On Tim Pool And Ideological Capture And Online Cruelty
Let's do that thing where we hold a couple thoughts in our head at the same time
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There’s a weird controversy involving Tim Pool, an increasingly off-the-rails YouTuber with almost 1.2 million subscribers. Things weren’t always this way: He first became known for livestreaming Occupy Wall Street protests, and was subsequently mainstream enough that he worked for Vice and Fusion. Here’s an old Guardian article about him with a headline that captures the spirit of 2013 better than the most talented poet ever could: “How Vice's Tim Pool used Google Glass to cover Istanbul protests.”
These days, though, Pool’s output includes a lot of truly gonzo conspiracy-theorizing. On a recent episode of his YouTube show, he had on Jack Posobiec, genuinely one of the craziest people in the right-wing swamposphere, to speculate about the true cause of the Waukesha killings (here’s a bit on Posobiec). Pool was also a prime vector of a false rumor about supposedly trashed mail-in ballots in Sonoma County, California that fueled the Trump-really-won rumors that eventually flared out of control. These are two of many examples.
Now, to be clear, I’m not sure Pool is even in the 15% of the worst big-name purveyors of online misinformation and hysteria. But he’s pretty bad. And he’s extremely successful — he appears to be getting rich doing this. As The Daily Beast explained in a pretty memorable story about, among other things, Pool allegedly taking a cat hostage during tense business negotiations, he has “amassed more than 1.1 billion cumulative views. He has a million-dollar mansion in the Maryland woods, complete with a podcast studio and a skate park. Donald Trump invited him to the White House.”
At present he is embroiled in a controversy involving Australia. As this helpful article in Quillette explains, Pool is one of a handful of pundits who have stoked the fires of truly outlandish conspiracy theories about the Australian government’s coronavirus policies in indigeneous Northern Territories communities, all while seeming to lack a single clue what’s actually going on there, and exhibiting no interest in finding out.
Do read the Quillette article (Lehmann is the site’s founder and is herself Australian), but the key takeaway is simply that this is all hysterical nonsense on Pool’s part. And it got me thinking about audience capture, a term introduced, at least in this context, by Eric Weinstein. It basically means getting stuck in a self-reinforcing loop in which you give your audience exactly what they want. In some cases, it can turn you from a relatively sane-seeming person to a relatively crazy-seeming one.