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How YouTube Self-Help Videos Helped Radicalize One Young Liberal

Caleb Cain talks about YouTube content and the tech company's Resist algorithm.
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Why was this young, formerly-liberal man suddenly spouting propaganda about Muslims taking over western civilization? "How do you explain how you came to absorb those extreme views so much?" Alysin Camerota asked Caleb Cain.

"It was mostly due to the people I was listening to. The people I was listening to were selling me a narrative that cultural Marxists and, you know, immigrants and Muslims and basically liberals were trying to destroy western civilization in some sort of socialist regime," Cain said.

"It's the type of rhetoric you hear from people online across the political spectrum. What it boils down to is, it's digital hate politics. It leads people to radicalization. For me, in my opinion, radicalization is a public health crisis. We need to fix it through education and providing mental health support, support I didn't have growing up is what led me down the path."

Camerota asked if he felt he would have eventually become violent, as we've seen with others.

"I don't know if I was veering toward violence. I never felt that way. From what I see, the people that turn to violence feel at the end of their line, that their back is against the wall. These were people we saw in the New Zealand shooting. They were deeply ingrained within social groups online. Giving people -- relieving anxieties people have through their economic situation or their personal lives, it's fixing those situations that's going to keep us from seeing more violence," he said.

"By the way, we also need to talk about the role that YouTube plays. They directed you to more and more extreme videos. Once you found one and YouTube could tell through its algorithms that you liked it, you were watching it, you were engaged, they directed you to more and more extreme videos. They need to take some responsibility for that as well," Camerota said.

"I think what YouTube needs to do is have clear terms of service of what's acceptable and what isn't. I am a free speech advocate. What I saw on the platform was people taking advantage of the algorithm. It doesn't care what your politics are. It cares about watch time and keeping you on platform. The A.I. they use for this is called Reinforce. the whole idea is to keep you watching more and more. Extremists come online and take advantage of it," Cain replied.


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Cain said he climbed out as he got exposed to other ideas.

"I educated myself on the problems and the issues. I started to reach out for emotional support from others. That's what we are trying to do, my team and I. I have a bunch of volunteers. We have set up digital platforms to try to deradicalize young people online through social intervention and compassion-based conversations to combat this whole thing of digital hate politics."

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