YouTube and Political Ideologies: Technology, Populism and Rhetorical Form

Finlayson, Alan
Political Studies

Digital (participatory and shareable) media are driving profound changes to contemporary politics. That includes, this article argues, important changes to the production, dissemination and reception of political ideas and ideologies. Such media have increased the number and political range of ‘ideological entrepreneurs’ promoting forms of political thought, while also giving rise to distinct genres of political rhetoric and communication. All of this is affecting how people come to be persuaded by and to identify with political ideas. In developing and justifying these claims, I draw on the Political Theory of Ideologies, Digital Media Studies and Rhetorical Political Analysis. I begin by showing how a populist ‘style’, induced by broadcast media, has been intensified by digital media, affecting ideological form and content. Next I consider, in detail, a particular example – YouTube – showing how it shapes political, ideological, communication. I then present a case-study of the UK-based political YouTuber Paul Joseph Watson. I show how the political ideology he propagates can be understood as a blend of Conservatism and Libertarianism, expressed in a Populist style, centred on the ‘revelation’ of political truths and on a promise of therapeutic benefits for followers. In a closing discussion I argue that this may be understood as a kind of ‘charismatic’ authority, and that such a political performance style is typical of these kinds of media today.