Why “Just Google It” Is Now A Synonym For “Indoctrinate Someone”

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

This week, famed African-American author Alice Walker recommended a book of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. She wrote about her love for these theories in the New York Times, of all places.

Now, you’d think that if someone could recognize white supremacy in all its aspects, it would be the woman who wrote THE COLOR PURPLE. Unfortunately, she seems to have inhaled a lot of the theories from the repeatedly-debunked-but-unable-to-die Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

But where is Alice Walker getting her news from these days? Well, according to her own blog:

For a more in depth study I recommend starting with YouTube. Simply follow the trail of ‘The Talmud’ as its poison belatedly winds its way Into our collective consciousness.”

That’s right; she’s confirming her antisemitic bias by watching YouTube videos.

She’s not alone, of course. If Fox is where old people get brainwashed into believing crazy right-wing ideas, YouTube is where most of the young right-wing kids get indoctrinated these days – and there are more of those kids than you think. Because these videos are fun, they’re great to watch, and in a vacuum they’re pretty convincing.

And they come from goddamned everywhere. Me? I watch a lot of videogame YouTube videos. And even though I’m a pretty overt liberal who’s free with the “dislike” button, about one in every twenty gaming videos YouTube suggests for my enjoyment is a rant against SJW influences in gaming.

Same with Star Wars – about one in every ten videos it suggests is a rant on The Last Jedi, which if you watch it is actually a distilled right-wing argument using TLJ as an example of everything that’s wrong in society.

And that’s just, you know, watching regular videos. If I wanted to look up something on, say, Jewish culture or Black history, it wouldn’t take more than a couple of videos before YouTube started showing me videos that were designed to show the “other side” of these topics – which is to say, videos “debunking” the idea of the Holocaust or Black Lives Matter.

Which is a weird thing. My thirteen-year-old niece at one point confidently informed me that fluoridation was a plot to poison people. Where the hell did she pick up that 1950s piece of tripe?

You guessed it: YouTube.

And this isn’t technological alarmism; YouTube is still an insanely great resource for information. (As someone who does home repair, watching videos of people changing out electrical outlets is super-helpful.) But at this point, just throwing someone at YouTube without giving them a little context means they could be suckered into watching a ton of right-wing propaganda without warning.

Which means we gotta adjust our thinking.

There was a time when if you didn’t feel like educating someone about discrimination or the real causes of the Civil War (hint: it is actually slavery), you’d tell ’em, “Just Google it.”

Unfortunately, these days “Just Google it” has been hijacked by a bunch of smart, motivated people who are doing their damndest to ensure that Google hands out links with slanted arguments and outright lies. Google’s merely an algorithm; if a million people say “President Trump is an idiot,” then Googling “idiot” will display Trump.

But if a million people say “Jews created the Protocols of the Elders of Zion…”

(Hint: They didn’t. Those protocols are made up. If you believe otherwise, you’re an idiot.)

And I don’t want to tell you what your new strategy is. I get that minorities of all shapes get exhausted by having to be everyone’s teacher, and that repeatedly explaining yourself to a bunch of uneducated jamooks can be leveraged as a conscious way of wearing you down. I’m not saying that you have to be a walking Wikipedia for everyone who’s too lazy to look shit up.

But I am saying that “looking shit up” has been poisoned by right-wing activists. And Google is designed to encourage bad information spirals – which is harmless if you’re looking up home improvement videos, but once you’re curious about a few right-wing theories, it’ll keep suggesting deeper theories for you until you’re thoroughly Red-pilled.

Google can be the new Fox news.

And like I said: You’re not obligated to be anyone’s teaching experience. But at least be aware that malicious actors are now quite eager to be someone’s teaching experience for the exact same subjects you’re sending them off to Google to look up.

The Internet is changing. It used to be that the Internet was for porn; now SESTA/FOSTA has altered that landscape, and Tumblr is demonstrating the price. It used to be that the Internet was a good place to direct people to for mostly unbiased information; that, too, has changed.

Be aware of the changes. Contemplate your needs. And keep in mind that the opposition is every bit as technologically clever as we are, they’re every bit as charming as we are, they’re equally as funny as we are if the joke’s not on us, and alter your strategies as they have altered theirs.

Message ends.

(ACTUALLY, AN EDIT: It’s interesting how some people are saying “It’s just an algorithm, it only chooses what people like,” while sailing by the point I’m making here – namely, that any algorithm is gameable as long as you can pass it the right inputs. And the right wing has been working overtime to create videos and web pages that slide under Google’s radar to push their message into otherwise innocuous content. And no, that’s not a unique-to-the-right thing – as has been pointed out, try looking for information on vaccines – but they’ve generally leveraged their pull much, much better on YouTube than leftists have.

(No two people see the same Google, it’s true. But my niece didn’t start out looking for fluoridation conspiracy videos; at some point, Google decided, “Hey, these conspiracy videos are what a teenager like her should see,” and pushed her in that direction. That push is people gaming the algorithms to deliver their message to people who may not know better. And that’s the point.)


  1. Doug S.
    Dec 19, 2018

    This is why you can’t use Google for medical advice – there are so many quacks that it’s hard to tell the real stuff from the bullshit.

  2. Ryan Coatney
    Dec 19, 2018

    My only real quibble with this article is that you’re saying “Google is designed to encourage bad information spirals” and I think that it would be better put as “Google is designed in a way that can result in bad information spirals”.

    If I follow you properly I think that’s mostly what you meant, but a lot of people are going to see that line and assume you mean that Google was intentionally built to be a Vortex of Wrong. This kind of thing is frequently the result of software not doing a good job of understanding the context in which a subject was introduced and it will just start trying to find things related to the topic (which is, by volume, generally going to be the people loudly opposed to whatever it was).

  3. Anonymous Alex
    Dec 19, 2018

    I’m feeling rather despondent after having read this.


  4. Bea
    Dec 20, 2018

    …have people forgotten the lesson Dan Savage taught us about googling Santorum?

  5. For what it’s worth, my suggestion for folks looking for an alternative is have a short list of selected reading. Like, most of us who are in the position of being asked to educate people already have three sources we follow/read/bookmarked on our main topics.

    So instead of ‘just Google it’ for autism I link to the resource list I put together for my kids’ OT. And for polyamory I mention a handful of websites that are worth reading (and pimp my own). For racism in America, I point to W.E.B. du Bois (free on Gutenberg), Michon Neal, and Zora Hurston.

    It’s a bit more effort than telling people to Google it, but mostly on the effort of typing a few extra words, and I know if they bother to read, they’ll be getting good info.


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