YouTube: The Canadian left’s next frontier?

Video platform needs more left wing voices to push back against spread of hate
Photo: "Europe’s Far Right Fascism politics" by Sébastien Thibault
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The Canadian left podcasting scene has seen a boom in recent years. Ricochet, for example, has played an instrumental role in bringing several of these shows together in a loose network, and many more exist beyond this collaborative effort. These shows are by no means uniform — some are more comical, some more structured, and some more conversational — but they share one overarching objective: to offer a left-wing perspective that is often omitted or vilified within the realm of traditional print, audio, and visual media. They all have a cutting critique of capitalism, racism, misogyny, left timidity, and all else that ails contemporary Canadian society.

This work is indispensable, and these podcasts have had a tangible effect on discourse within the Canadian left, if not at times beyond it. But one of the limitations of the podcasting scene is that it is relatively self-contained, and some of the biggest social media platforms are dominated by different and more innately shareable content.

YouTube is a space of right-wing radicalization for thousands, if not millions, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

The biggest of these spaces is YouTube, which is unfortunately predominantly populated by right-wing voices — mainstream and otherwise — that have the ear of a massive and impressionable audience, many of which are young and angry white men. YouTube is a space of right-wing radicalization for thousands, if not millions, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The left needs to do more to capture a piece of YouTube’s massive viewership, people who are grasping for answers to society’s challenges but aren’t getting our perspective.

This isn’t to say that the left doesn’t exist on YouTube. In many ways, there is a burgeoning leftist scene on the platform, as evidenced by big creators talking about left issues as well as Reddit spaces like /r/Breadtube, which aim to promote videos and creators that challenge right-wing hegemony on the site. But much of the left content on the platform fails to cover issues specific to Canada, and while there are major progressive YouTubers like former federal Green Party candidate David Doel, they often give a majority of their focus to U.S. politics.

This is in part why I decided in January to start my own YouTube channel, which is primarily focused on issues relevant to the left in Canada, from electoral politics to workers’ rights to the relevance of history. I also aim to counterbalance some of the right-wing and alt-right content that is so successful on YouTube, much of which, distressingly, comes from Canadian voices.

But this isn’t just about me: it’s also about the YouTube ecosystem. When communities of like-minded creators work together, it has a multiplier effect in building audiences, retention, engagement, and all the sorts of things that YouTube uses to determine which videos get suggested and which don’t. The right on YouTube — and to a lesser degree progressive American YouTubers — have this ecosystem, which filters people to various creators and ideas. In Canada, such infrastructure doesn’t yet exist for the left, meaning videos often exist more as isolated islands of content, which can only really find success should they be picked up from sources external to YouTube (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc.)

More leftist diversity can add new dimensions of content to a platform with such a gaping hole to be filled.

Put another way, the more people we have creating left-wing Canadian content on YouTube, and the more those people build overlapping audiences, topics of discussion, and space for collaboration, the more likely the space is to grow to a point where it can generate greater audiences. Having more left-leaning YouTubers from Canada is also important because, while I feel my democratic socialist perspective makes a contribution, I can’t speak for the entirety of the left, nor do I bring the life experience of a marginalized person. More leftist diversity can add new dimensions of content to a platform with such a gaping hole to be filled.

So here’s my call to action for people who feel they have something to say about topics relevant to Canada from a progressive perspective: get on YouTube and do it. The platform can be intimidating, and not everyone has the same level of safety interacting in such spaces, but I think the biggest step is taking the plunge. Since 2015 I have been a national news media commentator, and while that work has value and impact, I’ve always felt that my true voice rarely got through. Even still, it took me forever to just start recording and posting. Many of you are likely the same, so if you need a push to get started, let this be it. This can also apply to some of the folks who are currently writing or creating podcasts. Not only can you cross-post podcasts to YouTube, but content adjacent to the podcast that doesn't quite fit within it can find a home on YouTube.

The ideological battle on the internet is a massive one, and the Canadian left has built a strong beachhead with podcasts, but YouTube remains a prime venue for the forces of regression, and it should be the next focal point for the creative energies of progressive Canadians.

Christo Aivalis is a Canadian historian and political commentator. He has a YouTube channel where he examines politics, history, and culture from a left perspective.

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