Big Technology

Does YouTube Radicalize? A Debate Between Kevin Roose and Mark Ledwich

The New York Times’ Kevin Roose and researcher Mark Ledwich join the Big Technology Podcast for a debate on whether YouTube actually radicalizes its users

Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero
Published in
24 min readJan 7, 2021

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Mark Ledwich and Kevin Roose

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In June 2019, New York Times reporter Kevin Roose wrote The Making of a YouTube Radical, a story about how a 26-year-old man, Caleb Cain, was radicalized through YouTube. For the story, Roose examined Cain’s entire YouTube history and plotted the path he took toward radicalization. Software engineer and researcher Mark Ledwich took issue with the story, citing his own research and claiming the notion that YouTube could radicalize was a myth.

Instead of yelling at — and past — each other, Ledwich and Roose came together for a moderated debate on the Big Technology Podcast, where both stated their points of view, got a chance to respond to each other’s points, and ask each other questions.

Alex Kantrowitz: Kevin, can you introduce us to Caleb, the man you met who said he was radicalized through YouTube?

Kevin Roose: I’ve been looking into online extremism and radicalization for a number of years. After the 2009 shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, that was the one that was streamed on Facebook. The shooter had this very online manifesto. It was awful and it referred to PewDiePie and that sort of catalyzed for me what became the next year of reporting. I was really trying to answer the question: How does this happen? How do people encounter extremist views online? What role do platforms play in introducing them to new and compelling extremist voices and what are the forces that power that process?

I was really looking for a case study. Someone who would talk to me about their journey, their process. I started…

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Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero

Veteran journalist covering Big Tech and society. Subscribe to my newsletter here: https://bigtechnology.substack.com.