to one another that this has to be the point where something changes. Then we’ll pretty much forget about the whole thing when Trump tweets something that implies he was in the crips or something equally inane. The fact of the matter is that in three weeks – let alone three months, the same exact people who pushed the ideology who lead to this shooting will continue doing so largely unchallenged. Sure some token actions may be taken and perhaps we’ll see one or two alt-righters get deplatformed for being a little bit too blatant but to think that anything major will be done by corporations to prevent right-wing organization on their platforms is naive at best. Look at Charlottesville, look at Pittsburgh, look at Charleston. Did corporations do anything to take proper steps against the alt-right who literally organized on their platforms? Nope.
Before we dive further into the relationship between the tech world and the alt-right let’s just get the obvious out of the way. The concept of free-speech online is a myth peddled by dumb radical centrists, delusional libs and bad-faith right-wingers. Social media sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are not actually interested in hosting all opinions, even if their lip service implies otherwise. They don’t actually care about your supposed right to say what you want, don’t really care about your dumb idealized fantasy of free debate, don’t give a toss about the “marketplace of ideas” and they sure as hell don’t care about the content. However, the one thing they do care about is profit (duh). Sure they can cloud this fact by talking to Joe Rogan, writing oddly long blog posts and releasing misguided marketing campaigns but at the end of the day, their goal is just to get us to collectively use their services for as much time as possible in order to show us advertisements. Nothing more, nothing less. This goal is reflected in the design of these websites – constantly trying to trap you into consuming hours of mediocre content followed by snickers ads. This is blatantly seen in the YouTube recommendation algorithm, which prioritizes watch time over literally anything else – unsurprisingly making YouTube a haven for finding child porn, right-wing ideologues and anti-vaxxers. This isn’t great, especially considering how the website’s audience is gradually getting younger over time. Now this has been a known problem for years yet Google did basically nothing (on its own volition) about it. However, the literal second that a big sponsor like Kellogs sniffs something vaguely foul and pulls their “Sexy Tony the Tiger” marketing campaign from the website Google will freak out, try to hack together some half-hearted attempt to deal with the issue, unintentionally screw over some creators, then fall flat on their face. They don’t care about how their products impact society, don’t care about what they’re promoting and don’t care about the creators of the content. It’s just advertising. If anything it vaguely reminds me of being home alone with a cool sibling. You can go wild all you want but the second your parents pull up we’ve got two minutes to clean everything up or we’re both dead.
You’re probably not surprised to find out that hosting right-wingers is actually quite profitable. Groups like Turning Point USA and PragerU use a stupid amount of their seemingly infinite amount of Koch brothers money on targeted ad campaigns on YouTube and Facebook, every third “Spending Christmas alone watching Birth Of A Nation on repeat to OWN my LIB family members!” post on /r/The_Donald gets gilded at least twice and as you read this post at least fifty pimply-faced nerds are leaving vaguely racist comments on seven-hour-long SJW cringe compilations. As a demographic, the right wing are extremely online, constantly angry and always consuming some form of media. So basically the perfect people to market to. There’s a reason why the replies to Trump tweets mainly consist of links to tacky right-wing merch – it actually sells. These are the exact people who think that YouTube is an actual community, that SJWs are coming to ruin their escapist media, that smashing a Keurig is a form of political protest and that buying a MAGA hat suddenly makes you brave. Their combination of rampant consumerism, constant anger and ceaseless posting just makes them ripe for some of the dumbest, least-interesting marketing online. These are the people who actually like discord’s marketing! This status as an easy marketing demographic is arguably the main shield keeping them on social media. Sure deplatforming the alt-right would probably stop future violence, but then who’s going to watch the pro-troops Mountain Dew advert?
And now it’s time to talk about PewDiePie – someone who I (correctly) thought was cool to hate on back in 2014 and have been smug about ironically ever since. Since the internet as a whole is collectively more concerned about a millionaire being mildly inconvenienced by losing his CondomDepot sponsorship deal as opposed to the literal slaughter of children a lot of the discourse surrounding the shooting has been based on the fact that the incel who carried it out told people to subscribe to PewDiePie before slaughtering 49 innocents on the basis of religion, presumably just to remind us that we’re in the dumbest timeline humanly possible. Some of the fully grown adults who base their personality around watching a YouTuber that became famous by fake-screaming at horror games are convinced that this will either be used as an excuse to get rid of creative freedom on the site, to get rid of his channel, to turn off advertising on “edgy” content or just for the media to make fun of him even more. There’s one very clear response to these people – so what? I don’t care that he might only make one million this year as opposed to two! I don’t care that his next video in which he inadvertently promotes fascism while fellating Elon Musk won’t have a Squarespace sponsorship slapped in awkwardly halfway through! I don’t care that a soulless corporation will have the number one spot on a website that’s obviously soulless and corporate and is owned by the literal dictionary definition of a soulless corporation! 49 people were shot last night and that’s infinitely more important than dumb ad-ridden escapism or a faux sense of community.
On the other side of this extremely online argument are those who ponder if the Swedish YouTuber is either a useful idiot or an outright sympathizer of the far-right and if his channel serves as somewhat of a gateway to extreme right-wing ideology. People who believe this will point to the fact that he’s reviewed a book by infamous frog freak Jordan Peterson, did an “oopsie” by promoting a literal nazi cartoon reviewer (we live in dumb times), paid people on Fiverr to hold “death to all Jews” signs (edgy humor guys!!!111), followed a bunch of dumb right-wing grifters on twitter as well as dropping a few slurs on stream during heated gaming moments. Again, when it comes to these questions of his motives the best answer is just a simple “so what?”. Regardless of if he’s just dumb or malicious, it’s very clear that the far-right were able to use his fandom to push their ideology and were able to have their propaganda recommended right beside his videos. It’s clear that he platformed the far-right (either unintentionally or intentionally) and that’s more important than how he personally feels about them. Either he’s a full-on nihilist nazi or someone dumb enough to let alt-righters fester in his community, platform them on a regular basis “by accident” and follow a bunch of them on twitter without noticing something strange. It’s not like either is really a glowing endorsement of the YouTuber and it’s not like either shows that he’s responsibly using his platform. However, I do feel that some of the people who mainly lay the blame on PewDiePie are being kinda disingenuous.
If there’s anyone truly responsible for what went down in New Zealand it’s big tech. They’re the one constant presence in this story – the constant chase for high engagement and advertising revenue has lead to people being radicalized, falling in with far-right crowds then livestreaming their inevitable insecurity-fueled massacres on Facebook Live. If you need proof on this presumption of mine just read the manifesto left by the deranged shooter – a rambling mess that swerves from the navy seals copypasta and ironic screeds about Spyro 3 to genuine rants on white nationalism and ecofascism. The whole thing just screams “I got brain worms from the internet and this is my revenge!” – I mean he did actually joke about Fortnite flossing over his dead enemies at one point.
It’s blatantly obvious that sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Reddit have been monumental in the growth of the alt-right and it’s becoming that those behind the wheel at each company don’t seem to want to do anything about it. Jack Dorsey personally overruled his staff to keep literal white nationalist Richard Spencer on Twitter. Reddit’s CEO let the mask slip and implied that racism was allowed on his platform during an AMA. Facebook let you market to Nazis. The fact of the matter is quite simple – these libertarian techbros have nothing to gain from deplatforming dangerous right-wingers since they rake in stupid amounts of money from this kind of demographic. The Mountain Dew and Taquitos don’t sell themselves and it definitely helps that these companies also make money from these tragedies. In the words of every annoying SEO person on this planet, a major news event equals more clicks which in turn equals to more ads for Frito Lay and therefore more money. And hell, it’s not like they’re not going to get away with it virtually unscathed! Sure one or two articles may deride them during the media song-and-dance surrounding the event but nothing actually comes out of it besides a way-too-long twitter thread that beats the dead horse of online free speech while also somehow being about meditation and the values of debate, the one way to fight fascism. This liberal fetishization of free online debate is flawed as it presumes that literally anyone online acts in good faith, that debating the far-right doesn’t just normalize them, that we need to debate if the Holocaust happened and it ignores that sometimes the right’s freedom to speech comes in the form of bullets. And now we’re here. 49 people lay dead, their lives cut abruptly on Livestream by some deranged lunatic who spent too much time on incel-ridden imageboards and we all probably first found out about it in the form of a twitter notification. I’ve really only got one thing to say to those who brought us to this point in order to get another Frito Lay sponsorship. You got what you wanted, I hope you’re happy.