Ms. Southern described the situation differently. “We asked the question because we knew it was going to force people to question their own political views and realize the contradiction in being a hard-core feminist but also supporting a religion that, quite frankly, has questionable practices around women,” she said. And, she added, they used video techniques that any media company would use.
The next year, Mr. Robertson and Ms. Southern traveled as far as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to create similar videos. Over the lifetime of Ms. Southern’s YouTube channel, according to channel statistics reviewed by The Times, her videos were viewed over 63 million times.
More than 71 percent of people who viewed these videos had not subscribed to her YouTube channel. In 2018, at the height of her popularity, at least 30 percent of the views occurred after the videos were automatically recommended to the viewer by YouTube’s algorithms.
Mr. Molyneux shied away from the kind of conflict that Ms. Southern embraced. He fashioned himself as an online philosopher. But the material Mr. Robertson edited slipped in “far-right ideas that appealed to the ethnonationalists — the extreme right-wing audience,” he said.
In 2018, the pair traveled to Poland for a video that painted the country as a place free of hardship and strife. The subtext was that it was because Poland is predominantly white. In an email to The Times, Mr. Molyneux said, “It was nice being in a country wherein I didn’t have to hire protective security.” He added that he felt the same way when he visited Hong Kong.
By early 2019, Mr. Robertson said, he grew disillusioned. There was a noticeable drop in traffic on Ms. Southern’s YouTube channel. Around the same time, YouTube began to remove more videos the company thought encouraged violence and spread misinformation.
After an Australian man killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand — driven in part by anti-immigrant beliefs propagated by YouTube — Mr. Robertson realized, he said, that the videos he had made led to the same kind of violence in the Orlando nightclub in 2016.