From ‘Too Online’ to Alt-Right and Back Again

On this week's Waypoints, Rob, Danielle, and Patrick welcome Motherboard's Jason Koebler to discuss the strange and somewhat hard-to-credit tale of a young teenage boy who was lured into the alt-right via online communities, and how his mother helped him escape. It touches on the nature of online radicalization, the way young white kids can recast themselves as a persecuted class, and how that process can be stopped. Then, Danielle explains the wonder that is the Jason X plot, and Rob has read an essay on how the most common tools for teaching and learning may also be some of the worst.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/43ja5g/from-too-online-to-alt-right-and-back-again
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5:47, Patrick: “Recently I’ve been writing on… Vice… Games… Vice Games? [Laughter]”
1:24:23, Rob: “You can keep up with us at waypoint.vice.com [sarcastically] that’ll work.”

Hrmmmm…

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danielle’s love of farscape gives me life

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I can understand some of the Waypoint crew’s skepticism of details about the story, but on the whole, I think I buy it. The sudden shift from alt-right back to normal after an encounter with a counter protestor seems a little iffy, but like Danielle mentioned, kids at that age have pretty malleable identities. This doesn’t address many of their concerns, but the Washingtonian supposedly did a follow up with the parent/author of the story (I say “supposedly” considering the whole thing is written by an anonymous person, so hard to prove) and asked her a couple questions. One interesting note is that supposedly “Sam” of the story may be putting out his own essay on the experience?

Reading this story the other day sent me down a rabbit hole of articles about how much the alt-right is using the internet as a recruitment tool, especially for young people. I’ll just give a blanket content warning for the links below, considering a lot of this stuff is talking about the alt-right (so expect CW for discussions about misogyny, racism, homophobia, sexual assualt, etc.).

To no one’s surprise, Youtube has an issue with people peddling conspiracy theories and alt-right views. Something interesting that the mom brought up in the story about Sam, and that Jason Koebler also brought up, is just how much alt-righters try to target individuals with depression and anxiety, especially on Youtube which this piece gets into.

Something that did surprise me though is the fact that apparently, some of these popular alt-righter Youtubers are quite young, like this…14 year old girl who apparently has been making videos since she was 9? This piece also gets into some of the discussion of YouTube’s seeming unwillingness to do anything to deplatform people like this (even after the girl made a death threat to YouTube’s CEO in one of her videos???).

Similarly, Instagram seems to a be a breeding ground for this stuff as well, and considering it also has a huge audience of younger people, it’s pretty scary how quickly the algorithm starts recommending problematic accounts to follow, like this piece from The Atlantic addresses.

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The growing conversation around reevaluating what learning looks like fascinates me. Through childhood circumstances that I’m sure are very common, for my whole life most of my identity has been contingent on the things I know about, my ability to articulate arguments, etc. Rob’s point that he feels like he can’t learn like he did in college hit home. For me, a massive depressive spell at the end of college seriously impacted my memory. Given that my value as a person was entirely dependent on my ability to, for example, list off the major figures in 80’s Taiwanese cinema, suddenly losing that information seriously compounded my depression and lack of self-worth.

I feel like as a culture, this entire idea of the inherent worth of being vehicles or repositories for information could use interrogating.

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I can only speak for myself. But I was a complete piece of shit 14 year old, Islamaphobia was rife in me and I was suckered into the medias portrayal of Islam. Add a sprinkle of militant atheism and a false lack of empathy for edgy show, I was a complete piece of shit.

It’s only when I spoke to a Muslim man through a RE class Q&A and asked ‘Whats your goal?’ (In my head they all had a twisted agenda, see, I was a piece of shit) and his response was ‘To be happy, to make my children happy’ that my whole perspective changed.

It was if he had knocked down the keystone to this ridiculously blind set of ignorant beliefs. Luckily the echo chamber werent as established 10 years ago and to this day I still worry about how much worse I could have been if I had access to reddit/4chan etc.

However I was certainly nowhere near as eloquent or self reflective as the child in the piece

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We are reaching a level of technological ubiquity at which it is no longer okay for parents to be ignorant of how the internet actually works. For example, parents should know how to block domains with their home router. If your child has access to the internet and you are not taking serious strides to stay abreast of which sites they should not have access to, and blocking them in turn, you are an irresponsible parent.

This writer purports to have known all along that their child was religiously visiting Reddit and 4chan with a vigor that impacted their eating habits, daily activities, and grades, and they literally did nothing about it. They’re not simply ‘naive’, in their words. They’re careless. Although I don’t believe the article at all, I would bet all the money in the world that most parents make no real effort to protect their children from any online content that isn’t explicitly pornographic.

My hottest take of all, though, is that if you let your child watch YouTube, you’re putting them in as much danger as if you let them visit 8chan.

EDIT: googled “repo of domains to block for children” and found a 43MB hosts file (43MB of text!!!) that is updated daily. Hope this helps someone: https://github.com/mitchellkrogza/Ultimate.Hosts.Blacklist

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I couldn’t agree more, I’m now a father to a 10 month old. God knows how much changes with the internet in the next 10 years but you can bet i’m going to keep myself updated, but maybe that’s a generational thing. Easy internet access has existed for the majority of my lifetime, whereas my mum was clueless, I had to teach her how to do what when we got our first computer and dial up installed.

I’m 25, the internet is ingrained in me. I dont know the age of the parents in the piece, and it doesn’t excuse their ignorance in the slightest (Especially because they educated themselves in other areas) but generally speaking the Internet and being online (more than Facebook and google) is still a daunting thing for people who lived pre internet.

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I had a very similar experience at the end of University; partly due to circumstances, but looking back also most likely due to un-diagnosed Autism, and just burning-out. I’ve never really been able to recapture that level of attention and attentive-ness that I maintained during University and have instead had to carve out a different existence with different values.

Modern society, and especially digital media+emplyment exhausts me on an existential level and I’m just not interested in taking part in it any more.

Edit: Also more generally, all you parents out there, I really don’t envy you having to bring up children in this digital age, and I wish you all the support you need to make the right decisions.

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I can only be glad that when I started joining forums and wikis as a teenager I was the most toxic person there. If I happened to land with a crowd as toxic as I at 17, I would probably be a far more awful person today.

I absolutely agree about the parent thing. I’m not a parent myself, but I’m constantly going back and forth about how much/what kind of access to the internet I’d let my hypothetical child have. I imagine there’s an eternal struggle of not wanting to be too overprotective or sheltering, but also wanting to providing some agency when it comes to the web.

One additional note I’ll mention about YouTube specifically: I didn’t reference this above as it’s not alt-right related, but there’s a lot of other very very weird, disturbing stuff on YouTube that targets very young children, toddlers, etc. Some of it seems to be people maliciously making parodies or cheap knocks off popular kids shows, and some of it appears to be people exploiting the recommendation algorithms and using automation to create visually disturbing “educational videos” (oftentimes they actually are educational but still uncomfortably strange to watch). I know a common thing with some parents these days is to put on an educational YouTube channel to keep their children occupied, so I’d just advise people to be careful and occasionally check in to make sure the videos are still good.

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Even YouTube Kids or whatever the kids-safe version is called is a terrible idea. Beyond the exploitation of the algorithm by bad actors, which absolutely happens all the fuckin time on YouTube and is very much NOT an edge case (google “Elsagate”, or check out this Reply All that uses Momo as a jumping-off point to talk about all the needles and blood videos on kids’ YouTube), the rhythm of YouTube is just terrible for your brain (but that’s a different conversation entirely)

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I was having intense flashbacks to my own adolescence while Danielle was describing hers. I didn’t have regular internet access until I was 16-17, and I didn’t come out and start dating until I was 19. At that point I did a full belly flop into the world of gay dating which, all things considered, could have gone a lot worse considering how clueless I was.

It was also funny hearing Jason talk about how meeting people in real life can “pierce the veil” (sorry if that’s not the exact phrase he used). I’ve never had the experience of becoming disillusioned with someone from an internet space after meeting them in person, but I’ve been to a few big gatherings for one particular forum, and each time I walk away understanding the dynamic of the community better. There have also been times when meeting internet friends has inspired me; knowing that they struggle with the same things I do and seeing that they still manage to live regular lives and be fully functional human beings can be a sort of proof-of-concept for me when I’m feeling especially down.

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god, I accidentally stumbled upon the world of those live action Elsa and Spiderman videos a while back when reading about the whole kinder surprise egg phenomenon. just the weirdest shit…

I saw somewhere recently that toddlers who watch TV have significantly worse sleeping patterns than those who don’t, which doesn’t surprise me at all tbh

Just listened to the end and Cado is 102% right about Taco Bell.

Like I always say, is it 37% beef? Maybe. But it’s definitely the best tasting 37% beef you’ll ever eat

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Y’all are having really good and serious discussions and I’m just sitting here thinking that I should probably watch Jason X tonight because Danielle’s synopsis made it sound incredible.

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Anime is a wedge issue.

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There’s a comedian (that I know nothing about) that does a bit about taco bell. There’s a joke that involves finding out the remaining 70% is saw dust, then he cuts down a tree to make nachos.

His name is Chris Porter. I hope he isn’t a milkshake duck.

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The topic of online radicalization is something that will always scare the shit out of me because in hindsight I almost fell into that rabbit hole in highschool. I was angry and depressed and I didn’t really realize it yet or realize why. I thought I was just some miserable white boy who liked games too much. (When I was actually a depressed and repressed queer non-binary person who has terrible parents).

Anyway one day I finally checked out this one dude that Youtube just, kept recommending me, The Amazing Atheist. I found some popular video about him ranting about the hosts of The View making fun of a guy who CW: Sexual Violence got his genitals cut off.

At the time I wasn’t actively looking for reasons I was miserable, but man, this Amazing Athiest sure was making some good points. Then he said the C word and got a little too angry for me and I said “eh, maybe I don’t need to watch anymore of this dude’s videos”.

I think about that moment a lot. What I’d be like if I decided to watch more. Probably, a much worse person.

This post comes off as really rambley and self-absorbed but I guess I’m saying all this because Danielle is right, there isn’t much in the way of good guidance for boys outside the home, if they are even really getting guidance there in the first place, and there really needs to be. I could have been radicalized against a lot of shit that I am and I’m sure there are plenty of people who have been. The internet is a hell of a radicalization tool and I don’t think that just good parenting is often enough to resist it. Part of combating online radicalization has to be better guidance in the lives of young people outside of the home.

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