In recent news, the spreading of bigoted/hateful speech over social media has become a major concern, causing many people to urge platforms like Twitter and Facebook to crackdown on far-right activity and enforce stricter restrictions. However, it seems as if those same extremists have managed to circumvent those crackdowns by resorting to online podcasting.
For most of the internet’s history, podcasts tended to be a less-popular medium, targeting only a couple niche groups. However, their popularity has skyrocketed over the past few years. According to Edison Research and Triton Digital, approximately 73 million people in the USA listen to a web-based podcast every month.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with this medium of information, its maxim has become a staple of the alt-right and other groups that espouse extremist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and anti-immigrant beliefs. In addition, social media crackdowns on hate speech have only aided in its popular distribution.
According to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL’s) Center on Extremism, podcasting “plays a particularly outsized role in spreading alt-right messages to the world” in 2018. The ADL classifies the alt right as having a new-wave white supremacist ideology combined with other subcultures involving resentment of women, Jews and Blacks, and an affinity for right-wing conspiracy theories.
Podcasts are a surprisingly understudied platform, yet their effect on political discourse is massive. There is often a sense of immediacy and authenticity with podcasts. According to Marwick, an advisor at the research institute Data & Society, these podcasts tend to be long and unscripted, carrying the ability to “manufacture consensus”.
“Podcasts can add legitimacy to extremist beliefs through repetition and reinforcement,” he says.
Hate speech isn’t as easy to pinpoint on audio podcasts since they are not catalogued by the internet in the same way that tweets, blogs, or Facebook posts are. Thus, they tend to be left unmoderated.
Due to the functioning mechanisms of online content, these podcasts can only spread themselves through other platforms. Multiple mainstream websites allow these alt-right podcasts to post their content on their platforms.
One of the most obvious ones is YouTube, whose content creators often upload podcasts or audio-talk shows onto their platform. YouTube does have a hate speech policy, barring content that promotes or condones violence/hate based on personal features like race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Nonetheless, the website hasn’t always been able to consistently police its platform’s extremist content.
Although they have banned hateful operators such as Infowars host Alex Jones (who once claimed Obama was a jihadi member of Al Qaeda and that globalism was a Zionist tool), most right-wing operators haven’t been barred from posting on the site. For example, a man by the name of Stefan Molyneux runs a YouTube channel with close to a million subscribers, and consistently espouses views regarding the connection between race and IQ. He also often discusses how this should be sufficient reason enough to discourage certain races from entering the United States.
Check out the video below:
Another common platform for alt-right podcasting is PlayerFM, which doesn’t have public policies for hate speech. It argues that since it defines itself as a kind of podcast search engine, such policies are unnecessary and beyond their jurisdiction. They claim people can come and access whatever feeds they like, and no feeds are deleted unless they involve pornography.
According to the ADL’s report, one of the most popular alt-right podcasts is the Daily Shoah, run by Mike Peinovich on his website ‘The Right Stuff’. The name itself is a sadistic quip about the Holocaust, and the podcast itself is a haven for anti-Semitic bigotry.
Some comments featured on the podcast were:
“We will shut their lying Jew mouths.”
“I don’t need foreigners with high IQs in my country. That’s some bullshit. I want every day back for white normal people. That’s what I’m fighting for.”
Episodes from the program are not posted by the creator himself, but are reposted by third parties. YouTube has deleted two episodes of the podcast due to copyright claims, but most still remain on YouTube (albeit with offensive content warnings.)
According to most experts, the goal for these sites is to post content on mainstream sites and garner larger following from people who support their causes. At the moment it appears to be working, with these sites circulating like wildfire.