YouTube Politics

Although it is under-studied relative to other social media platforms, YouTube is arguably the largest and most engaging online media consumption platform in the world. Recently, YouTube’s scale has fueled concerns that YouTube users are being radicalized via a combination of biased recommendations and ostensibly apolitical “anti-woke” channels, both of which have been claimed to direct attention to radical political content. Here we test this hypothesis using a representative panel of more than 300,000 Americans and their individual-level browsing behavior, on and off YouTube, from January 2016 through December 2019. Using a labeled set of political news channels, we find that news consumption on YouTube is dominated by mainstream and largely centrist sources. Consumers of far-right content, while more engaged than average, represent a small and stable percentage of news consumers. However, consumption of “anti-woke” content, defined in terms of its opposition to progressive intellectual and political agendas, grew steadily in popularity and is correlated with consumption of far-right content off-platform. We find no evidence that engagement with far-right content is caused by YouTube recommendations systematically, nor do we find clear evidence that anti-woke channels serve as a gateway to the far right. Rather, consumption of political content on YouTube appears to reflect individual preferences that extend across the web as a whole.

Examining the consumption of radical content on YouTube

Viewer count over time

The graph shows the percentage of YouTube users consuming news content from different regions of the political spectrum between January 2016 and September 2021. Viewers are grouped into the far left (fL), left (L), center (C), right (R), far right (fR), and anti-woke (AW) political categories. Each line represents two-month moving averages.

Chart Usage: Drag and zoom to pan. Select categories from the legend to focus on a specific political label. Double-click to restore default view.

View durations over time

The graph shows a breakdown of the percent of YouTube video consumption falling into the six political channel categories (far left [fL], left [L], center [C], right [R], far right [fR], and anti-woke [AW]), per month, from January 2016 to December 2019. It presents the percentage of viewership duration from each channel category.

Chart Usage: Drag and zoom to pan. Select categories from the legend to focus on a specific political label. Double-click to restore default view.

Server Status: YouTube videos crawled per day

The graph displays the status of the daily YouTube crawler used to collect transcripts and meta data from 13K news channels. It tracks the number of videos crawled per day between January 2021 and October 2021, with the line representing ten-day moving averages.

Chart Usage: Drag and zoom to pan. Double-click to restore default view.