OP-ED: The angry young socialists poisoning our politics

The rise of social media has done considerable damage to political discourse in Canada and elsewhere. And while platforms like Twitter and Facebook take most of the blame, there’s another malignant force on the internet that requires our attention. A growing online community of YouTubers and live-streamers is spouting far-left dogma, praising political violence and denigrating their opponents as evil, far-right fascists.

Known collectively as “BreadTube,” they are shaping the views of millions of young Canadians. Here are three examples of this new source of misinformation and psychological manipulation.

Hasan Piker, known as HasanAbi, is the king of BreadTubers, with over 2.5 million followers on Twitch, the internet’s largest livestreaming platform, as well as 1.3 million YouTube subscribers and 1.4 million followers on X. On a near-daily basis, he comments on the news, reacts to other political pundits, complains about the horrors of capitalism and the West and praises socialism – all while playing video games.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, HasanAbi persuaded radical left congresswomen Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar to play the video game Among Us with him, attracting a huge audience. That caught the eye of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who then joined Ocasio-Cortez on a subsequent broadcast. It was a kind of socialist love-in that tried to “reach young people where they hang,” according to the CBC, with discussion of “universal pharmacare, political civility, a living wage and rehabilitation over punishment.”

HasanAbi is not simply a “progressive” commentator with a penchant for gaming: he is a nasty, far-left radical. He rationalized Hamas’s October 7 atrocity as an inevitability for which the “fascist” Israeli government was to blame. After one viewer challenged him about Hamas targeting innocent Israeli civilians, he launched into a vulgar rant:  “You want every single Palestinian to be f—— executed ruthlessly in the streets so that you can build another f—— theme park in Gaza. You f—— baying pig.”

He called another commenter who questioned his blaming Israel for the Al-Ahli hospital bombing a “liar,” a “garbage monstrous scumbag” and a “piece of s— genocide denier.” Anyone who objects to his message is insulted in front of his massive audience.

Another prominent BreadTuber, Ian Kochinski, also known as “Vaush,” is a self-styled libertarian-socialist Twitch streamer. His content is similar to HasanAbi’s, but he presents himself as an intellectual able to debunk any right-wing argument. In fact, Vaush is a manipulative propagandist adept at clever rhetorical tactics, self-serving reasoning and distortions of the truth. He demonizes conservatives as being no different from the Ku Klux Klan. He also claims conservatism is based on the same principles as neo-Nazism, the average Republican would have voted for Hitler and right-wing populism is merely racism and/or fascism.

Second Thought is a socialist YouTube channel with more than 1.7 million subscribers pulling in around 2 million monthly video views – more than the CBC’s main YouTube channel. Featuring a young host named JT Chapman, it delivers tightly-edited, well-produced videos about the evils of capitalism and the West while staunchly defending socialism.

In one video on authoritarianism, Chapman presents repressive communist regimes such as the Soviet Union, China, North Korea and Cuba as equivalent to Western democracies. He whitewashes the atrocities committed by these regimes while exaggerating the transgressions of liberal democracies, blurring distinctions between the two economic and political systems and equating Communist secret police forces with plainclothes police officers.

In another video, “This Is Why You’re Poor,” Chapman explains that capitalist societies deliberately seek unemployment because it reminds the jobless they can be replaced; he also argues any indignation over laziness or unemployment is just an elaborate way to guilt people into exploiting themselves further. Chapman defines the left as the “we need healthcare” crowd and the right as the “we need an ethno-state” crowd. In his view, socialism is all things good, while capitalism is entirely bad.

The success of these BreadTubers comes not from the power of their ideas but the force with which they express them, and the way they manipulate their audience to come onside. Through emotional appeals, curated facts and enforced conformity within their communities, they are creating a shared mindset that allows extreme positions to thrive.

Ever wonder why so many young left-wingers are hostile to Joe Biden or Justin Trudeau? Part of the reason is that they have been told by these “influencers” that these two leaders are weak centrists or crypto-conservatives. Why do so many young “progressives” express pro-Palestinian sentiments with such anger and virulence? In part it’s because they are listening to BreadTubers who consider Israel a fascist ethno-state and its supporters “bloodthirsty pig-dogs.”

Politicians such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Jagmeet Singh who feel comfortable aligning themselves with radicals such as HasanAbi should be roundly condemned. As BreadTubers grow their followings, the base of Canada’s NDP and Liberal parties and the Democratic party in the U.S. are being dragged further towards extremism. For conservatives, understanding these new sources of leftwing thinking offers critical insight into how the political landscape is changing and what is needed to push back against today’s far left.

The original, full-length version of this article recently appeared in C2C Journal.

Noah Jarvis is a political science student at York University and a reporter for True North.

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