As a frequent trawler of the late-night internet and YouTube in particular, I am no stranger to Classically Abby’s plethora of ads. Upon scrolling for long enough, one will eventually emerge, lauding the benefits of conservative Jewish living and proper womanhood. The titles of her advertised videos are selected specifically to pique the interest or spark rage in YouTube’s more compassionate users. The stark difference between views on her conservative videos and, say, her makeup looks and vlogs, indicates that Abby Shapiro, sister of talking head Ben Shapiro, receives most of her views from hate clicks.
For those not plugged into the far-right YouTube mainframe, Classically Abby is ostensibly a lifestyle channel with a conservative tilt. Shapiro intersperses the traditional “influencer” fare of baking vlogs and hauls with videos like “Men in Dresses are TRASH” and “Conservatives are the New Resistance.” Unsurprisingly, her alt-right videos have the strongest engagement, with some videos totaling hundreds of thousands of views. Searching “Classically Abby” on YouTube, however, yields dozens of parody videos from other women, predominantly mocking or ironically imitating Shapiro’s oeuvre, an honor not yet bestowed on less politically inclined influencers.
Shapiro stands out, however, because among the crowd of conservative Christian lifestyle vloggers, she is visibly Jewish. Unlike those of her ilk, she rarely proselytizes her religious beliefs, instead couching her dogma in ostensibly Jewish values like tzniut, or modesty. Because, like many empty and delightfully cruel vessels of the alt-right, Classically Abby is not at all what she appears, and she’s doing it on purpose.
Last year, when Boston’s “Straight Pride Parade” rocked the streets, I considered the codified, sneaking nature of fascism. Outright calls for a white ethno-state tend to go over a bit strongly in polite company, so alt-right proponents hide their ideals and recruitment tactics in hyper-specific memes, parades and, yes, YouTube makeup tutorials. Though Shapiro is a bit more open with her beliefs, they are still couched within the arguably innocuous garb of traditional influencer culture. Classically Abby serves as a trojan horse for conservative ideals dressed up as modesty and celebration of femininity, with the added bonus of ad revenue from curious viewers clicking on videos with alluring titles.
Because, at the end of the day, YouTube thrives on engagement, positive and negative. Classically Abby’s divisive, propaganda-filled videos are perfect for gathering ad revenue, even from users who watch the videos just to mock them. If the content gets clicks, YouTube will keep promoting it, functionally complicit in the spread of misinformation and sophisticated recruiting tactics. Shapiro is but one of hundreds of similar talking heads, utilizing clickbait titles and extensive advertising to spread her message. I cannot speak to her actual belief in the conservative values she espouses, but there is no denying they pay the bills.
The best way to avoid this, aside from de-platforming entirely (though this tactic often leads to outcries about freedom of speech), is not to click on her videos. Shapiro may cry antisemitism, injustice, even misogyny, but even hate clicks contribute to spreading her influence. I, for one, am tired of her advertisements attempting to goad me into clicking just to laugh at her. It hasn’t worked yet, and as time passes and alt-right recruitment methods are exposed, I doubt it will remain sustainable.