Text by Emillie V. de Keulenaar
Concept by Emillie V. de Keulenaar and Marc Tuters
Map design by Kenan Abdulghani
‘The partisan fights irregularly. But the distinction between regular and irregular battle depends on the degree of regularity.’
The Theory of the Partisan
In 2017, the arcane roleplay of ‘Kekistan’ emerged: an imaginary country inhabited by Kekistanis – the ironic, trolling, countercultural online right – fighting against the liberal mainstream, or in their terms, the Normies. While there has been a notable surge of interest for what Kekistan is, there have been few efforts to map the actual contours and inhabitants in and around the reality of Kekistan as an aesthetico-ideological online territory. This post is an effort to depict it. It seeks to understand if and how videos are weaponised by their semantic and audio-visual content to win over each other in their interaction via YouTube’s related videos.
Ever since it emerged from 4chan in December 2017, the term ‘Kekistan’ has come to refer to an arcane world of Kekistanis, Normies, Pepe, Trump, Newfagland, SJWs, the fall of Sargon of Akkad, cucks and other legendary figures and events. The story goes that Kekistan was a faraway land inhabited by the Kekistanis and shitlords, peoples whose ideas and customs were subject to the oppressive sanctions of the Normies of Newfagland. Also a reference to ancient Egyptian mythology, ‘Kek’ is the magical chaos that embolds the Trump presidency. It is combined with powers and techniques unknown to non-Kekistanis, like meme magic and a range of trollish rhetorical devices. Consistent with 4chan’s mocking humour, ‘Kekistan’ was, according to YouTube alt-lite micro-celebrity Jeff Holiday, also meant to be a parody state that ‘would take the piss of neo-Nazis’ and Social Justice Warriors alike. As Poe’s Law goes, this kind of humour thrives in ambiguity, since from the outside and even within it, it is unclear how serious the idea of ‘Kekistan’ is in its own roleplay. It is partly because of this ambiguity that the joke accommodates a large variety of users, causes, ideas and vernaculars that constitute emerging political imaginaries — particularly those of new conservative ideologies described as the ‘alt-right’.
As fictional stories often do, the story of Kekistan largely reflects a certain reality: that of the ongoing culture wars that have permeated large regions of current political spaces and imaginaries. Whether users are self-identified Kekistanis or not, or whether they sympathise with the ideas the legend of Kekistan foretells, is, of course, a matter nebulous enough for us to want to discuss in detail and nuance later on. What is clear is that, funny as it might be, the Kekistan story is in part a reflection of actual efforts to form a common, collective front against all forms of radical left-wing politics, extending the ongoing battlefield of the culture wars beyond public protests and college campuses and toward online platforms. Combining a mixture of political issues from conservative, ultra-conservative, paleo-conservative, British liberal and far-right ideological bodies, some protest against identity politics; most cherish freedom of speech and the right to defence; most also demand to just pursue ‘lulz’ and ‘let memes be memes’, sidestepping argumentative scrutiny by the same principle that comical registers are excused from political offence. Not too jokingly, though, Kekistanis say they are ‘oppressed’ perhaps in the same way the so-called American silent majority have decried their loss of ideological and institutional territory in the United States during, they say, the last 40 years. The Normies, it seems, have made ‘political correctness’ the absolute rule, pity to the poor, the few and the oppressed a daily prayer, and appear to have made significant gains in changing social norms, institutions and language.
As Reinhard Koselleck would suggest, the loss of such types of ideological territory are not without a variety of intellectual and aesthetic retaliations. Kekistan, in particular, alludes to a sort of memetic allegory behind which various users produce masses of vernacular imagery, language and audio-visual material to counter the (now weakened) prevalence of liberal content, or power, on- and offline. In fact, if we wished to locate the advances of this anti-liberal Reconquista within a delineated political territory, the story of Kekistan would most surely show us the way toward the ongoing efforts of Kekistani users to spread various kinds of influential content on a number of online platforms. On YouTube, a query such as ‘kekistan’ leads the user into a maze of results and related videos often intended to contain or lead offensives against actual or alluded SJW-like content. If it isn’t Richard Spencer, Sarkon of Akkad, Millennial Woes, Red Ice TV, Stefan Molyneux or Alex Jones (amongst others), rising stars like Jordan Peterson – the man of a thousand statistics – ‘DESTROY’, ’HUMILIATE’ or ‘SILENCE’ the likes of Cathy Newman, transgender pundits, leftist TV hosts, liberal students, reporters, Islam and, of course, one of the last standing of the liberal Mohicans, Justin Trudeau.
These efforts need not be coordinated, but together they do appear to constitute an ongoing audio-visual warfare set in the laws of nature of the YouTube geosphere, where Google papers have hinted that video popularity is determined by a mixture of metrics like watch time, language, view counts and more. One stumbles upon these ongoing battles through the steering wheel of the related videos bar, related video after related video. Clicking on Peterson wearing a Kwakwaka’wakw hat can lead the viewer to the expanding territories of Jordan Peterson-videos on identity politics and gender – or, in geopolitical terms, the region of ‘Jordan Petersonia’. Other directions lead to the lands of The Thinkery, Tim Pool, Computing Forever, Jeff Holiday, Very Fake News, Roaming Millennial and what look like the last ruins of what was once a great empire presided by Sargon of Akkad. Channels and videos that are prevalent on YouTube’s related videos bar appear to form cohesive territories of audio-visual content, which then loop into similar, related content. There may be reason to think that these territories may be identified as filter bubbles. But we will see here that there is evidence to complicate this idea. Homogeneity of content has been a prevalent characteristic we have encountered in this research. But we tend to think that such homogeneity is a dynamic and instrumental component of much broader, ongoing disputes between differing content which related videos attempt to make personally and topically ‘relevant’. It is in part a solution it provides to problems like multiplicity, abundance and irrelevance, which altogether form the ever-expanding masses of data that float in YouTube’s universe.
The case of Kekistan is particularly relevant because it speaks of the rise and fall of an imaginary, online nation-state inhabited by users who seek to delineate and defend their land very much in terms of influential audio-visual representations of ideas, vernacular language and memetic imagery. The prevalence of terms like ‘political polarisation’, ‘filter bubbles’ and ‘information warfare’ all ascribe to a vocabulary not too far from military lexicons used to describe the state, the formation, contestation and relations of political bodies. Only here, even though territories are not constituted by classic political institutions and constitutions, they surely appear to combine linguistic, aesthetic, ideological and technical elements in a more or less active effort to redecorate YouTube in the image of a world they see is true, ought to be demonstrated as such, and is repeatedly justified by the feedback loop of their personalised recommendations. Our assumption, here, is that this war plays out via pathways or ‘trenches’ in which content affords to encounter and interact with one another — the most prevalent of which is the related videos bar. We propose that these aesthetico-ideological interactions are thus something of a by-product of how YouTube’s related videos bar processes and organises ideological data in the first place; that, in sum, the ‘war of Kekistan’ is constituted by different messages and factions which audio-visual and social material generate in coordination with YouTube’s related videos.
Before we get into mapping this story through YouTube’s related videos system, however, we first need to clarify why we have chosen to explore the Kekistan wars on that particular platform.
Part of our reason is because, in the wake of scandals around fake news, the circulation of Fox News conspiracy theories in the White House, online political polarisation and, evidently, the decisive prevalence of far-right content online, Youtube has often been subject to much criticism. The platform has so far not lost its prestige as one of the most accessed sites in the world; Amazon’s Alexa classifies YouTube as the second most popular website in the world and Forbes as one of the most linked to platforms. In this context, media outlets like MotherJones have took heed to the fact the platform has become an increasingly popular site for far-right content. Ongoing debates await to see if and how YouTube will respond by offering alternative algorithm designs and features.
Granted, these outlets are not without their own political agenda – none of them are. But it is hard to deny that, as Jonathan Albright recently wrote, whoever experienced YouTube during the 2016 American elections and that continues just to take a stroll at some politically charged video will hardly miss the opportunity to go down multiple far-right and conspiracy rabbit holes.
In fact, the YouTube video ecology is quite propitious to some bizarre mutations of topics, filming and video genres. In the overwhelming amounts of anti-SJW videos resulting from the query ‘kekistan’, are, for example, ‘protest LARPings’ like Based Spartan’s. These kinds of protest interventions are one of many ways that we see conflicts between factions of the culture wars unleashing beyond online comment sections. Under this rubric, we have seen in our dataset a hefty amount of videos showing a group of trolls holding a flag of Kekistan to, as they say, ‘take the piss off’ SJWs and their mortal nemesis, the Antifa. The majority of videos catalogued under this genre take centre-stage in our Kekistan map, as if re-enacting the dynamics of a street-lead anti-SJW battlefront. Other videos by English, Spanish and Russian-speaking gamers also go as far as to re-enact these culture wars in Destiny 2, an online multiplayer first-person shooter game, with mods that allow gamers to dress in a green, sleek uniform endowed with a ‘KEK’ logo, and which later got banned. Other types of videos host so-called ‘bloodsports’, where various YouTube and political figureheads (be them from the alt-right, alt-lite or elsewhere) converse and sometimes debate in Google hangouts and other livestreams. This type of ‘fringe’ content is provided with an opportunity it rarely has on other platforms in that it encounters ‘mainstream’ content much more frequently. However, this does not mean that YouTube makes it easy for these different types of content to meet: related videos systems are particularly homogenising and will seldom suggest a counter-intuitive video without external input by the user.
The story of Kekistan on YouTube
With the term ‘Kekistan’ appearing in 4chan’s /pol/ board by the very end of 2015, early videos mentioning the term on YouTube are usually compilations of threads, memes and musical material mentioned in the board. ‘Shadilay’, an Italian 1980s disco song, is posted several times in conjunction with images of Pepe and calls to ‘praise Kek’ and ‘Free Kekistan’. At this point, it appears that YouTube was used as a complement to dramatise discussion in the board in the form of audio-visual content with automated, robotic voice-overs.
While these videos begin to appear by September of 2016, it is only in February 2017 that the term ‘Kekistan’ became a coherent topic of conversation, extending the official online frontiers of the topic from 4chan to YouTube. This is partly thanks to Sargon of Akkad’s blessings; he is one of the first major YouTubers to mention the existence of the imaginary joke and nation-state on the platform. By the end of January 2017 and in the first few days of February, minor channels — with the exception of uzalu — extend the humorous nature of the term by combining Shadilay anthems with purposefully exaggerated jingoistic celebrations of the ‘Glorious Republic of Kekistan’. Explainer videos pop up as to set the first authoritative accounts of what the nation is founded upon, who inhabits it, where it is set, and who it fights against. More Youtube-specific, professionalised accounts of ‘The Republic of Kekistan & Pepe & Lord Keke & #FreeKekistan’, ‘#FreeKekistan Battle to Free Kekistan’ and ‘KEKISTAN: The Story of Us | #FreeKekistan’ borrow features from militaristic call to arms, calling users to unite and free their land against their oppressors. Later on, the state of Kekistan earns a number of direct and indirect (state) representatives. Big Man Tyrone declares the creation of the Kekistan nation-state by the end of March, while Make Britain Great Again proclaims the ‘Declaration of the Republic of Kekistan’ in April.
In these early days, Kekistan seems to be very much in a state of constant war. Videos describe the course of several battles, comment on specific enemies, and build morale for future military endeavours. Enemies are defined as mainstream media, Normies, SJWs, Twitter and Arab TV — the latter referring to a video where users subtitle an Arabic-speaking news channel to have the main speaker comment angrily on the new territorial advances of the Kekistani front. Users draw from the state of the war in and around Syria to, for example, comment on new war brides in Kekistan with journalistic footage of Yazidi girls captured by ISIL. Later in March 2017, one video claims that ‘The Kingdom of Kekistan’ is known as ‘Bir Tawil’.
Journalism becomes an important feature of information on and from Kekistan. Early news broadcastings comment on the state of the online meme wars, as well as that of the state of the union of Kekistan and its people. Overtime, The Free Press of Kekistan takes responsibility for educating Kekistani netizens of the ‘Ancient History of Kekistan’ and ‘Ancient Astronauts’ and reporting notable news, like ‘Harambe, Anite and Overwatch’, ‘Keklections’ at Berkeley and information on Hillary Clinton, and the state of the ‘Oppression Olympics’.
By the second half of February 2017, the Kekistan war extends to gaming. Users download mods for Destiny 2 to re-enact ‘Kek campaigns’ where ‘reapers’, for instance, ‘defend Kekistan from Antifa Insurgents.’
Then, by the end of March 2017, Kekistan begins to draw attention beyond its state of a 4chan-internal joke. On the 24th, a man trolls Shia LaBeouf’s ‘He Will Not Divide Us’ installation by playing the Shadilay song to its front camera. Sargon of Akkad joins in as a representative of Kekistan to explain the joke to the Amazing Atheist. In the wake of their success, one video goes as far as to say that ‘Obama Speaks Out Against Opression in #Kekistan and calls for UN Action’. It is also a time ripe for the early commercialisation of Kekistani products, with Big Man Tyrone being one of the foremost merchants of the nation.
It is also by that time that protest LARPings and interventions begin to intensify dramatically. Videos like ‘Free Kekistan’, ‘Antifa will never admit kekistan is a place’, ‘normie wants to help Kekistan but can’t because of ISIS #FreeKekistan’, ‘#Kekistan Soldier Vs. #SJW #Seattle #Mayday’ depict young men with helmets and flags of Kekistan and the United States arguing with ’SJWs’ in Seattle protests. By mid-May 2017, Duerst the Wuerst becomes the principal channel to divulge and take over these types of videos. His camera portrays Antifa and SJW protesters overreacting over the Kekistani flag in a rally in Boston, ‘[thinking it] causes racial violence’ and rejoices the ‘Hillarious #MAGA #Trump #Kekistan March in #Boston’. The Nation of Kekistan, he says, goes so far as to ‘Take the Hill’ in Boston.
Then, in May 2017, Joe Rogan finally ‘Discovers [the] Republic of Kekistan with Jordan Peterson.’ What follow are several extracts of a long conversation between the two men.
Things begin to escalate when the Southern Poverty Law Centre publishes a piece that denounces some of the racist and antisemitic connotations of Kekistani symbolism on the 8th of May 2017. Kekistan begins to gather media attention. While The Thinkery, a sister channel of Sarkon of Akkad’s, critiques SPLC’s move, channels like Part-Time Enlightenment seek to clarify what the true intentions behind the notion of Kekistan really are in explainers like ‘What is Kekistan?’.
But these diplomatic initiatives soon come to an end. Attacks against mainstream media begin. Videos criticise the poor understanding media outlets have of Internet culture and their peremptory attacks on their ideas. Retaliation comes in the form of trolling, and MSNBC’s report on Kekistan comes across as a self-satire of bad and sensationalist journalism – a truly ‘epic Poe’ move. By then, this move had already been known as a classic trolling tactic to call for media attention for the sake of trolling. In July 2017, ‘Kekistan Declares the Third Meme War against CNN’ and ends in a ‘Decisive Victory’ on the 11th of that month.
It is around this time that attempts to fictionalise the epics of Kekistan begin to come in the form of Murdoch Murdoch episodes. Murdoch Murdoch depicts a group of ‘millennial virgins who make lulzy animated ‘huWhite’ identitarian comedy videos’ depicting key personalities in the Alt-Right — Lauren Southern, white supremacist Dr. William Luther Pierce, ‘totally crazy hardcore bitch ready to gas the kikes race’ Murdoch Chan, ‘fucking genius’ Dr. Murdoch, and ‘squeeky little faggot in his early thirties who identifies both as a nazi and a lolbertarian’, Murdoch. Their episodes draw on current events and are, in a sense, useful references to locate the state of the online culture wars.
Recently, Kekistan has gained yet another wave of international fame in Spanish and Russian-speaking gaming communities. Rager Coffee, a prominent Spanish-speaking gamer, comments on ‘EL PAIS DE KEKISTAN’, detailing the history of the country. From August onwards, the Kekistani story closes in with Russian-speaking gaming videos taking over the query. At last, a Kekistani delegation is sent over to support far-right Salvini’s campaign in Italy’s general elections.
With this in mind, our map was designed to indicate how the Kekistan war unfolds on YouTube via related videos. The software we have used is Gephi, a network visualiser that allows one to output networks with a variety of algorithms to choose from. The algorithm we have chosen is ForceAtlas2, with the LinLog mode, which calculates the repulsion (distance) between nodes based on a Barnes-Hut calculation. The LinLog mode makes clusters tighter places all sparse (‘loose’) nodes closer to the centre of the map, which is here the region in and around the ‘Anti-SJW Battlefront’. Our map shows the first set of recommendations to the first fifty ‘seed’ videos resulting from the query ‘kekistan’ we have collected in early March 2018. Every figure (‘node’) is a video, and every line (‘edge’) is a recommendation to another video. Colours indicate channels; our legend, below, includes the channels that were seeds, while the rest are channels who received a combination of significant views and normalised dislikes. ‘Normalised dislike’ is a metric coined by Tommaso Venturini and is meant to indicate the degree to which a video is polarising. It is the division of view counts by dislikes. Node shapes indicate different ‘video genres’, which we, ourselves, identified. YouTube offers information on video types, such as entertainment, lifestyle and music. We intended to diverge from these categories by identifying the specific types of discourse each video practiced. Multiple videos stage debates (classified under ‘Warfare’), for example, while others are detailed commentaries on various topics relating to Kekistan (classified under ‘Opinion’). These different genres can give us an idea as to how the conversation between related videos unfolds; how, or why, for example, a gaming video (under ‘Culture’) will relate to debates (‘Warfare’). The size of a node indicates the amount ‘in-degree’ connections it has – meaning, here, recommendations.
Related videos on YouTube
Located on the right-hand side of one’s screen, related videos are a combination of recommended videos and universally related videos. There are currently few publications from YouTube or Google that provide explanations of how their related videos system works, but there does exist a sizeable amount of studies on its recommender system. What we can tell of the mechanisms behind the related videos we obtained is thus limited to our knowledge of the recommender system.
According to a 2011 paper released by Google employees Davidson et al., recommended videos are the result of metrics like relevance, watch time, view counts, likes and dislikes, comments, followers, semantic metadata, relation with a user’s personal data and browsing experience. A rough reading of Davidson et al.’s paper reveals that the recommender system goes through several steps before deciding which videos to recommend and how to rank them. This paper is somewhat outdated; Google has published another one since, in 2016, announcing the new pivotal role convolutional neural networks have taken in their recommender system and in their overall products. Still, the 2011 paper does outline much of the skeleton of the recommender system as a type of technology. It is worth reading not just to grasp parts of its functionings on YouTube, but the basic philosophy it upholds in transforming linear, random and impersonal data into a coherent and dialogical personalisation of exploration.
In order to make it so, the machinery of the recommender system captures and processes several data, namely: 1) data from an original input (in this case, Alex Jones’ ‘Liberals Getting Violently Triggered at Anti-Trump Rally Over Kekistan Meme’); 2) data related to this input; 3) a ranking of possible recommendations based on this input; and 4) a feedback loop that continually provide the system with more ‘feedback’ data it has ‘learned’ along the way.
Here, for instance, the recommender will first detect all sorts of semantic metadata associated to Jones’ video: its title, tags, description, time and date, and so on. This metadata is then computed together with data collected from a user’s browsing history within one of several saved YouTube sessions. In order to find related videos, the recommender will go through masses and masses of videos located in YouTube’s database (and by extension, Google’s) to fine-tune a selection of candidates that best resemble the input data. Not only does it look for videos with similar language – similar semantic data -, but it also assesses how much its candidates conform to their standard viewership or ’global popularity’. The recommender then tries to rank its chosen candidates in an order ‘relevant to the [user’s] interest’ based on a degree of ‘popularity’ and ‘diversification’. With a criteria of ‘popularity’, for example, the system intends to suggest videos that tend to be recent, most liked, commented on, seen and shared. More specifically, this comes down to average views, average view durations, starts, ends and overall durations of a user’s session on YouTube, and how frequently the channels of the suggested candidates upload videos. With a criteria of ‘diversification’, the recommender will seek to include videos from multiple channels and genres, which it then confirms are relevant to the original input. This overall process goes through a feedback loop of data on how long the user has seen the recommendations for, how long the user stayed on YouTube after being recommended these videos, and how long the user has taken until he or she has spent a longer time watching a video.
And, so, with a video such as Alex Jones’ (one of the first fifty results to the query ‘kekistan’), a good number of related videos are from Jones himself, as well as USSMAGA reports on ‘Trump Supporters vs Clueless “Trendy” Liberals’ and Rapid6’s ‘Ultimate “Proof Liberals Know Nothing About Your Guns”’ (quotation marks included).
Recommendations around Alex Jones’ seed videos
Hovering over the Kekistani region of YouTube
Such confined hubs of content related to one uploader are seen in many other regions of our map. Clockwise, Freedom Alternative, Rebel Edge, Duerst the Wuerst, Wild Smile, uzalu, The Thinkery, Very Fake News and Roaming Millennial have very distinct and well-contained regions of videos related mostly to their channel. These peripheral ‘kingdoms’, so to say, have very few outliers within them: most are often nucleuses of videos from the same channel as their seed video. Two of our seeds, for example, were Duerst the Wuerst’s ‘#Kekistan Soldier Vs. #SJW #Seattle #Mayday’ and ‘#MAGA #Trump #Kekistan March in #Boston’.
Those seeds, or ‘capitals’, are connected to a couple of videos from different parts of the map; they link back to similar types of videos, like The Rebel Edge’s ‘Kekistan vs Antifa at Canadian Free rally’, for instance, as well as to videos from smaller channels, located at the centre of the map. But the ‘kingdom’ is well-guarded and contains a clear majority of recommendations from its own region. Other than livestreams, Duerst the Wuerst publishes videos of far-right encounters with Antifa protesters or other far-left actors. The videos usually turn the camera toward encounters where protesters on the left act violently or overtly accusatory. This region also highlights the participation of new conservative actors in protests, such as Gavin McInnes’ Proud Boys group and other famous YouTubers present in this map, like Tim Pool. The same can be said of Roaming Millennial and her video ‘The internet for Dummies | Pepe Kekistan & Normies’: around it is a dense cluster of videos belonging almost solely to his channel.
In this sense, we may say that they are successful at enclosing the viewer into their own ecology of related videos, inviting him or her to browse further through their ideological paths. This does not always apply to channels, however. A topical cluster such as Murdoch Murdoch’s is not made of Murdoch Murdoch’s channel, but of a handful of channels that mirror the original episodes and are related to the seed ‘The Cruel Fate of Kekistan-Murdoch Murdoch’ – also a mirror.
There are regions that are made of looser, poorly consolidated clusters, however. These small, marginal ‘kingdoms’ do not attract a lot of recommendations from their own channels, but contribute to strengthening larger topic clusters around the map. This may be due to a number of reasons, like the fact that they do not enjoy significant popularity on YouTube, do not post one specific type of content, and were amongst the least relevant of the fifty results we obtained for the query ‘kekistan’. To the left of Duerst the Wuerst is, for example, a smaller kingdom of videos governed by The Mechanic Shark. Its seed is located on the upper-right region of the posterior foot of the ‘K’ of ‘Kekistan’, right below the region of the Free Press of Kekistan.
This positioning makes sense: perhaps due to its topical relevance, it leads to a majority of recommendations of videos located in the Kekistani State of the Union and the Cult of Kek, much more than its own channel’s. Those videos are very early publications about Kekistan. They dramatise fictionalization of the meme wars and of birth of Kekistan as a nation with animated 4chan-like imagery, but also refer back to one of Sargon of Akkad’s first invitations to explain the concept of Kekistan to a friendly foreigner.
Another example is SGG Joe Biggs’s region. Its ‘capital seed’, ‘Wiseman from Kek Preaches the Gospel of Kek to Commies’, is located in the centre-left of the map, in the frontier between the Kekistani State of the Union and the Free Press of Kekistan. It leads to a majority of recommendations from that same region, to videos on the state of the war in Kekistan, on particular battles (‘Kekistan Armed Forces: Battle for Kekopolis’), or to speeches on freeing Kekistan.
The rest of these recommendations go to SGG Joe Biggs’ channel itself, although they are very few. Xylene, Unnamable Media, Make Britain Great Again and Freedom Alternative may also fit this profile: they are all strengthened by relations with videos in the centre. Xylene, which publishes videos about various marginal topics like the ‘Concave Earth Theory’ (an alternative to the Flat Earth Theory), has seeds located in the Kekistani State of the Union; they refer to a certain battle between ‘Kekistan vs. CNN’.
On the very north of the map, Freedom Alternative joins a small amount of in-channel recommendations on the channel author’s personal accounts on the late movie Darkest Hour, or commentaries on how ‘Canada wants Feminists Snowplowing too’. It also contains a video of the author discussing with ‘Kekistan refugees’, a young Romanian couple who intervened in a local feminist protest with a flag of Kekistan.
On the extreme right of the bottom of the map, by the sides of Alex Jones, Unnamable Media is backed by a very small set of recommendations. The only contact it has with the central region of the map is a video it posted about ‘Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson on Racism and Kekistan.’ The video shares more points of contact with clusters of videos centred around the topic of Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan – a topic so popular as to generate a significant amount of recommendations on YouTube, seen here on the left of the anterior foot of the ‘K’.
While these small kingdoms help strengthen messages spread in larger recommendation regions, other areas appear to act more like ‘republics’. This is particularly the case with Big Man Tyrone, in part because he does not represent himself as the author of his a channel as much as he uses his own caricatural persona as a meme and a vehicle for meme-inscribed merchandise. His is a ‘republic’ in the sense that he personifies an idea. His lands are well-tied to the rest of the map – indeed, he is the author or ‘President’ of four of the seed results to the query ‘kekistan’. One of these videos, ‘The Meme War – Long Live Kekistan!’, are the sources of related videos largely located around areas speaking of Kekistan as a meme, such as the Kekistani State of the Union and the Cult of Kek.
Another, however, ties to regions of more political importance: ‘Tyrone Declares War on Normies’ takes us as far as to a video on Ben Shapiro debating Blaire White, a video by Tim Pool on Google being sued for discriminating on white men, one by Sargon of Akkad (the weekly ‘This week in stupid’) and two by Roaming Millennial, the classic ‘The Internet for Dummies | Pepe Kekistan and Normies’ and a discussion on ‘Lindsay Shepherd, Taylor Swift and the Failure to Disavow’. As a so-called ‘republic’, however, Big Man Tyrone’s territory consists of a union of videos from various channels that join together in their mutual conviction in Big Man Tyrone as a meme. While the man himself posts videos such as ‘Big Man Tyrone Attempts Longest Reeeeeeeee’, ‘Big Man Tyrone Screams Yooooollllllooooooo’ and ‘Tyrone Launches Do u Kno Da Wae Tee’, other videos join in the meme-making and either repost his content, rehash it (‘Overwatch but voiced by Big Man Tyrone’) or add to the meme itself (‘I sexually identify as an Attack Tyronecopter’, ‘TYRONE BLOWS UP AFRICA’).
Similar to these smaller kingdoms are ‘municipal’ channels around the greater ‘Anti-SJW Battlefront’. These regions are formed by a small majority of recommendations from the same channel as their seed video, but they are nevertheless well-dissolved into broader conversation(s) located in the Anti-SJW Battlefront. This is the case with ‘municipalities’ like Tim Pool, Computing Forever, Atheism is Unstoppable, Jeff Holiday and Sargon of Akkad. These regions are generally involved in conversations they see are not present in the liberal debate.
Atheism is Unstoppable seeks to publish, amongst other things, counter-intuitive explanations to racial and gun violence (‘The White Guy Who Shot Cops in Denver Was Asian’, ‘Teen Vogue Says The Las Vegas Shooter Was Not a Lone Wolf’), as do Tim Pool and Computing Forever to various extents.
The presence of Sargon of Akkad in this region may come across as odd to some: due to the popularity of the channel, YouTube’s related videos system could have suggested more of its videos en masse, as it did for Alex Jones. In its region of recommendations, however, is a key video that has marked the crushing descent of Sargon as a ‘cuck’ after a debate he lost to Richard Spencer. The video, ‘Richard Spencer, Styx and Sargon Have a Chat – Andy and JF moderate’ comes along with videos like ‘Sargon the afraid’, ‘Sargon of Akkad Descent into Madness: Episode I’, ‘Sargon Admits Defeat Embraces Collectivism’ and ‘The Madness of the Sargonites’. This region is ‘weakened’, as it seems, by the presence of adversarial videos within itself.
A similar situation concerns Jeff Holiday, the author of the very first result to the query ‘kekistan’ – the explainer ‘What is Kekistan?’. It is strange that while Holiday portrays Kekistan as a joke intended to ‘take the piss’ of all types of identity politics – of both far-right neo-Nazis and far-left SJWs – his municipal region is not too far from some the very type of content he denounces. It may have been that his ‘Kekistan’ joke turned on itself, or that the topic modelling capacities of YouTube’s related videos system may not have the sensitivity required to distinguish a joke from what it is joking about. Indeed, these regions are marked by civil wars within Kekistan – the biggest to which we will turn to now.
The Anti-SJW Battlefront
The larger conversations that smaller kingdoms and municipalities usually contribute to are in fact constituted by several other contributions by several other channels. Nodes in these regions are videos that were offered as secondary recommendations. We have seen that, for most ‘seed’ videos, the recommendations lead to other content of the same channel. Tight clusters are in part representations of this type of recommendation. All other ‘channel-external’ recommendations will be ‘loosened’ and more distant from clusters, dragging them down to a central ‘trade zone’ of various, smaller ‘city-state’ videos. They are ‘city-states’ in the sense that they are not bound by a common topic (as are so-called ‘Republics’) or channels (as are so-called ‘Kingdoms’); they merely share the same geographical site. Because they are all indirect results to the query ‘kekistan’, however, they do share distant, topical, ‘cultural’, similarities. Indeed, they all assemble a variety of videos engaging in critiques against the usual piñatas of the left: mainstream media, feminism, victimisation, identity politics, race and the hypersensitive dispositions of so-called SJWs.
Structure-wise, these video recommendations also frame videos from unusual suspects, like CNN, as part of the overall ‘anti-SJW’ topic. CNN is present in our dataset via two videos, both of which are located at different parts of this region: ‘Migrants being sold as slaves in Libya’ and ‘Pepe the Frog labeled as hate symbol’. The former is a recommendation from Freedom Alternative’s ‘CNN Affiliates discovers Kekistan’ and the latter a recommendation from Wild Smile’s ‘Bungie Apologizes for Kekistan Hate Symbol in Destiny 2’. As it turns out, CNN’s report on Pepe is surrounded by other recommendations of videos on Pepe, Kek, Kekistan, and mainstream media; one of these celebrates ‘Praise Kek! Dumb media spreads the word of kek to the general public.’ Its other reporting of Libya is related to videos on ‘Pakistani inbreeding in UK | Rampant Child Health Issues | Political Correctness’, ‘HAITI IS A SH*THOLE’, and Lauren Southern’s ‘South Africa – Why White People?’. Even Shoe0nHead, a self-professed liberal YouTuber, is part of this region because of her expressed anti-sympathy for the term ‘Islamophobia’ and critiques against what she sees is an over-sensitive brand of feminism, LGBT activism, and the poor journalism of Buzzfeed. Even ‘liberal’ ‘city-states’ are here in better terms with the broader ‘Kekistani’ conversation than with those taking place in their own political spectrum. However diverse this region is in terms of channels and topics, it certainly isn’t so in ideological, or informational, terms.
A similar effect happens with other ‘bridging’ videos. A video like Channel 4 News’ infamous ‘Jordan Peterson debate on the gender pay gap, campus protests and postmodernism’ has been so popular amongst right-wing-leaning topic clusters that the related videos system does not suggest nearly one single video of the likes of Channel 4 News’ content. This particular video was overwhelmingly related to other types of videos in our map. Among these are Sargon of Akkad’s ‘destruction’ of a ‘male feminist’, Thomas Smith and The Thinkery’s ‘Jack Smith IV Opposes Empathy for Men’ and ‘Feminist Parasites Leech off Tescos for $4bn’.
Among these, we are suggested more videos on or with Jordan Peterson by channels like Conservative Network, The Liberty Hound, 50 Stars, American Justice and Social Justice Fails and by others less politically charged, like Charisma on Demand, Motivation Madness, Gravitahn and Science NET. Altogether, these are recommendations that constitute a region whereby Jordan Peterson is an prevalent topic of discussion. Hence the denomination of this particular region as ‘Jordan Petersonia’ and the Channel 4 News video as Peterson’s moment of ‘ascendancy’. Although this particular video is posted by a moderate, left-leaning channel, it has been overwhelmingly attractive to channels with conservative or far-right viewpoints and is related to videos having a different political orientation. It must be said that there are a few exceptions: along Channel 4 News’ videos are also a BBC 5 Live session with Jordan Peterson and a CBS interview with Peterson on ‘political polarization and Pepe the Frog’. Still, they are overwhelmingly surrounded by unfriendly faces, as if taken as prisoners of war.
Regions formed by an ensemble of topics also exist in the peripheries of the SJW Battlefront. These include the ‘Kekistani State of the Union’ and the ‘Cult of Kek’, both close neighbours of the popular channel ‘Free Press of Kekistan’. These regions are joined in mutual conversations about Kekistan as a nation, the subject of a war and call to arms, a force against various political evils (‘CNN’), a meme, and above all, as an idea. The State of the Union contains videos about, for instance, ‘The Glorious Republic of Kekistan’, the ‘Rise and Fall of the Kekistan Empire’, the ‘National Anthem of Kekistan’, and a widely watched commentary on how ‘Kekistan is dead’.
The Cult of Kek contains very similar content, with the exception of additional videos that meme away multiple ‘praise Kek’s. With the backing of the ‘Kekistan Orchestra’ up north – a collection of musical morales with Shadilay anthems and celebrations of the Kekistani online nation -, both regions are bound by multiple critiques against ‘the mainstream media’. After a ‘CNN Affiliate [discovered] Kekistan’, users comment on how ‘MSNBC Goes After Kekistan’ and power through multiple battles against CNN in ‘CNN vs Kekistan #1’ and ‘CNN vs Kekistan #2’. Content on Kekistan is suggested here as if in direct antagonism to the informational fronts formed around MSNBC, CNN, CBS and the likes.
Linguistic and gaming regions
Finally, on the very North of the map, regions are separated by language and video types. On the north-west is a very homogeneous nucleus of gaming videos, for example. Videos mention ‘Kekistan’ as part of a mod or feature they play out in games such as Destiny 2 or Fortnite. With these mods, they do, in fact, attempt to gamify much of the culture wars of which Kekistan is part of. As mentioned earlier, Destiny 2 had once allowed a mod that had users wear an armour decorated by the label ‘KEK’.
Regions formed by language also have much to say about ‘Kekistan’ as an asset of gamer culture. The Russian-speaking region is dominated by a gaming channel, Kekistan King, which frequently uploads Fortnite gameplays, and which has since been a dominant result for the query ‘kekistan’, on YouTube, at this time.
The toll of the Kekistan war: technical and informational casualties
All of the above begs the question: did Kekistan win the war?
Perhaps it has won in the same way it has lost. Some parts of Kekistan have won the war in the sense that they have successfully steered the query ‘kekistan’ to be associated to content they deem representative of the faux-religious country, whether it be anti-feminist commentaries or the memetic glory of 4chan. In so doing, they have been successful in pushing ‘anti-Kekistani’ content away from their YouTube recommendation ecologies.
But insofar as they have not suppressed the enmity away from their enemies – insofar as they have not turned them into one of them, or annihilated them – then this is a war with consequences only taking effect in Kekistan itself. If anything, this war is divided by a modern iron curtain of online hyper political polarization, where enemies fight without ever truly seeing each other.
Perhaps a better question to ask, here, is as to whom has agency in these wars. The related videos system has a preponderant role in organising the content we have described, even though it does so jointly with user, semantic and other related data. Perhaps the problem of the war of Kekistan is better spoken as a problem of algorithmic design. In the Kekistani region of the chaos continent of YouTube, the related videos system is partly one in which this war is but another output.