The means in which demagoguery is spread is essential to how successful it is. Two examples of its success can be found in recent pieces by journalist Kevin Roose: “The Making of a Youtube Radical” and a podcast entitled “The Business of Internet Outrage” by The Daily. In both of these, it is apparent that consumers and producers of social media react differently in that of whether they are persuading or being persuaded.
Although the basic idea of demagoguery involves persuasion, Patricia Roberts-Miller offers a better definition in chapter 3 of her book Demagoguery and Democracy. In it, she bridges a big part of demagoguery to identity and that it can be reduced to a “binary of us (good) versus them (bad). It says that good people recognize there is a bad situation and bad people don’t; therefore, to determine what policy agenda is the best, it says we should think entirely in terms of who is like us and who isn’t” (8). She makes demagoguery out to be an identity and even to the extent of a mass way of thinking similar to a hive mind. With this said, Demagoguery is supported by platforms that allow it to be produced and digested in one area. A platform supporting demagoguery would be wildly successful on websites such as the ones mentioned by Roose in “The Making of YouTube Radical” and “The Daily” podcast.
Demagoguery can thrive in an environment where the website actively pushes it to a consumer. In Roose’s “The Making of a Youtube Radical”, it can be noted that it exemplifies successful use of demagoguery in that of its effect on a young man named Caleb Cain. In 2014, Cain started a several year long process of being a member of YouTube’s Alt. Right movement. This was the result of Cain being at a very bad point in his life leaving him as an impressionable young man with lots of time on his hands. As a result of this, he fell into the trap of the algorithm that YouTube created to push similar content to their viewers. As Cain started with mildly right leaning videos, his experience became extremely right after 48 hours of recommendations became increasingly controversial and opinionated. This is an example of how demagoguery works online, as YouTube itself promotes an algorithm that pushes political content increasing with intensity to appeal to a demographic. An example Roose uses in his text is that he found that the “data points form a picture of a disillusioned young man, an internet-savvy group of right-wing reactionary and a powerful algorithm that learns to connect the two”(Roose). Out of this, and the definition of demagoguery that we already have, it can be deduced that YouTube could be partly responsible for Cain’s trip down the rabbit hole of far right content. However he recently has come to a realisation and began to think for himself, with his own ideas developing for him instead of letting YouTube decide his identity with their algorithm.
Though YouTube may seem like the definitive social media platform to push demagoguery on, Facebook is one that rivals it . In Roose’s podcast, “The Daily”, it is evident that Facebook is a platform that accommodates demagoguery in that of the way it allows content to be produced and pushed to its users. In “The Business of Internet Outrage”, the story of newly married couple Corey and Christy Pepples who began running a conservative news page entitled Mad World News. In it, they exploited the feature of facebook that shows similar posts and combined it with clickbait and fake news headlines. When compared to Roose’s article, it becomes apparent that the Pepples were not the victims in this scenario and were motivated by money rather than the sole idea of spreading demagoguery. It can even be argued that they didn’t know what they are getting themselves into This is evident when considering that every “twenty million views they told us they sometimes got paid around six dollars in ad revenue for every thousand views”(Roose) which rounds out to $126,000 a month to produce and spread demagoguery supporting conservative values. This is seen when Corey mentions that they “got better at what topics were reliably popular. Cop stories. If there’s something about a cop, right? Officers trying to do their jobs, thugs use them as punching bags with the kinds of headlines could get people to click”(Roose). This statement along with when Corey also said “You get paid for every click”(Roose) showcases their true intentions and the process that helped them spread demagoguery. To sum it up, the economics of producing demagoguery are clearly different than the identity of being directly affected by it.
In the grand scheme of things, demagoguery, as defined by Roberts-Miller, can be spread through social media . Of the two examples compared, one testimony was of a victim while the other was of the producer. Caleb Cain fell victim to demagoguery partly because of the way YouTube’s algorithm forced a new identity onto him. The Pepples utilized Facebook’s own algorithm for monetary value without focusing on spreading demagoguery. Overall, the spread of demagoguery expressed in “The Business of Internet Outrage” and “The Making of a Youtube Radical” were viewed from different perspectives — from the perspective of the consumer (Cain) the content-producer (the Pepples) — and therefore gives a better view of how it functions in society.