“What Others Dare Not Say”: An Antisemitic Conspiracy Fantasy and its YouTube Audience
The YouTube video-sharing platform is one of the most important sites for the dissemination of conspiracy theory, or—to give it a more accurately descriptive term—conspiracy fantasy. After surveying the historical and contemporary evidence for the role of conspiracy fantasy in right-wing violent extremism, this article turns its focus to a YouTube video excerpted from a public lecture in which professional conspiracy theorist David Icke purports to expose members of a “Rothschild Zionist” secret society. First, historical discourse analysis is used to situate Icke’s fantasy within the antisemitic tradition of the extreme right. Then, the reception of Icke’s fantasy is studied through quantitative content analysis of YouTube user comments (n = 1123). Comments supportive of the video and its creator are found to outnumber comments that challenge them, as are comments expressing hostility to Jews or extending the video’s accusations against “Rothschild Zionists” to real-world Jewish collectivities. Moreover, the most popular comments are found to be disproportionately likely to be supportive of Icke or his video or otherwise anti-Jewish. These findings provide evidence that at least the active portion of the video’s YouTube audience may have had a tendency not only towards support of Icke’s ideas but also towards linkage of those ideas with an overtly antisemitic worldview. It is argued that YouTube’s ranking of comments by popularity may be serving to insulate harmful fantasies such as Icke’s from rational challenge by rendering genuinely critical responses invisible. This illustrates the dangers of outsourcing the evaluation of content to an online user community. But it also suggests that YouTube’s user interface design may be actively contributing to the spread of misinformation and bigotry by placing those who try to oppose them at a disadvantage.
Keywords: antizionism, audience, conspiracism, conspiracy fantasy, conspiracy theory, content analysis, David Icke, discourse analysis, reception, right-wing extremism, YouTube
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With thanks to Peter Neumann for providing the authors with a copy of this document.
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Additional codes for other forms of racism and for the advocation of violence were used during the coding process. Some of the comments identified through use of those codes were very disturbing. For example, one commenter wrote that “Soros, Kissinger, Rothschild should be dragged through the streets and then hung by the neck till dead,” while another wrote “let’s kill all Zionists and there will be no problems on earth.” However, such comments were too rare for a robust estimate of reliability to be feasible, and so these codes were dropped.
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As noted above, expressions of racism against other groups in comments on Icke’s video were not wholly absent, but were too rare to study through the means employed here.
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