For the first time ever, kids are able to access the internet with extreme ease. With the youngest members of Generation Z being 9 years old at the moment, our generation’s youth are, in some ways, lab rats for how internet access affects development. And we are seeing it in real time.
If you have YouTube, you have probably seen a title like “Ben Shapiro triggers SJW snowflakes” come up on your main page or even in your recommended videos. Maybe you find it easy to ignore, maybe you get 30 seconds in before rolling your eyes and clicking away, or maybe you have the cognitive ability to report it as soon as you see it. However, this is not the case for everyone. In recent years, YouTube has become a pipeline for alt-right extremism by continually recommending videos that eventually lead viewers into following far-right platforms.
Oftentimes, younger men and boys following alt-right creators is viewed as a “phase.” As Noel Miller — a youtube content creator who has previously criticized notions of misogyny from other individuals — puts it, “They’ll live in the real world and women won’t want them.” However, this stance is greatly negligent of what has manifested as a result of young men consuming far-right ideology: The gunmen behind the Buffalo shooting, the Christchurch Mosque shootings in New Zealand, the Aztec High School shooting in New Mexico, and many more were inspired by far-right extremism on different internet platforms that advocate for white supremacy, homophobia/transphobia, antisemitism, and misogyny. By ignoring this phenomenon, we increasingly endanger groups of marginalized individuals.
How does it work?
Caleb Cain, a current critic of the alt-right movement, describes himself as someone who formally “fell down the alt-right rabbit hole.” His story is much like many: a young, White man, struggling with a sense of place and security and looking for a sense of escapism and belonging. In late 2014, Cain found himself watching a self-help video by Stefan Molyneux — a content creator who defines himself as an “anarcho-capitalist,” a men’s rights advocate, and a fierce critic of progressive gender politics and “rap culture.” The resonance Molyneux had with Cain and other young men in addressing young men’s issues sucked him in. By 2015 and 2016, Cain was fully immersed in the world of Alt-Right creators, viewing conspiracy theories, graphic violence, anti-feminism, and explicitly racist videos that consistently painted marginalized groups as the villains of world issues.
Since then, Cain has spoken out about the power of Youtube’s algorithm and the appeal these creators’ content has to young, usually White, men. “When I found this stuff, I felt like I was chasing uncomfortable truths… I felt like it was giving me power and respect and authority.” Cain identified as a liberal before he discovered Molyneux, and eventually other creators like Ben Shapiro, Lauren Southern, Candace Owens, etc. Yet within a year, his political stance had done a 180. The immense power these creators have in rewiring the initial opinions of young, impressionable, people reveals how frightening unfiltered access to the internet can be in adolescents.
This is not to provide a “pity-piece” to young men who resort to the Alt-Right Pipeline in search of a sense of belonging; it is inexcusable and ignorantly negligent to regard it as a “phase” or unimportant. Rather, this demonstrates how easily young men’s brains can be influenced into internalizing misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and antisemitic ideologies. If young, mostly-white men and boys are the target demographic of far-right creators and this “phase” is ignored, perpetrators of violence will continually be manufactured by the internet. The last post of the shooter, on a message board site 8chan, behind the deaths of 50 people worshiping at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand was: “Well lads, it’s time to stop shitposting and time to make a real-life effort post.”
“Taking the Red Pill”
The alt-right describes the journey one takes to far-right politics as “taking the red pill,” inspired by the 1999 film The Matrix in which the protagonist Neo is presented with two choices: the blue pill, which he can believe in whatever he chooses to believe in, and the red pill, which will awaken him to the truths of reality. To them, the truths of reality rely on the belief in conspiracies that suggest the dangers behind “Leftist Propaganda,” “Black Culture” being inherently violent, and “Toxic Femininity.”
The Red Pill appeals to young White men and boys by uplifting their issues as the most prominent and the result of “Blue Pill takers.” It allures those who are relatively non- marginalized or those who choose to believe they are not oppressed, as now they can distinguish themselves from the other group: the logical versus the illogical, the red pill takers versus the blue pill takers.
Ben Shapiro, one of the most well-known far-right internet personalities released the book(s) Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings in 2019 and later Facts (Still) Don’t Care About Your Feelings in 2020, which both critique the emotionality of progressives and inability to look at “the facts” rather than their own feelings on a topic. This phrase has coined itself as a popular mantra amongst the far-right, which paints progressives and “SJWs” (Social Justice Warriors) as out of touch with reality due to their inability to separate emotions from the truth.
Unsurprisingly, the “facts” Ben Shapiro brings up are littered with inconsistencies, missing information, and often input his own personal opinion on the topic, yet he gets away with this in the eyes of his supporters. The reason for this, again, is the Red Pill notion his fans subscribe to which paints both him and them as “the logical” and others as “the illogical.” You have seen the titles that portray this: “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Transgenderism and Pro-Abortion Arguments,” “REAL LIFE THUG LIFE: Shapiro DESTROYS liberal student who likes big gov & free stuff,” “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Megan Rapinoe and the gender pay gap,” the list goes on. All of these titles accomplish the same thing: Ben Shapiro — the logical, realest, red pill taker — is victorious over someone from a marginalized group — the illogical, idealistic, blue pill taker.
This creates a binary of the good versus the bad, depicting every marginalized group as the ladder. We see the micro-level effects of internalizing these doctrines through microaggressions and belittling for example, but quickly these can turn far more sinister. While physical violence against marginalized individuals and communities is not the all-encompassing result of the Alt-Right Pipeline, the discriminatory rhetoric the far-right pushes has, time and time again, legitimized the mistreatment, abuse, and killing of oppressed individuals.
The power of platforms on the internet
The internet, in many ways, is vital to the creation of political movements and the dissemination of information nowadays. Those in the spotlight, with large platforms, have immense power to shift narratives, advocate for marginalized communities, and fight injustices. However, the same amount of influence can lie in the hands of a misogynistic, anti-queer, White supremacist.
It is a cop-out to ask those hurt by the messages of harmful alt-right creators to just “ignore” it. Simply looking past videos that invite viewers to hate marginalized individuals does nothing in bringing back the lives of those killed as a result of far-right ideology.