Seth Kirkpatrick  ’23

Back in the 2010s, my time was spent mostly on YouTube, particularly with video game let’s plays. At one point or another, I came across an interesting video in my “recommended videos” feed, entitled “SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIORS GET OWNED BY BEN SHAPIRO!” I was instantly hooked.

My experience isn’t unique. Many people, specifically young men, have encountered a video like this one at some point in their life. For whatever reason, the algorithm introduced us to a world of easily digestible, quickly produced, political media, at some point in our young lives. Some of the most popular videos at the time came from a conservative organization known as Prager University, or PragerU.

In recent weeks, I have noticed that a particularly large amount of Wabash students consume PragerU’s content. This is of course no surprise; with over 1 billion views under their belt, PragerU is by far one of the most popular outlets for bite-size political media. Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue if the organization’s content wasn’t so deceptive.

To both highlight their deceptive nature and demonstrate why everyone should stay away from outlets, such as PragerU, that claim to produce “bite-size” content, I will use one of their videos, What is Critical Race Theory?, as a template.

The first problem with this and PragerU’s other videos is that it’s around 5-minutes long, but these videos are not on simple topics. In reality they are about some of the most controversial and complicated issues in America, ranging from the events in the Ferguson police department, to the notion of social privilege, to trans rights. These concepts require much more than 5 minutes to fully understand and contextualize.

For example, a key argument in What is Critical Race Theory?, is that: “Critical Race Theory…is not a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement. It is, in fact, a repudiation of it. To Critical Race theorists, Martin Luther King was both wrong and naïve.”

Luckily for us, PragerU is kind enough to cite the sources used to substantiate their claims (though it’s not always the case). There are four sources used to support this claim; only two referenced a connection between Critical Race Theory and the Civil Rights Movement. One was a Purdue Owl summary about the theory, the other was a criticism of the theory written by conservative activist Christopher Rufo.

Between these sources, there are two excerpts that directly apply to the claim.

One was that those who founded the theory were frustrated by the “dangerously slow” process of the Civil Rights Movement, providing little to no connection to how Critical Race Theory is a repudiation of the movement.

The second, was that many Critical Race Theorists disagree with the notion of equality, preferring instead that of equity. It is important to note that the Civil Rights Movement was only mentioned as part of a list of movements that used the term “equality,” such as the American Revolution.

Here is my issue with this line of support: it is used primarily to fit their political goals, and only secondarily to demonstrate truth.

First, saying that a theory, which formed years after the Civil Rights Movement, is a repudiation of it, begs many questions: does a continuation not involve an evolution of ideas? Is one movement repudiating another truly negative if it poses a more accurate line of thought? Is it truly a repudiation if it only challenges a few ideas from the movement?

Second, saying that Martin Luther King is “wrong and naïve” but not specifying in the video what he was wrong or naïve about, or even how this idea was communicated by the theorists (even if it was), is deceptive. It infers they believe this about MLK generally, when in reality it’s a difference in opinion on topics like equality and equity, or how race functions in a society.

If the previous example is not enough to convince you, here’s another: “Ironically, not since the Aryan obsession in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s…has a social movement been so obsessed with race.” For obvious reasons it was not substantiated in the slightest, and also outright unethical.

The point is: many of PragerU’s claims are deceptive. They are broadly applied, ambiguous, and have minimal support. It’s also a serious issue for their viewers. If someone is so busy that the most they can do is watch a 5-minute video, then it’s unlikely they’ll have the time I did to read through its sources.

I will leave you with two recommendations.

If you still watch PragerU or other affiliated content, I encourage you to be mindful of their evidence. In my experience, it is entirely absent, or extrapolated to benefit their political aims.

If you don’t watch PragerU but do watch any kind of educational “bite-sized” media, stop. Unless it’s a “fun fact of the day” kind of video, you won’t be getting a complete perspective on a topic, and be more susceptible to deception. I know it’s hard to do your own research, but it’s almost always better to read the sources themselves than to trust an organization to synthesize them for you. If you must watch bite-sized political content, find videos produced by politically neutral organizations, instead of ones which are funded by oil-billionaires, like a previously mentioned “university.”