- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 24, 2021


An occasional interview series with Americans who are challenging the status quo.

PragerU, for all the brainpower that has gone into making hundreds of online videos, has no formula to pinpoint how big its audience would be without the constant fight with Big Tech.

But the conservative online educational video company’s top executives can make a highly educated guess.

“We have about 500,000 followers on Twitter, and we have been on Twitter for more than 10 years,” said Craig Strazzeri, chief marketing officer at the California company. “On Parler, we got 2,500,000 followers in a week or two.”

The divide between the trickle on Twitter and the rush on Parler would appear to buttress Mr. Strazzeri’s belief that social media companies have suppressed PragerU content.

PragerU is an “educational media company” that uses five-minute videos to offer conservative perspectives on diverse topics such as elementary school and international relations. As the brawl rages between free speech advocates and modern liberals who control the discussion platforms, PragerU is a willing pugilist.

“We’re fighters here. We are all fighting,” he said. “We know it is an uphill battle against cancel culture and the mob.”

PragerU, short for Prager University, has no campus with stately oaks or mossy Gothic castles. It has no enrolled students or tenured faculty. It doesn’t give degrees, and resumes usually don’t include content viewed.

Instead, PragerU tries to improve the national conversation a little bit each week by publishing original content and graphics, Mr. Strazzeri said. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, PragerU does not make political endorsements, and its videos are overwhelmingly focused on ideas and trends, not specific people.

A video about how socialism has ravaged Venezuela does not mention former President Donald Trump and his views on what socialism achieves. Instead, it explains how socialism spells doom regardless of whether a leader sings the national anthem on television or whether Hollywood celebrities praise the country.

“We are trying to appear strategically to a younger audience,” Mr. Strazzeri said. “We’d love to get more athletes and social media influencers involved.”

Perhaps Robert George sums up best the mission of PragerU. In a five-minute video from 2015, “Why We’re Losing Liberty,” the Princeton University scholar traces the growth of the federal government, often facilitated by a Supreme Court swollen out of the proportions the Founding Fathers envisioned for it.

“The further we’ve drifted, the more powerful the federal government has become and the less free Americans have become,” he said, highlighting the often-ignored Ninth and 10th Amendments in the Bill of Rights. “Freedom can be taken away, but it can also be given away out of sheer ignorance.”

Mr. Strazzeri said he doesn’t see how Mr. George’s philosophy is dangerous or how his words are menacing, but fact-checkers at Facebook have judged hundreds of videos PragerU has made along the same lines as out of bounds.

On YouTube, more than 200 PragerU videos have been “restricted,” and a Google search reminds viewers that PragerU is not an “accredited affiliation” and blares a “restricted” category.

The company carefully tries to avoid any obscure or subjective “community standard” that will get it silenced.

Mr. Strazzeri said he found it disquieting how quickly Apple and Google removed the Parler app from their offerings.

“They don’t operate in good faith,” he said of Big Tech overlords. “They’ve got us labeled as if we were porn or violent.”

Mr. Strazzeri said people have created their own videos using the same text as PragerU’s but attracted no flags or warnings from censors.

“They say, ‘Well, that doesn’t matter because they have a much smaller reach than you do,’ but what this is really about is who gets to decide what information is on the internet?” he said. “It’s gone from troubling to scary what has happened, and most Americans should be standing up and fighting.”

PragerU has lawsuits pending in state and federal courts but has been rebuffed thus far. The legal argument in support of blackouts or restrictions against PragerU is essentially that, as private businesses, Facebook and Google can remove content without violating the First Amendment.

Still, PragerU’s reach has grown. In a running tally on its homepage, PragerU sailed past 4.5 billion views as of Sunday afternoon.

Mr. Strazerri, 34, joined PragerU six years ago. With only a handful of employees, he said, it had a fledgling feel. It now employs 60 people.

As its quickly amassed Parler following shows, PragerU’s growth has been robust. In 2018, a decade after its founding, total views passed 1 billion. That number doubled in 2019 and added 1.6 billion last year.

Some of PragerU’s most popular videos — including “Left or Liberal” and “Immigrants! Don’t Support What You’ve Fled” — sport an average age of 3.6 years and viewership of 14.2 million.

A new video is added each week. Last week’s video was provided by R. Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute, who discussed the rapid expansion of critical race theory in American education.

PragerU is “trying to be more strategic in appealing to young people,” Mr. Strazzeri said, but the coronavirus shutdowns allowed the company to reach more parents last year. With many classrooms going online, parents were able to get a clearer look at what exactly their children were being taught.

“COVID was a real eye-opener for people,” he said. “I think a lot of parents were alarmed. But while a lot of parents are looking for resources for their children, they are also understandably worried about getting bullied by the mob for expressing doubts.”

Consequently, PragerU has added a “Resources for Educators and Parents (PREP)” section, along with founder Dennis Prager’s “Fireside Chats” and “The Candace Owens Show.”

The emergence of provocative and popular conservatives such as Ms. Owens has allowed PragerU to “be more strategic in appealing to a younger audience,” Mr. Strazzeri said, although he acknowledged that the San Fernando Valley-based company is always looking for athletes, social influencers and the like to serve as lecturers.

PragerU has a better chance of prevailing in California courts than before the federal bench, Mr. Strazzeri predicted, but the “nonpartisan fact-checkers — and I use both terms very loosely there” — circle constantly.

“People are afraid of a public backlash, and they are afraid of repercussions if they speak out,” he said. “But we know we have to fight this uphill battle to redo and undo all the damage the left has done to the country. We are just getting started in terms of influencing culture.”

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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