A few weeks ago, my 11yo showed me an ad that had started appearing on some of his favorite YouTube channels for something called PragerU. In his words, “they sound reasonable and educated at first but then you see they are just giving conservative talking points about racism and anti-wokeness.” Yes. My 11yo is pretty aware of these things. We also have a tech-savvy household and are cognizant of the videos our children watch.
I didn’t think much of it until a few more parent friends started mentioning it. In the last month or two, we all have been seeing a flood of ads for PragerU in front of super popular YouTubers like MrBeast. It is particularly alarming that this organization is making animated short videos and clearly deliberately targeting children with their advertisements. It’s like if Joe Camel (the old mascot for Camel cigarettes, for those younger readers out there) was repackaged for the white nationalist and anti-science agenda.
It made me wonder exactly who these guys are and why they’re suddenly flooding our children with ads with anti-climate change, anti-COVID19 mitigation, and white nationalist stances about white erasure and the like. So who are they?
PragerU was founded by conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager in 2009, with heavy funding from the Wilks Brothers (billionaires in the fossil fuel/fracking industry). While the U stands for “university” it is actually a 501(c)3 non-profit advocacy group. According to PragerU’s own website, the organization values “economic and religious freedom, a strong military that protects our allies and the religious values that inform Western civilization, also known as Judeo-Christian values.”
And how do they do this? In a 2018 report published with Data & Society, sociologist Francesca Tripodi concluded that “Content creators like PragerU are not only exploiting the practices of scriptural inference, but also relying on search engine optimization and suggested content to elevate their messaging.” They are using the Internet to get to our children. Smartly and efficiently.
PragerU is not new to the scene of conservative misinformation. What is new, in my opinion, is their renewed focus on ever-younger children for their targeted messaging. The fact that they are spending massive amounts of ad-buys to put their content in the most popular YouTube channels targeted to minors is extremely alarming to me. As it should be to all of us who want to protect our children from misinformation online.
As a parent, as a teacher, as a candidate for School Board in Chesapeake, VA, I am extremely concerned about targeted conservative propaganda that spreads misinformation, especially about such important topics as racism, climate change, and science while using a distorted version of Christianity.
So parents, educators, guardians, grandparents… keep your eyes open on your children’s social media, especially YouTube. Be prepared to talk to them about PragerU’s lies and distortions. Don’t let their charming young faces and cute animated videos dispel you from the underlying white nationalism and alternative history they are trying to sell to our children. Conservatives like to talk about indoctrination in our schools; this is exactly what indoctrination looks like. And it’s actually happening.
If you want to help, in some small way, get someone elected to local office who understands and is prepared to fight against these propaganda attacks on our children, please consider donating to my 2022 election campaign for School Board in Chesapeake. Thank you and stay vigilant!
Edit to Add: PragerU seems to either a) think this article was complimentary of them or b) wanted to try to flip the trolls onto me and/or the article. So just a fair warning: they Quote Retweeted the article on Twitter so I wouldn’t be surprised if the trolls come a’running. :)