August 11, 2023 | Rolling Stone

Jared Holt: “‘I’m just joking’ is a lazy defense for creating harmful content”

ISD Senior Research Manager Jared Holt spoke to Rolling Stone about homesteading YouTube creator ‘Wranglerstar’ and his switch to more extreme content, explaining the on- and offline harms such content can produce and pushing back on the repeated excuses creators use to deflect blame.

For more than a decade, Cody Crone– also known as Wranglerstar– has produced YouTube videos about manly rural living, all while generating revenue from his ad partnership with the platform. Previously, on YouTube, he has been featured as an “On The Rise” influencer and was listed on YouTube’s “Spotlight” channel. However, his videos today seem to have moved on from his previous brand of rural living how-to’s, to creating videos sprinkled with conspiracies and even a how-to bombmaking tutorial. Today his videos often espouse right-wing conspiracy theories and have also shared instructions on committing arson or throwing harmful concoctions at an “occupying force”. Recently, he was uploading videos to TikTok but ended up being banned from the platform for “repeatedly violating” its policies.

“It’s alarming to see content that he offers instructions for doing damage paired with content that promotes a generally paranoid worldview […]. That can be a volatile cocktail, and I worry that it normalises types of violence,” Jared said.

Crone defended his content to Rolling Stone saying: “Many of our videos are comedic [and] satirical [and] definitely not intended to cultivate antisocial or unlawful behavior.”

Jared explained that using humour is a common way for those creating toxic material to evade content moderation: “‘I’m just joking’ is a lazy defense for creating harmful content.”

He goes on to say that Crone is “crossing or edging on the line of policies that platforms have against what’s usually called ‘dangerous’ or ‘harmful’ content.” Although “most people who view such content will not be compelled to act, and even fewer will be violent,” a minority may feel inspired to carry out some of his recommendations.

Jared emphasised that for YouTube to allow such content is “to provide the next would-be attacker or vigilante with the tools they need to act.” He concludes that YouTube should, at the very least, down-rank Crone’s content to ensure it is not getting amplified.