Feeding Hate With Video: A Former Alt-Right YouTuber Explains His Methods

Focus on conflict. Feed the algorithm. Make sure whatever you produce reinforces a narrative. Don’t worry if it is true.

For over two years Caolan Robertson produced videos for a who’s who of the far right, but says he has since come to regret his role in the rise of online extremism.Credit…Alexander Ingram for The New York Times

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By Cade Metz

In 2018, a far-right activist, Tommy Robinson, posted a video to YouTube claiming he had been attacked by an African migrant in Rome.

The thumbnail image and eight-word title promoting the video indicated Mr. Robinson was assaulted by a Black man outside a train station. Then, in the video, Mr. Robinson punched the man in the jaw, dropping him to the ground.

The video was viewed more than 2.8 million times, and it prompted news stories across the right-wing tabloids in Britain, where Mr. Robinson was rapidly gaining notoriety for his anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic views.

For Caolan Robertson — a filmmaker who worked for Mr. Robinson and helped create the video — it was an instructional moment. It showed the key ingredients needed to attract attention on YouTube and other social media services.

The video played into anti-immigrant sentiments in Britain and across Europe. It also focused squarely on conflict, cutting rapidly between shouts and shoves before showing Mr. Robertson’s punch. It also misrepresented what had actually happened.

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