Identity & Authenticity

This course has been exploring the connections between the rise of digital platforms, disinformation, persuasion and propaganda, algorithmic curation, and a theory of media effects that is rooted in the power of interpersonal social influence, or “suggestion.”

This week, we explore the rising power of content creators, who now exceed 50 million full and part-timers who use Instagram, Twitch, TikTok, YouTube and other platforms

First, we meet Ian Danskin, whose YouTube channel, Innuendo Studios has 379,000 subscribers. He is creating video essays about games, art, politics, and culture. In his video essay, “The Alt-Right Playbook: How to Radicalize a Normie,” he offers a 5-step process on how teen and young adults fall into the rabbit-hole world of conspiracy theories and white supremacy discourses. I was particularly struck by his claim about conservative identities as a “lifestyle brand,” or “a cure for soul sickness.” He described the accessible, approachable and authentic performances of YouTubers like David Crowder and Jordan Peterson. Without referencing GamerGate specifically, he explains how fan communities can devolve as pro-Nazi discourse gradually becomes “the price of admission.” Hating women, hating immigrants, hating Jews — and hating the left are conflated as fans get exposed to more and more radical ideas, where repetition dulls the shock of hate-filled content. Ultimately, Danskin reminds us, people are persuaded more by feelings than facts, and the sense of belonging is of primary importance in the maintenance of alt-right ideologies. The one hopeful note Danskin offers is this: “Change Gabe’s surroundings and you change Gabe.”

Explorations in Identity Propaganda. We read the work of Madhavi Reddi and her colleagues, exploring a work entitled Identity propaganda: Racial narratives and disinformation in New Media & Society. The active reader will have already noticed that I have linked to the PDFs of these works as annotated by my students. We’re practicing the art of “slow conversation” by commenting on our encounters with scholarly authors. In this work, scholars use critical race theory to explore how media discourses naturalize racism in the depiction of Kamala Harris. The authors show how the practice of othering, essentializing, and authenticating served to bring explicit and coded forms of racism activate prejudice and racial resentment.

Explorations of the Construction of Authenticity. Researchers in media and communication studies are exploring the behaviors of micro-celebrities in relation to the rise of charismatic authoritarianism. Rebecca Lewis published “This is what the news won’t show you”: YouTube creators and the reactionary politics of micro-celebrity in Television & New Media, exploring how reactionary YouTubers are strategic in the development of intimacy and self-commodification, being responsive to audience feedback in a reciprocal manner. I appreciate how she identifies the role of sensationalism in garnering attention and the strategic use of shaming as a means to silence dissenting view while grabbing power. But she also claims that rejection of mainstream news media is the first step in alt-right radicalization — a claim that I reject, but one that has been used to critique media literacy.



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