On today’s podcast we’re talking about PragerU, the infamous and growing conservative nonprofit that’s probably best known for its YouTube channel with recent uploads like “Why I Sued My Daughter’s Woke School”, “What Kinds of Shows is PBS Making Now?”, and “Teachers are Training Marxist Revolutionaries.” Which on its face is quite a silly thing to talk about, but this channel receives billions of views each year and is a stronghold of conservative leaders and talking points.
To help us make sense of PragerU, as well as understand what its goals and objectives are, we’re joined by Rob Dickinson and Tom Cowin from the University of Sussex. Rob and Tom both have backgrounds in international relations and global policy, and together founded FRAMES project in 2020 to analyze contemporary far-right propaganda in the US, with a specific focus on PragerU. This project is virtually the first of its kind, with essentially no coverage of PragerU in academic circles.
This podcast dives into the methodology and role of PragerU in the education sphere, offering educators reasons why they should care, why they need to be informed, and what actions they can take to stop PragerU from propagandizing students/other educators.
Rob Dickinson, leads the African Cabinet and Political Elite Data project, working with the Scaling-up Packages of Interventions for Cardiovascular disease prevention in selected sites in Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa (SPICES) project, and researches how the Trump Administration may fit into historical patterns of neoliberalism as a candidate for a PhD in International Relations at the University of Sussex.
Tom Cowin, delivers undergraduate teaching in International Relations, International Political Economy, and Globalisation and Global Governance at the University of Sussex. He previously held the position Doctoral Tutor Representative for IR, sits on the Management Committee for the weekly PGR-led Chapter Chats sessions and is a Postgraduate Researcher Representative for Sussex UCU.
Both Rob and Tom are co-founders of the FRAMES project to study far-right propaganda in the United States, with a specific focus on PragerU.
0:00:11.3 Chris McNutt: Hello and welcome to episode 117 [oops, should have said 118!] of our podcast. My name is Chris McNutt and I'm part of the progressive education nonprofit Human Restoration Project. Before we get started, I wanted to let you know that this is brought to you by our supporters. Three of whom are Norman DeLisle Jr, John White and Jennifer Mann, thank you for your ongoing support. You can learn more about the Human Restoration Project on our website, humanrestorationproject.org or find us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. On today's podcast, we're talking about PragerU, the infamous and growing conservative nonprofit that's probably best known for its YouTube channel with recent uploads that I just found. Like, "Why I sued my daughter's woke school, or what kinds of shows is PBS making now?"
0:00:56.4 CM: And my personal favorite, "Teachers are training Marxist revolutionaries," which on its face, it's kind of a silly thing to talk about but this channel receives billions of views every year. And it's a stronghold of conservative leaders and talking points. To help us make sense of PragerU as well as understand what its goals and objectives are, we're joined by Rob Dickinson and Tom Cowin from the University of Sussex. Rob and Tom both have backgrounds in international relations and global policy. And together founded the frames project in 2020 to analyze contemporary far right propaganda in the United States with a specific focus now on PragerU. This project is essentially the first of its kind because there virtually is no coverage of PragerU in academic circles. So thank you, Robin and Tom for joining us today.
0:01:41.8 Tom Cowin: Thank you for having us.
0:01:43.1 CM: Awesome. Awesome. So the first question I wanna start with really is just like, why are you doing this? One, because it is the kind of the first of its kind. So like, why start there? Why is it important? But also it's especially interesting because you're not in the states and PragerU is a very like states focused thing. So why? Why do PragerU?
0:02:04.3 TC: I've never actually come across a PragerU advert on YouTube which as a Brit, I don't think much beyond the norm but Rob is like yourself, an American and Rob gets bombarded with PragerU adverts on YouTube. The main reason that we're doing what we're doing is because PragerU sits in that really, really interesting sort of gray area between the mainstream and the far right. And a lot of the attention, a lot of the scholarly attention, media attention is almost entirely devoted to the far right, the far right end of the spectrum. And then obviously you have a huge amount of media money on mainstream projects as well. There's not that much on where they intersect and PragerU is a big part of that intersection. And then you alluded to it a little bit in your intro, right? They've had billions of views, their advertising budget is in the millions. And I can't really think of many other things that have had billions upon billions of views that academics haven't really got their teeth into yet. And yet here we are with PragerU and no one in academia talking about it.
0:03:25.6 Rob Dickinson: Yeah. When we first started in 2020, the idea came about because I get, like Tom mentioned, just bombarded with YouTube ads for a variety of just far right garbage. Right now it's the daily wire. I get tons of daily wire content as ads. And I approached Tom because we're working on similar areas for our PhDs in kind of the timeframe just before PragerU. Well, I guess as PragerU rose to prominence. We were going to start off with a paper about YouTube and advertising algorithms but then quickly realized there's so little written about it that we have to build our own literary body to work off of. We had picked PragerU as a case study because it's so big and has so much funding but then we realized no one had written anything about PragerU. So for more selfish reasons as early academics they're easy papers to write because if no one's written about it, proving your originality is really easy.
0:04:28.8 CM: Sure. Why do you think it is that no one is studying just YouTube in general, considering that, I mean, it's a platform that's been around for what, at least a decade as mainstream?
0:04:41.6 TC: So I think a couple of things. We like to work with text, academics in general find text much easier to pass, particularly small chunks of text like Twitter, as I'm sure you know, is the darling network for academic research. I mean, being slightly hypocritical here, my thesis uses Twitter data. So I am guilty as charged as referring Twitter. By comparison, YouTube while they do have obviously a massive and often awful comment section, the bulk of the videos, the reason that we're all there, the reason that YouTube is one of, if not the most visited website on the planet, the reason that people spend about four or five times as long on YouTube, every visit than they do Facebook, Twitter is because of the videos.
0:05:27.6 TC: And videos are just much harder to work with, particularly on the sort of scale that you need to be able to work with to understand how the right in the US and across the world are manipulating and engaging with algorithms to spread their message. It's so much harder to do on YouTube than it is just to feed a bunch of tweets into a network analysis program and have it churn out a proxy map which again, guilty as charged, that's what I did for my thesis. But YouTube is so much harder to work with and then there's also the delay in academia around peer review, as I'm sure we'll mention we have a couple papers in peer review at the moment. And it takes a while. So, there is always that time delay. And YouTube moves so fast. Social media as a whole does, but YouTube I think in particular moves really, really, really fast. And academia is always playing catchup and with no exception.
0:06:26.8 RD: With YouTube, the audience is so much bigger, partially because content takes longer to digest, and they have more space to be able to say what they want to say. And that makes it harder on academics too, it just takes longer. There's a reason why. I don't think we have ever used a full Fireside Chat with Dennis Prager video, because it's an hour long, and there's just no way we're gonna sit through that. I think we've used clips. But there's just... Yeah, the reality of it. It's also important to mention how important just media coverage of it is. There was a real spike in academic work around this about the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Tom and I were both aware of that before starting this project, and I think both of us expected that academics who just kept paying attention to it afterwards, and that's not the case. It's important to recognize how unaware most people, including academics are, of how prevalent this radicalization is and how widely manipulated the average person is, including all of us. Manipulation works very well.
0:07:38.8 CM: Yeah. The content they offer is... It's both intriguing as well as horrifying, [chuckle] at least to me, when I go across their offerings. And I always remember PragerU as being the organization that had the really well-produced infographic videos, where they would show you all this... What they saw as cool research typically on conservative issues like dismantling public institutions or something of that nature. And we spoke before about how this methodology is very much being shifted toward educating younger groups of children. I was just on their YouTube channel, and some of the most recent uploads are people that are likely in their 30s dressed as if they're 15 with '90s graphics around them, like they're trying to be on Nickelodeon. And I subjected myself to going to their website and looking at their programming options. There's this graphic on there that's like... It's like, "PragerU for your family," or something like that.
0:08:42.1 CM: And There's all these little icons, the different shows. Some of them are literal children shows like cartoons, some of them are the shows with the 30-year-old people. And also I thought it was just very funny that Dennis Prager's Fireside Chat is on there, which obviously stood out to me. I, of course, had to watch one. And it's... To describe to people what this is like, it's very like FDR-style Dennis Prager seated in front of his fireplace at his, I'm assuming his mansion, or a set. And the episode opens with him and his dog, it's like his bulldog. And he's like, "Oh, look at the cute little doggy who's joining us today. Anyways, let's talk about how woke left is gonna destroy your child." It's like, [chuckle] "Where did that come from?" but also this is aimed at kids, that's very weird. So what's going on there? Why are they doing all this?
0:09:36.2 RD: I think you can really see an evolution over time with PragerU. Yeah, I think particularly the Fireside Chats really stand out as kind of left over. I think maybe Dennis himself really likes those, so he doesn't wanna give them up. But they couldn't possibly make them more like the opening scene to The Simpsons Halloween episodes if they tried. You can really see a shift over time. Early PragerU videos were Dennis' Story Hour and the Candace Owens Show and some on-the-street sketches. And then they expanded into a lot of Antifa, Black Lives Matter, feminism response stuff. And I think that's where they got their biggest... There was kind of a time period where they were very clearly targeting young adults. And that's probably where they got the most attention and responses from YouTube, because it's young adults who are active on there. Now you can really see them expanding both ways.
0:10:35.1 RD: You can see stuff very actively targeted towards moms, the mom audience, and parents, including explicit calls to take your kids out of public school, begin homeschooling. And then you can see on the other end, it's I think started with bringing Will Witt and Amala on as influencers for the Gen Z crowd. But then... Yeah, like you said, there's a lot of content that really seems like they're ripping off Nickelodeon. They've got slimed videos, where it's like a quiz show, and you get goop thrown on you. And then they've got just direct cartoons. I think they've done quite an effective job now of getting a bit less attention, because they're not targeting young adults any more, because now, they're targeting parents and children.
0:11:27.4 CM: What's the... So I think that it's almost inherently obvious what the concern is here for educators, given that it seems as if the end-goal of this is to unmake and dismantle public education, as well as frankly make it dangerous for many youth to be in the classroom if they are part of the LGBTQ community. Honestly, even at this point, if they're not white, with some of the conversations that are occurring here. But is there a direct connection in any way? The folks that are running PragerU, that are working with PragerU, that are funding PragerU, what is their goal for education? What is the grand project beyond just making YouTube money?
0:12:15.0 TC: I think that's a really difficult question, because we've gotta then try and read in motives, which as... Particularly as someone from the UK, it's a little bit harder for me to do. But broadly speaking, there's obviously the... It's been part of the Republican Party's platform, the Right wing in the US's platform, for years, decades to starve the beast, to reduce any sort of public expenditure to nil or as close to nil as possible. And education, I think is one of the few social programs in the states that is still like universal ubiquitous. So it is a place where a lot of federal money, a lot of tax dollars can be saved. But beyond that, I think, and this is definitely just speculating and I'm probably reading a little bit too much into it with my historian's hat on. Historically the people bankrolling PragerU or the types of people bankrolling PragerU like big business, they have been terrified of students and young people in education settings.
0:13:38.6 TC: This goes back obviously way back to the red scare, Richard Hofstadter, I think 1964 wrote about the paranoid style of the American right. And the focus even then was obsessively on what are kids learning, admittedly this time in universities rather than in specifically schools. The Powell memo, which was a memo to the chamber of commerce written by... I think he was a Supreme court justice at the time. Powell Junior who titled it, an attack on the American free enterprise system. And part of this was a response to the civil rights movement, to the uprisings in the student protests, the wave of activism in the 1960s. And one of the three planks that Powell identified as needing to be sort of brought round to the right wing business way of thinking was education and universities in particular.
0:14:40.4 TC: And in the memo, Powell, explicitly calls for screening textbooks, managing the content of curricula and it's out of the Powell memo and the movement that Powell sparks amongst the people that are funding PragerU that you see the likes of the heritage foundation and the sort of the creation of a group of right wing, a network of right wing think tanks that even today still steer conversation. So for me with that historian's cap on, I see PragerU as sort of the, not quite the logical next step, but not far off, this is very much in keeping with the tradition of trying to almost de-democratized education, because when education is democratized, you start to see protests like you saw in the 60's. And that is probably the only thing that scares capital and big businesses. People taking matters into their own hands and educating themselves and getting on the streets and demanding change.
0:15:43.6 RD: Yeah. Whenever whenever they do studies about education and conservatism or leftism the more educated people are, the less likely they are to be conservative and conservatives are aware of that. It's the same reason why when PragerU presents itself as an educational institution they're being misleading.
0:16:03.5 CM: Yeah, it's an interesting point. I think it connects well to why at a more, I guess, micro level in the classroom, educators should be aware of the work that's going on here, because it's not just that PragerU supplying, I guess, propaganda or educational resources from the right in a very specific way towards young people and towards moms and really going towards family oriented content. But as you said earlier, they also market the hell out of their resources towards all those groups. And if you are a young white man in especially the United States and you don't have YouTube premium, you are probably getting PragerU ads every other time you log in.
0:16:51.4 CM: And it's part of that ecosystem too, of like... I think like like Tim Pool, Jimmy Dore, Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, they're all in that space of not only, and I say this in square quotes, educating people on issues, but also giving them talking points and propagandizing them toward a certain mode of thinking that doesn't involve any kind of critical thought. It's just repeating what you're told and then rejecting typically with rage towards those that you don't agree with. So from a classroom teacher level, when you're looking at your research and considering what the takeaways are, why would just a typical teacher care? Why does any of this matter?
0:17:40.5 RD: I think the most obvious answer is that the teacher in the classroom next door might be playing PragerU videos for the kids, that's happened in many instances, and to be aware that I think it's perfectly understandable that teachers might look for educational videos online. I remember for me when I was in high school, my teachers would play a lot of Khan academy and Ted talks, and those are the exact institutions that PragerU attempts to mimic, and they mimic it very successfully. The videos look and sound like those other videos. So yeah, make sure as teachers you're vetting the content you're showing, because it might not be as educational as it presents itself to be.
0:18:22.5 TC: I mean, the other thing is it's super difficult to be a teacher. I teach a little bit at a university, so I'm delivering seminars to undergrads and we're overworked, underpaid. It can be quite liberating, I think, to stumble upon some resources that someone else has produced and to be able to demonstrate them. But as Rob said, yeah, you absolutely need to be really, really conscious, really, really careful about the sorts of materials that you show in the classroom. It is a little bit scary how well they ape Khan academy and Ted talks, I like Rob saw hundreds of Ted talks. I mean, he doesn't love a Ted talk. And when you get a PragerU video with the same sort of polish with the infographics you mentioned, the pastel color scheme, and the authoritative voice of this supposed expert who finishes every video with, I'm so and so from Prager University. If you're not aware of PragerU, then maybe that... They do so well to appropriate all the cultural capital they can from sources with real authority and pass it off as their authority.
0:19:46.9 RD: And just in general, you need to know who your competition is. I think that that's a real shift with PragerU and kind of the contemporary push against public education. There's, obviously, still huge school board-level opposition in trying to change the textbooks and change the content in schools, but there really seems to be a bigger push, and you can really see it in PragerU as well, to remove children from public school altogether, either to homeschool them or enroll them in charter schools or private religious schools. PragerU goes beyond trying to supplement public education to just need to be aware that's the goal here, that this is the competition.
0:20:30.9 CM: The work too seems to very much coincide with... I started off my teaching career teaching social studies, and that wasn't that long ago. Kids were on YouTube getting talking points from various right-wing sources. And understanding the ecosystem helps you de-radicalize. Obviously, the goal of the institution is not to turn kids into radical leftists, but certainly the goal isn't to allow them to continually foster these ideas of hate that are given through ultra-right leaning organizations. This isn't one of those issues that can necessarily beat fire with fire. At least not in the same manner, but it's being done. Which leads me to kind of a side question, but how does this relate if at all, I'm not sure if this really relates to your research, but to organizations like the Gravel Institute, where it's meant to be like the leftist version of the same thing?
0:21:34.6 TC: Yeah. And so we obviously come across the Gravel Institute really early on. The thing I think that... Well, there are two things in my opinion, rope jumping that separates the PragerUs of the world from the likes of the Gravel Institute. Capital, PragerU just has so, so much more money. There is... Again, I think was it about $50 billion worth of revenue, they spend most of that on... Million, sorry. They spend... Yeah, of course not billion. And they spend most of that on advertising, and the attempts to then get in that space are just incessant. The sheer volume of content that PragerU and the rest of the intellectual dark web, if you want. I don't particularly enjoy the term. But they just... They have the left well and truly beaten fair volume and it's... You can go through the Gravel Institute's Twitter page and be done in maybe an hour or two.
0:22:45.2 TC: PragerU, you'll just keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling because they just put out so, so much more content than any competing leftist, left-leaning organization. Much more than Centrist organizations as well. And if you've got 6 billion viewers, even if you only convince a percentage point, that's still a huge number of people. So a lot of it is throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks, but they have the money to be able to just churn out content to reach as many people as they can. I don't really think they're particularly bothered about their success rate, just because of the sheer numbers that we're working with.
0:23:30.3 CM: That makes me then consider as we're talking about this shifting towards how do we combat against it? I'm sure the folks that are listening into this podcast are not like, you're gonna go on to PragerU and all of a sudden change their mind about [laughter] any of these issues. But they are going to be concerned with, well, how do I even combat an organization that has that much funds, and for that matter, kind of aggressive supporters? We, actually, unknowingly to a certain extent, we sponsored a YouTuber for our conference that was a few weeks ago, and the YouTuber put our ad into a video that was against PragerU, which is fine, I don't care about that. But as a result, the PragerU ecosystem kind of came after [laughter] Human Restoration Project. We got all of these comments, we got the Twitter influencers, if you will, quote tweeting HRP stuff.
0:24:28.9 CM: And it's shocking the level of engagement far-right organizations have in mobilizing almost like online armies. Within literally 10 minutes of a quote tweet, you'll get 30 replies, if not more, that are just not only visceral, but to the point of being dangerous. You have folks that try to dox you, folks that try to oust you to your institution, and then kind of perform almost libel and slander against the work that you're doing in order to ruin you in some way. So before we dive into specific actions folks can take, how do you go about working in a space where you know that everything that you say and do is not only going be monitored and surveilled by these organizations, but also mobilized against?
0:25:19.1 RD: Yeah. So I think there's a term that Tom and I have been throwing around a lot recently called intransigence. And what that term refers to is how people are kind of taught to ignore arguments against their beliefs. If you've ever tried to talk to your far-right uncle about something over Thanksgiving dinner, and then met with just a stone wall, that's intransigence. And I think it's important to understand that what is being taught at PragerU is intransigence. And when you see far-right content that masquerades itself as educational content, that's what they're teaching, is how to tell their viewers how to combat attempts by the left, by everyone else to de-radicalize them. So a lot of it, I think, is trying to make sure that what you are saying doesn't match what the far right says you'll be saying because there are very specific talking points that they'll essentially teach viewers how to respond to.
0:26:30.3 RD: And so if you make those points, you're not gonna get anywhere. You might not get anywhere anyway, it's extremely difficult. But I think that's one of the first steps, is being aware of what they expect you to say. Because if that's what you say, they'll already know how to respond to it. People are dug in. For Tom and I, I think a lot of what working in this space looks like is a few weeks ago we deleted our social media accounts. There's discussions we'll have to have with the journals we publish in about potential lawsuits, because you can be sued for libel and slander, regardless of whether or not you say anything untrue. So I think just being aware of the realities that the people that you're going up against and the institutions you're going up against have a lot more money and resources than you do. That's just the reality of the situation.
0:27:32.9 RD: But I think tapping into the wider community and network of people and activists and scholars that are working against the far-right is a really effective way. That YouTuber you mentioned, Zoe Bee, that's how we actually got in touch with you all. And that video that she made was talking about Tom and my research. We're in the process of planning a book about PragerU at the moment, and Zoe Bee is one of our chapter contributors at this point. So I think the more you can get involved with community efforts, the more you can understand the arguments the far right is making and the arguments that they expect you to make, the better chance you'll have in making an impact.
0:28:21.8 CM: Yeah.
0:28:21.9 TC: I mean, solidarity is the main thing. I think finding a network of like-minded people as Rob said, there's comfort in community and people can support you and each other. And hopefully at some point we'll be able to return the favor if we ever find ourselves in the process. Yeah. The other thing is I suppose, get involved with kind of solidarity as well. If you're a member of a profession, get involved with your union in order to access their resources and the solidarity there, it's just about finding mutual aid and support wherever you can. And don't expect that it won't happen at some point, 'cause it probably will. Yeah, it's something we'll work through, I think, more as we get more and more papers published but it comes with the territory. As you say, we are dealing with people who can be mobilized very, very quickly.
0:29:28.4 TC: I mean, this isn't us reading into what PragerU say, they come out and say that like, this is how we wanna get people with sort of the wider, shorter snappier punchier five minute videos. And they actually describe it as a content funnel to funnel people in toward to get them fully locked into the ecosystem. I think at that point, when you're locked into the ecosystem, it does become very, very difficult, that I imagine the sort of people who get active and get defensive and will quote tweet and attempt to dox and that sort of thing. But there's always hope, I think around the margins, whether that's us building solidarities ourselves or just being able to sort of pull people away before they drop off the precipice.
0:30:11.7 RD: It also goes back to your last question about the Gravel Institute. I think trying to fight fire with fire in this instance won't work particularly well. I applaud all the efforts to do so, and I'm as strong as supporter of the Gravel Institute as you'll find. But in a war of attrition, the side with more resources is gonna win. They have much more resources than we do. There are spectacular content creators out there like Zoe Bee, like a variety of left-wing YouTubers who full-time respond to PragerU videos and other radicalizing videos. And they do a great job of de-radicalizing people and helping people stay informed about contemporary issues without falling into far-right manipulation. For Tom and I, and I think for other people who were interested in trying to do something against far-right radicalization, it often looks like, what can you do in your life and with your skillset? So for Tom and I, we're not YouTubers, we have an audience of essentially zero. So what we can do is write academic papers, and try and influence policy to some level. And when we've talked to impact groups and other academics that often seems like where the potential for us to make some kind of change comes in. And I'm sure we'll get into responses more.
0:31:48.0 CM: Yeah, and that that's really what I want to to really finalize with, which is how do we respond to this in our own way? I said before that as a classroom teacher, the ways are uncomfortable but obvious. If you are able to de-radicalize students by having transparent conversations with them about beliefs and allowing them to express their beliefs and talk about things like current events and politics in the classroom, in a way that's not meant to radicalize them the other way, just mostly to get facts out there and talk about things. I remember students would bring up crime statistics, for example, very racist crime statistics. And then we had to go through like, "Well, no. This is what the report actually says," and they can say whatever they want, but it's just getting the truth out there and having a really holistic look at not only the content of your classroom, but all of these outside forces that are also influencing your classroom day after day.
0:32:43.8 CM: I taught social studies during 2016, and that was the worst year of teaching in my entire life teaching government, because that just completely transformed the conversations in the classroom. And it was brutal, but kids would walk away from that room, not being as extreme as they were before because of those interventions and having those conversations. Now, I'm curious to hear in general, what responses you think there should be but I'm also curious about, do you think that folks should react online? Should folks be responding to these folks in online ecosystems like social media or YouTube comments or etcetera? Or is that just fodder? Is that just stirring the hoard?
0:33:24.4 RD: Yeah. There's so much to say here. I'm hoping you can keep Tom and I on track about it. But yeah, I think the first thing to say, the reason that the far right has always been so strongly against public education and the reason that public education is so often cited by the right as somehow indoctrinating leftism into children, the reason for all of that is that high quality education is one of the most effective tools against radicalization. If you already have some level of education or ability to be critical about the sources that you're gaining information from, you become much less vulnerable to manipulation. And that's why they're so against it.
0:34:04.8 TC: Yeah. I think it's quite a lot about less combating specific claims as, I mean, Rob already explain why that's a singularly bad idea, 'cause they'll just counter-punch. It's more about fostering hard skills like the ability to read a text and discern like, you wrote it, why did they write it? What were they experiencing while they wrote it. Again, historian's hat on here interrogating sources and that's obviously a lot harder to do when you're in a YouTube comment section. It's a lot harder to do when you've got 280 characters on Twitter. So broadly speaking, I think this is the sort of education that you do most effectively face to face in person at the front of the classroom. Obviously small class sizes help, so you can actually sit down and talk to people and the longer.
0:35:05.6 TC: But then on the flip side, I suppose within this, in a similar vein, one thing that the right has been able to do is essentially weaponize – effect where you, someone will react to you. And then you'll get 10,000 people saying, look at these idiots on the right. They're making a stupid point that doesn't match up with the empirical fact. And then you just shared that with 10,000 people's networks and maybe there's one or two people in there who will click on the original post and actually think actually this is right. So for that reason, I would probably caution against engaging directly. Don't give people the oxygen of publicity. Sunlight isn't always the best disinfectant when you've got so, so many people that are viewing the content in the first place.
0:36:04.8 RD: Do I think it's possible to convince someone through YouTube comments to change their worldview? Probably not, no. I certainly wouldn't recommend trying. Is there a chance that it could work? Yes, but I think it's important to remember. We only have so much capacity to do this work. Put it towards more optimal ends, use your energy elsewhere. Whenever I see a million comments and retweets and right wing angry comments, I'm a little bolstered by it because it's activist energy going to waste for the most part. There's no doubt in my mind, Tom and I will be on the receiving end of a lot of that at some point in the future. But instead of putting your efforts towards trying to de-radicalize someone via social media, who you don't know, put your efforts towards making yourself more resilient against manipulation.
0:37:11.0 RD: It is everywhere and the reason it's so effective is because our brains are really susceptible to it. Manipulation works because we're all susceptible. So be wary and try and get a better understanding of where your sources are coming from and where you get your information from. But like we mentioned earlier, I think the most effective thing anyone can do to combat the far right is local collectivization, organizing people. Start with your neighborhood, start with your community, start with your union, if you have one or form a new one. But I really think that's where the potential for gain for our efforts is. You can burn yourself out responding to comments in an afternoon and that doesn't do much good for anyone.
0:38:04.0 TC: Or you could spend those two hours attending the PTA meeting. The one thing that the right has again done historically very well is they turn out for every damn election no matter how small it is. They go to the school boards, they go to council meetings and they get involved at a really, really local level. This is like... Weirdly, this is all stuff that left leaning thinkers from years gone by suggested that left activists do is that we read Saul Alinsky's rule for radicals, we go to the meeting and if there's 10 of you there, then you're gonna sway policy at a really micro level, which then feeds up and up and up and the right has done that so, so well. And I think there's a sizable capacity in the American left and the global left to start to regain those spaces because there's not that many people who do get involved at a local level. And at the minute it tends to be those on the right, it doesn't have to be.
0:39:11.1 CM: It's a closing thought. I'm curious about your reaction really to this, which is, we had Henry Giroux, Dr. Henry Giroux at our conference. And he proposed in his keynote that educators need to turn themselves toward more public pedagogy and get involved more in digital spaces, meeting students where they're at, young people where they're at, adults where they're at, in framing the discourse and in sharing ideas. Now you all obviously have reached out to a YouTuber to promote your work, and it's gonna... That alone, it has a exponential number of views probably versus what your eventual paper will have read. Because that's just how academia works. What are your thoughts about how you can utilize these new mediums and public pedagogy to talk about these ideas?
0:40:04.7 TC: Yeah. I think the key is in the framing the discourse part of the statement, that is so difficult to do, and that is what the right-wing media ecosystem does so effectively is it sets the terms of debate. And the trick I suppose is to be able to get the right to come to you and fight and debate on your terms, rather than people on the left thinking they're talking about critical race theory, we've got to defend critical race theory. They've picked the battleground because they just come out and tweet it. They say there was a specific goal for promoting critical race theory specifically to undermine the faith in the public education system. That's again, it's not analysis, they just come out and say it. And as long as the right has that ability to set the terms to frame discourse, I think it will always be a lot harder for us on the left to do something about it.
0:41:06.4 TC: And how you then sort of intervene and how you set the terms comes down to, I think, as Rob was alluding to, understanding the sort of the fundamentals of the platforms that we're engaging with. YouTube algorithm will work in one way for everyone. If PragerU, Ben Shapiro, Daily Wire have learned how to use that for their ends, then it's clearly something that we can learn as well. And if we can do that then, and sort of get there half a second quicker, get there one above the right on the YouTube recommended videos list, then we've got a much greater chance of preventing people from becoming radicalized in the first instance.
0:41:52.0 RD: It's important to remember that when you're thinking about these systems, even social media and the way that new media operates, these are systems that have been set up and structured by the right. There's a reason that all social media companies today are for profit corporations, so to a certain extent they have a structural advantage. And they're going to continue to have that advantage as long as the policy stays the way it is. So part of the unfortunate difficult answer to questions about what we can do is, policy change. Obviously more funding for education, but even things around better content policing by social media, reshaping some of the structural issues in social media and new media. As much as that happens, the more it happens, the better we'll be in a position to combat far-right radicalization.
0:42:57.9 CM: For sure. Thank you so much guys, I think this is a conversation that's needed now more than ever because this growth of radicalization online and use of social media by ultra right wing institutions is not gonna go away. It's only gonna become more and more prevalent at the current rate so I think this work is needed now more than ever. Is there... Outside of watching the Zoe Bee video that's covering your work, is there any other place that you would turn folks towards to learn more?
0:43:30.7 RD: We've got a blog post coming out with you all, and in a couple weeks our academic papers, if you feel like reading them, will eventually become available at some point. It takes incredibly long to get through the publishing process and if you happen to be listening to this three or four years down the line, we'll have a book available about PragerU too.
0:43:54.5 CM: Awesome. Thank you so much, Rob and Tom. It's been fantastic, look forward to talking to you more soon.
0:43:58.5 RD: Thanks.
0:44:00.0 TC: Thank you for having us.
0:44:03.7 CM: Thank you again for listening to Human Restoration Projects podcast. I hope this conversation leaves you inspired and ready to push the progressive envelope of education. You can learn more about progressive education, support our cause and stay tuned to this podcast and other updates on our website at humanrestorationproject.org.
The Alt-Education Pipeline: PragerU (Writing)