Ben Shapiro: Okay, let’s say for the sake of argument that all of the water levels around the world rise by let’s say five feet over the next hundred years, say ten feet. You think that people aren’t going to just sell their homes and move?
Hbomberguy: Just one small problem, sell their houses to who, Ben? (beep) Aquaman?
Briahna Joy Gray: It will come as no surprise to you that there is an ideological battle going on in this country. More than one in fact. A great deal of media attention has been paid to the fact that political polarization has grown over the last few decades, with Americans increasingly not just seeing each other as having a difference of opinion, but as being as “A threat to the nation’s wellbeing.” As we discussed on episode 10 of the podcast, the response from some liberals to far-right activists, pulling the country to the right, has been to pivot to the center. The result has been growing ideological discord among the broader left, as more and more Americans find themselves without a comfortable ideological home.
These ideological battles are being fought all over the country in wide-ranging environments. Back in 2016, there were a proliferation of articles about how to talk to your Trump-supporting relatives at Thanksgiving, which fell just a couple of weeks after the election. These dinner table discussions reflected the war being fought between competing news sources, as Fox News branded its content “the real thing.” While less conservative outlets like CNN and MSNBC declared themselves to be genuinely fair and balanced sources.”
But increasingly, Americans, eager for some semblance of authenticity in the corporate news cycle have been looking elsewhere. This includes independent media outlets like The Intercept, Jacobin, The Young Turks, Current Affairs, or The Real News on the left. But it also includes a number of less formalized outfits, who have taken the fight to places like YouTube and Twitch. The revolution may not be televised, but it most certainly will be streamed.
This is Hear the Bern. A podcast about the people, ideas, and politics that are driving the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and the movement to secure a dignified life for everyone living in this country. My name is Briahna Joy Gray, coming to you from campaign headquarters in Washington D.C.
This week, I spoke to two popular content creators, who have taken to online media to advance more progressive perspectives in places that otherwise would be entirely dominated by the right. Jim Sterling is an independent video game journalist and commentator whose YouTube series, The Jimquisition, covers the misdeeds of the AAA video game industry. Everything from building predatory gambling mechanics into video games, to forcing developers to work brutal hours. Hasan Piker is the youngest of The Young Turks, a progressive news and politics network that airs on YouTube. In addition to his day job at TYT, Hasan has built a reputation as one of the few lefty streamers on Twitch, a live streaming site known primarily for video games. Recently, more political voices have begun to appear on Twitch, including the campaign’s own show, The 99.
Someone named Warshade has asked, my friend struggled to understand why a single-payer system would save them money, thinking the tax increase is a deal breaker. How can I better explain the policy to them?
Nina Turner: So think about your health insurance, even though it comes out of your paycheck, if you’re blessed enough to have a job that has health benefits, you are already paying a private tax right now, but you’re paying that tax to the health insurance industry. So, reimagine if then this lesser tax that gets you more of a benefit – you don’t have to worry about a catastrophic incident happening to you or your family. You don’t have to worry about those copays, those deductibles, the premiums. Instead, it’s on the public side, instead of the private side, so what I say to my sisters and brother out there is, you’re already paying a tax. It’s a private tax that enriches the CEOs of these health care companies…
Briahna Joy Gray: So, why does the internet matter? Well, it’s because like it or not, an incredible amount of political discourse is happening there, completely outside the purview of mainstream commentators. And it’s having an effect. Take YouTube. The video streaming site is one of the largest in the world. And among young adults aged 18 to 24, what some are now calling Gen Z, it’s the single most popular website. And that’s worrying because the right dominates YouTube.
Apart from big names like Ben Shapiro or so-called Prager University, which presents right-wing talking points in easy-to-digest TED Talk style videos, there are countless channels rolling out anti-SJW cringe compellations. Or conservative conspiracy theories that then find their way into run of the mill Republican messaging. Part of this is because of the way that YouTube’s algorithm works. YouTube consistently privileges videos that drive engagement, negative as well as positive, and that keep viewers glued to their screens for long periods of time. And it turns out, that the right excels at producing highly emotional content that drives engagement.
Zeynep Tufekci: In 2016, I attended rallies of then candidate Donald Trump to study, as a scholar, the movement supporting him. And then I wanted to write something about one of his rallies, so I watched it a few times on YouTube. YouTube started recommending to me and auto playing to me, white supremacist videos, in increasing order of extremism.
Briahna Joy Gray: But it’s also because big money is backing some of these creators. PragerU for example, is funded by the fracking billionaire Wilks brothers who have spent millions ensuring that ads for PragerU pervade political YouTube. It’s hard for the left to compete with that kind of money.
Hasan Piker: I’ve probably stolen a lot from the right, because they are absolutely incredibly successful in this space.
Briahna Joy Gray: That was Hasan Piker.
Hasan Piker: I mean right-wing commentary is so pervasive, so influential on the internet, and a lot of people have kind of stayed away from YouTube and YouTube politics. And we’ve kind of given ground to a lot of bad-faith actors even in some instances. And they’ve been extremely successful from the more mainstream figures like Ben Shapiro, all the way to less mainstream figures that are far-right or even white nationalists in some situations that are incredibly popular and have massive audiences.
Briahna Joy Gray: Progressive content creators like Hasan are attempting to fight back. And to the extent that they’re successful, I wanted to pick their brains to see what strategies the rest of us on the left might adopt to better communicate our values to a broader audience outside of the mainstream media sphere. A sphere which is not always super accommodating to progressive viewpoints.
If you could explain to our audience kind of your background and how you came to build the kind of YouTube empire that you have now.
Jim Sterling: I’d call it more of a fiefdom than an empire.
Briahna Joy Gray: That was Jim Sterling, of the Jimquisition, who started out as a journalist who wrote about the gaming industry, but who switched primarily to video when YouTube took off.
Jim Sterling: Outside of social media like Twitter and whatnot, video essays have replaced most written editorial and a lot of editorial websites that specialize in the written word struggle to find ways to keep that engaging. They do their best.
Briahna Joy Gray: There’s a race to grab attention in an increasingly saturated media market. So, like many of the favorite content creators on the left, Jim opts for a little theater.
Jim Sterling: So basically, I’m also a part-time professional wrestler, so there’s a lot of over the top, grandiose showboating that goes on. I tend to present it as this sort of egotistical carnival barker almost. I stand behind a podium lined with toys which I like because it’s arrogant in that I have a lector, but also kind of pathetic in that I’ve got my nerdy toys in front of me. I like that kind of undermining juxtaposition. And I like to wear my black suit and a red tie, me red glasses. And I’ve got a leather black top hat with a red leather corset on it, which I’m very proud of.
An industry ruled, in my opinion, by fear. A fear so prominent it’s soaked into the very ground of this industry. And it’s earth that needs to be dug up and repaved because this cannot continue. So here we go, serious faces on, no skits, no bits, no laughs except for me playing with this giant shrimp.
Briahna Joy Gray: He’s hardly the only one. Engaging in some theatrics has served lefty internet stars as well, including one of the best-known content creators on the left, Natalie Wynn, AKA ContraPoints.
Natalie Wynn: Hello children. It is I, the darkness within.
Briahna Joy Gray: Last November, the New Yorker described Natalie as the stylish socialist who’s trying to save YouTube from alt-right domination. Stylish is an understatement. Natalie uses costumes, characters, elaborate staging and lighting to debunk alt-right icons and pat Republican talking points in videos that are as entertaining as they are informative.
Natalie Wynn: Political dissent begins with the vaguest feeling that something is wrong. And a lot of people have that feeling. But the problem with vague feelings is they can be channeled in any direction. The same vague angst can drive people to communism or fascism, or anything in between. There’s a general sense today among young people that we have been lied to, and that sense is perhaps the most acute among middle-class white men who apparently were promised that they could be millionaires, or movie gods, or rock stars.
The term special snowflake is used today as a slur against queer teenagers, but it comes from the movie Fight Club, where it refers to a generation of white guys who have become adults only to find that they’re worse off than their fathers, that they don’t have glamorous jobs, they don’t have girlfriends. And, more recently, that even in the escapist world of video games, their absolute sovereignty is being challenged.
Briahna Joy Gray: I mean she’s great. You should check her out. At any rate, breaking down the typical relationship of authoritative pundit to know nothing viewer was a bit of a theme that emerged in both interviews this week. To get your views across, it turns out it’s important to seem approachable. Like you don’t think that you’re better than or apart from the community you’re talking to.
Jim Sterling: If I could only just draw from my own experiences, I would say what has helped me is communicating on the same level as the people I’m trying to reach, because I understand I’m not that much different. I play video games; I buy video games. I’m very steeped into what they call the extremely online world. So, I am not that different, I’m just lucky enough to have had a moderately successful YouTube channel. That in general is one of the few things that actually separates me from anyone else.
And keeping that in mind, having just knowing that you are on the same level as people and you should talk to them like don’t talk down to people. Unless you’re doing it for a comedy bit as I do in the intros and outros of my videos, but that’s just more of a projected alter ego type of thing.
That’s what I’ve been doing is just try and find ways to communicate in terms people understand and appreciate. I think the best thing to do is to try and communicate that. Like I’m not saying I’m better than you, I’m saying that we are in this crap together. And it benefits all of us if we can stand together and say no to some of this rubbish that’s out there.
Briahna Joy Gray: In Jim’s case, he connects with people by adopting a kind of absurdist theatricality. And meeting people at their level. Hasan also emphasizes relatability, but his persona is more like everyone’s favorite big brother. Hasan is big on Twitch, a space that Bernie Sanders’s campaign recently started engaging with, making it the first presidential campaign ever on the platform.
Hasan Piker: I think it’s awesome that the Sanders campaign is on Twitch. I think it’s a great idea. Especially because I feel like as someone who’s followed the Sanders campaign in the past and also talks about politics, I realize that mainstream media outlets don’t always give the most favorable coverage to Bernie Sanders. And I think the best example of that is even with Washington Post where their own poll showed Bernie surging ahead and Biden getting crippled after the first debates and yet their opinion pieces do not reflect that reality.
So, I think that there is a very effective way to reach out to a much larger, and new audience that doesn’t really get their information from mainstream media. And I think Twitch is a good way to do that, especially because there’s a lot of people who spend a tremendous amount of time on this platform.
Briahna Joy Gray: So, Hasan Piker says that we should all get on Twitch and fight the good fight.
Hasan Piker: Yeah, for certain.
Briahna Joy Gray: Twitch is primarily used as a gaming platform where people watch live streams of folks playing video games. And they chat with content creators as they play or perform other relatively ordinary activities like cooking or playing the piano.
If you’re not part of the culture, video games can seem like a pastime for kids. Teenage boys shooting each other in games of Call of Duty or Fortnite. Something to grow out of, more than a central part of the mainstream. But the truth is that video games are big, like really big. In fact, gamers around the world have spent $137.9 billion on video games in 2018. Compare that to a global box office of just $41.7 billion for the film industry. Or nearly $20 billion in revenue for the music industry. In short, video games are bigger than movies and music combined. The most profitable entertainment product in human history, Grand Theft Auto 5, is a video game. Earning something like $6 billion since its launch in 2013.
Within the US, the average age of a video game consumer is 34. More than 70% of gamers are adults. There are more adult women gamers, 33%, than there are boys under the age of 18, 17%. 60% of Americans play a video game every day, and many of them like to watch, or be watched, on Twitch.
Hasan Piker: Sometimes it’s professional chess players streaming a game of chess. A lot of times it’s people playing Fortnite for example, and they just kind of scroll through and click on, and if they enjoy what they’re seeing, they just sit there and start writing stuff to the creator. Sometimes they’ll read it, if it’s a really big chat it’s kind of hard, but that’s usually the way that people consume the content on the platform.
Briahna Joy Gray: So, you log on to kind of watch other people doing things live and have a conversation about it with other people who are interested in that subject?
Hasan Piker: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. The way I describe it is it’s kind of like if you were able to go to the movies with all of your friends and talk through the entire thing, and also have the capacity to even change the way the movie is going by yelling at the screen. There are donations, there’s like a system called Text to Speech where they can give you, mine is I think set at $2 or something, but they can give you a donation that will read out what that statement is. If you really want the streamer to hear it, or they can just @ you in the chat, and obviously I’m very engaged with my audience, I talk back and forth with a lot of people, so I usually am looking at my chat. And yeah, that drastically changes the dynamic of the conversation from a passive viewership to an active viewership experience.
And it’s very different than YouTube in that regard. I’ve looked into my average viewership and if I have let’s say 3,000 people watching on average, the average watch time for them if I’m doing a six-hour stream is like four hours.
Briahna Joy Gray: Really?
Hasan Piker: Which is definitely higher than most other streamers probably, but yeah. People put it on in the background like a podcast, and they’ll just go throughout their daily business and listen to me talk about politics, deliver the news, watch videos, react, play even video games in some instances.
Briahna Joy Gray: Part of the appeal for someone like Hasan is that he’s literally accessible. He streams four to six hours, sometimes ten hours on the weekends, on top of a full-time job as a reporter for The Young Turks. And people don’t just tune in for a small clip of that time, they often spend the whole day with Hasan.
Hasan Piker: Twitch is a live streaming platform and what that means is like usually the content created on the platform is supposed to be consumed in the moment and that makes it very unique from every other social media platform, because while YouTube and Facebook might try to promote live streams, they haven’t been able to captivate a large enough audience in a similar fashion to Twitch. That’s probably why Amazon bought it, because they want to corner the market in live streaming. And possibly because they understand that it is the future of content.
Like this level of engagement, as someone who’s created content on YouTube and on Facebook for The Young Turks, this level of engagement is unprecedented. That could be a good thing, but that also could be a bad thing sometimes when you’re constantly having a dialogue with a bunch of anonymous people on the internet, you probably already understand what that’s going to look like in some instances. But I’ve also seen it, I’ve also seen a very productive aspect of having these sorts of conversations. It can be a very informative and very personal experience.
Usually, you’re engaging with 3,000 people at a time. I find that to be really productive. The feedback I get from a lot of people is, “Hey, I used to be very apolitical,” Or, “I used to be a very run of the mill liberal and you’ve certainly changed my mind on a lot of ideas.”
Briahna Joy Gray: Both Hasan and Jim perceived a significant imbalance between the influence of the right and the left online. And Hasan had some theories as to why.
Hasan Piker: There are a few material reasons as to why the right-wing is of course way more prevalent or way more successful on the internet, and the biggest, I would say that the biggest advantage they have is that again, they are not presenting a threat to the current way things are. Right-wingers aren’t going around talking about how the straw ban is actually ridiculous and the real problem is the top 100 corporations that are responsible for 75% of carbon emissions. And we know exactly who sits on their boards. And we have more effective ways of dealing with this problem and engaging with people.
No, they just say that the straw ban is stupid and liberals are stupid for advocating for it. And that’s a great way to still get a tremendous amount of money from Koch subsidiaries for example, but who is the shadowy billionaire megadonor on the left? George Soros. George Soros is a liberal. George Soros is not funding left-wing operations, he’s funding center-left to very moderate operations for the most part. And that kind of messaging is prevalent, that kind of messaging is successful to a certain degree.
And certainly, in mainstream media you get that a lot, but liberalism is still relatively conservative. Whereas conservatives can be as radical as they want and they still will get the funding from those same people who are also ironically paying liberal operations as well.
Briahna Joy Gray: So why do you go online then? What do you aim to accomplish? You must feel like you’re making some kind of dent.
Hasan Piker: I mean I do it because I believe in what I’m talking about. I do it because I want to give the benefit of the doubt to a lot of people that they’re not a bunch of, like not everyone’s a bunch of crypto fascists or whatever. Who are purposely spreading white nationalist memes all over the internet and spreading misinformation. I think that a lot of people are just either bored, apolitical, privileged in some way, and that means every single person has some form of privilege that makes them unable to realize marginalization of one way or the other.
And I think that the portrayal of the left has been really damaging. And as someone who doesn’t fit that stereotype of a blue-haired SJW or whatever, people get super triggered by, I feel like I just try to communicate a different message that they haven’t really had the opportunity to see from the left on the internet.
Briahna Joy Gray: Jim Sterling’s entry point is to talk about the exploitation occurring within the gaming industry, and expanding the argument outward to encompass a broader critique of unfettered capitalism.
Jim Sterling: I try and communicate that I genuinely care about this. I did a video this past week as we’re talking called the Addictive Cost of Predatory Video Game Monetization, which looked at addiction and how the video game industry monetizes addiction.
Cheat codes used to be in the game for free, they were part of the experience. Just like unlockable costumes for your characters, you’d get a little hat for your character or whatever, I’m old enough to remember, that was part of the game. Then the internet came along and they realized, these publishers realized, they could have a direct line of communication 24/7 to the player. So, they took these things out and then resold them to us, for a price.
So before, if you knew the cheat codes, you could put it in and get the cheat. Now, that cheat code isn’t in the game. You have to pay them extra money on top of the $60 bare minimum you often pay for these games. Game publishers in this AAA sphere have demonstrated that there is nowhere in the world where they will not find a way to make a few extra bucks out of people.
One issue we’re seeing with Fortnite right now is kids are being bullied at school for not having these premium skins for their characters, you can make your character dress up in all sorts of different things.
Briahna Joy Gray: Oh wow.
Jim Sterling: If you play the game without spending any money, you just use the default characters they have. And default has become an insulting term in schools. You deride someone for being a default.
Briahna Joy Gray: What?
Jim Sterling: And kids are begging their parents for money to spend on the game.
Briahna Joy Gray: Beyond the exploitation that happens within the universe of these games, Jim criticizes the gaming industry itself. Namely, the so-called AAA industry, which produces the most recognizable and lucrative titles. This is a clip from one of his recent videos. It’s been viewed over half a million times over the past six months.
Jim Sterling: And it’s because companies are only interested in making every last conceivable and inconceivable penny. All the money, more money than has ever been made. More money than could even possibly be made. This is why you’ll always see dramatic cutbacks and layoffs, no matter how rich and successful a company is. The more they make, the more they want. And they will do anything to get it. They will gut their own employees with rusty sheers if that’s what it takes.
The end game of thoroughly unchecked capitalism is to have no end game. To keep making more and more money in perpetuity, not just making money forever, but making exponentially more money year after year.
Briahna Joy Gray: I was curious, the connection between Jim’s critique of the gaming industry and unfettered capitalism more broadly seemed clear to me, but did it have the same impact for listeners? Does it have the effect of helping them to see themselves as progressives? His answer was interesting. Yes, the message gets across. But not if it’s put forward as an overtly political one.
Jim Sterling: It’s a unique situation, it’s an odd situation because the very word political has become poisonous to much of the discussion in the game community. You can even just put the word political in the title of a YouTube video as part of the headline and see a mass amount of dislikes start piling up on it, because they don’t, a lot of people say, “I don’t want politics in my games.” And they will say this about games with inherent political messages, but for some reason they just don’t view them as political.
I tried to argue that a video game called The Division, there’s a video game series called The Division. I tried to argue that was political because it’s about the collapse of the American government.
Briahna Joy Gray: That sounds pretty political.
Jim Sterling: It sounds a bit political, doesn’t it? The government collapsed because bank notes had been infected with a virus and distributed on Black Friday. Which again, feels very political to me of America’s consumer culture being weaponized against it. The Division II, the sequel that came out in February I believe, the very first cut scene within five minutes, it talked about gun control. It said in the cut scene when the government collapsed, did you have a gun or did you not have a gun. And then it said how some people survived and it showed an image of someone with a very clearly showing that those with the guns survived the fallout.
And when I tried to argue that that was political, some people accused me of trying to cram my left-wing politics into it. And I never brought up a left-wing belief in the video at all when I pointed this out. I simply said that we should acknowledge when there’s politics in there, even if they’re not ones I agree with, I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that we all need guns because one day bank notes may be infected with a virus and the government will fall over.
I don’t necessarily believe that, but that is what the game was saying. Final Fantasy 7 is one of the most famous games in history really. A game that came out in 1997, and it’s something that I’ve been talking about more and more, especially as we discuss climate change. That is a game that in 1997 was screaming about climate change, it’s about a corporatocracy, about a corporation that essentially controls the world because they have the power, that’s where the electricity comes from. And that’s allowed them to become an almost militaristic dictatorship under the guise of a friendly company.
Which isn’t that dramatic in terms, like the evil corporation has been a villain in movies and especially in the 80’s, something like RoboCop. But people for some reason don’t view them as political, and I’m still trying to work out why. Whether they just want to focus on the surface level of just the game play. Just I want to shoot people and not think about it. But the thoughts are in those games, nonetheless.
Briahna Joy Gray: It does strike me as something that I’ve observed as well. If you just look at the fact that most Americans that identify as Republican or Democrat, the biggest identification is Independent. There is this kind of resistance to the idea of seeing oneself as a partisan figure. And I wonder if perhaps what people are responding to is the idea of the partisanship less so than the idea of these things which as you point out are inherently political.
And I’m not sure what that is about, but I am interested in it because if there are people who obviously have politics, they have thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about what’s going on. And are, that they might be receptive to political messaging if it is presented in a way that isn’t so team sports oriented.
Jim Sterling: So, what I’ve tried to do this year especially is pull back the lens somewhat. We’ve now established, no one likes EA, we’ve established they’re bad for these reasons. Now let’s pull back and look at the socioeconomic structure they behave in. What are they allowed to get away with? What are they encouraged to get away with?
Briahna Joy Gray: EA is one of the largest video game companies. And it’s come under criticism for how it’s treated its employees as well as for its tendency to milk as much money from consumers as possible.
Jim Sterling: I’ve had quite a bit of success in helping to get people to widen their lens there. People I think are more ready to hear about looking at the core root of this. Why does EA have gambling in its games? Because it can. Why are we still having layoffs in the game industry in the hundreds and thousands when they’re boasting about record revenue coming in and they’re making billions and billions of dollars? It’s because they still have shareholders to please and they still need to keep profits up. So even if they’re making more money than ever, they’ve got to think about, “Well we’ve got to make more than this next year, otherwise our stock value goes down. So, let’s fire 800 people in celebration of making more money than ever.”
And we’ve got to look at the fact that this idea of basically billionaires somehow wanting more money even though they’ve got so much, they will never need anything for the rest of their or their family’s lives. And yet they still want more money. And I’m trying to get people to think more about that. And people are I think more receptive than ever right now to actually looking at the root cause of these issues. I’ve been presenting it in ways that better communicate it from the perspective of someone who would view my show. So, I call it cAAApitalism, where I take the AAA term and mash it into capitalism, so it’s cAAApitalism to let them think about companies like EA, like Activision, in the context of a sociopolitical structure.
And another example would be a company called Epic Games. They have opened up their new online store, rather than compete with the previous company that had a de facto monopoly, a company called Valve. They had a store called Steam. I said had, they still do. So, we’ve got these two companies vying for dominance in the online digital storefront market. Epic Games, it’s way of competing is really aggressive. It’s hard to call it competition because they’re not offering a competing service. What they’re doing is they’re spending huge amounts of money to buy exclusivity.
So, they buy up a whole bunch of the rights to sell games and only they can sell the games. Only Epic can sell a game like Shenmue 3, Metro Exodus, a whole bunch, a ludicrous number of games. We’ve not seen anything quite like it. Different game consoles have always had their own special, exclusive games, but Epic is effectively starving the market. And a lot of people are angry at Epic for doing this, but they’ve been unable to vocalize why. It doesn’t feel fair to them but they don’t know why.
So, I’ve put out some videos explaining this doesn’t feel fair to you because A) It’s not fair and B) This is how cAAApitalism works. One company has a ludicrous amount, a farcical amount of money, which allows them, because there are no checks and balances, there’s nothing to stop a de facto monopoly happening. We have laws against outright monopolies, but they’re not exactly effective, just ask an internet service provider how effective they are. Because they’ve carved up the country. That’s what I’m trying to explain to people is yes, be angry at Epic for doing it, but understand that in this market they are free to do it.
Briahna Joy Gray: Right. So, you’re giving antitrust lessons in the context of the video game.
Jim Sterling: A little bit, a little bit yeah. I’m no expert in it by any means, but the more I study the industry and the culture surrounding it, the more I learn, and the more I try and then communicate to my audience. And again, people have been very receptive to it when it’s presented through that lens. Not just me saying ra ra capitalism, bad. It’s here’s the thing you’re angry at, now let’s look at what’s allowing this to happen. Not only allowing it, encouraging it to happen.
And so far, that’s been very successful. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done, especially this year with me and my producer Justin. We’ve been really pushing the boat out and trying to widen the conversation outside of just being angry at the specific companies. Because nothing happens in a bubble. Electronic Arts didn’t wake up one day and think, “Are we going to be evil?” That’s not how it works. In a way they’re almost pressured to do it because that’s the accepted way of doing it is aggressive expansion, aggressive monetization, money by any means necessary. And so long as people are spending the money, they can shrug and say, “It’s fine. People are spending it; they must like it.”
Briahna Joy Gray: I was interested in learning from Jim and Hasan in part because the internet seems to present so much promise for communicating with diverse groups of people, whose interests aren’t always served by the corporate media. It’s why Bernie Sanders has prioritized his online presence to a much greater extent than any other candidate. The campaign believes that competing on the online space will be an important tool in the tool kit when it comes to beating Donald Trump. For example, Bernie’s town hall style Facebook livestreams last year beat the viewership of major cable news channels the same night. Even before he declared his candidacy, Bernie’s senate office was producing short, sharable videos that racked up millions of views. As did longer conversations the senator recorded with the likes of Bill Nye and Al Gore.
These days I work with a fantastic team of videographers, editors, and producers who together create the digital products that help Bernie routinely drive more online conversations than any other candidate, according to the news site Axios. But it was also important for me to ask, is any of this really having an effect?
Jim Sterling: It’s difficult because on YouTube there are lots of different metrics and numbers, page views of course is the most dominant metric, but that’s not always the best way of gauging whether you’re changing minds. Because you can get a lot of views on a video from people who were just told come look at this idiot talking nonsense, let’s go look at them, and make fun of them, and be angry at them. So, it’s not the best way of telling how effective your message is. You could say that it’s got your message out there, but has it actually had an impact?
For me, I try and look at just where I was a few years ago versus now. I often call myself somewhat jokingly as part of the more grandiose persona I put on, I often call myself the Cassandra of video games because a lot of things I said five years ago, people told me I was making mountains out of mole hills. I was talking rubbish. I didn’t know what I was saying. It’s not that bad, they would say. It’s not that bad. Fast forward to today and very few people say the things they were saying to me back then. Right down to certain games journalists and people in games media who would write op-eds dismissing my claims nowadays writing articles, talking about how bad this stuff is. And I’ve sat here thinking, “Well, I did tell you, I did warn you.” So that’s generally how I gauge it is am I getting more pushback now or more people on places like Reddit in the comments sections? Are they agreeing with me more than they used to? And over the years, over about certainly the course of this console generation from sort of early portions of this decade to now, I certainly get a lot less pushback and a lot less derision than I used to get.
I’m no longer just pointed at as the guy rambling on his soapbox, still a little bit. And I still do ramble on my soapbox somewhat. But people are more acclimated and more open to what I’m saying than they used to be. And there are other YouTubers and people in gaming. I don’t want to say it’s just me, there are a lot more voices than there used to be as well. A lot of people have started to come up and talk about stuff.
Briahna Joy Gray: Hasan said he feels like he’s making an impact, even with conservatives. But he was clear that time, and patience are key.
Hasan Piker: The people’s minds who I change are already, they’re already probably further to the left than the average Democrat already. And then they get even further to the left. Or like liberals who are regular Democrats, but kind of conservative on certain issues, that is where I’m most effective. But as far as changing a Republican’s mind, I don’t think that process happens immediately. It happens over the course of numerous days of not debates, but numerous days of that person watching my content. I don’t think that’s an immediate thing.
When you engage with the opposition, with your ideological opposition on a large stage, there is a 40/40/20 rule. Okay. So, 40% of my audience, or 40% of leftists or liberals or whatever, are probably going to agree with me. 40% of conservatives or right-wingers, or even white supremacists, are probably going to agree with that person. And then there’s a 20% contingency in the middle that could kind of go either way. And they’re just watching it for entertainment. Or maybe they’re on the margins and they haven’t really fully made up their minds.
And when we go out and we debate people. Or we go out and we engage in these sorts of conversations, the goal is to sway the 20%, slowly but surely. Now that doesn’t mean that it’s not insanely important to continue to do advocacy and educate people, give them materials to understand where we’re coming from inside of your own community certainly. But it’s not a one or the other kind of situation. I think both are very effective ways of trying to educate people. And trying to get them to become more progressive, and show them that there is a way that we can achieve things that other countries have been able to achieve like Medicare for All, which is mind boggling to me that we don’t have that here.
Briahna Joy Gray: Well, we’re working on it. I really appreciate you taking the time, Hasan, and I really appreciate all your work and for helping to educate the normies of the world.
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