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How online extremists are shaping the minds of white teens
Monday, 19 August 2019 - 15:14 | Views - 378

A mother expressed her concern about extremist content poisoning the minds of boys as they use the internet, in a post that went viral. She thinks there are warning signs parents should heed.

In an age where anyone can access just about anything on the internet, white boys in the US seem particularly at risk from dangerous radicalisation online.

Many mass shooting suspects in the US have three things in common: They are young, white and male.

The suspect behind the El Paso shooting that killed 22 people in Texas is believed to have posted a racist manifesto online.

Police investigating a deadly attack in Dayton the following day said the gunman was influenced by a "violent ideology", although no motive has been disclosed.

The dangers of the internet are not a novel talking point for parents and teachers, but these most recent tragedies have sparked renewed debate over what families can - and should - do when it comes to raising white boys in America.

"The red flags started going up for us when, a year or so ago, [our kids] started asking questions that felt like they came directly from alt-right talking points," says Joanna Schroeder, a Los Angeles-based writer, media critic and mother of three.

She tells the BBC one of her two sons began to argue "'jokey'-toned alt right positions", asking questions like why black people could "copy white culture but white people can't copy black culture". She began learning about how other boys their age were sharing sexist and racist memes - likely spreading from online forums.

 

Last week, Ms Schroeder's Twitter thread about parenting white boys in a world rife with easy access to extremist viewpoints by monitoring their social media and teaching empathy became a widespread talking point, amassing nearly 180,000 likes, 8,500 comments and shares across social platforms.

"Not all jokes indicate your kid is buying into dangerous ideology," she says. "The bigger question for parents to ask themselves when their kids make racist, sexist or homophobic jokes is whether their kids understand the deeper implications of what they're saying."

But some derided her suggestions to track social media as an infringement on a child's privacy and an overreaction.

Others said the arguments did not apply just to white boys, and focusing on one race made the issue problematically less inclusive. They also pointed the finger at mainstream media for conflating conservative or non-liberal views and values with bigotry and white supremacy.

 

Some experts say social media algorithms are fuelling a worldwide rise in extremist views or conspiracies by creating echo-chambers online. And while it's certainly not just boys who are affected by internet propaganda, in the US at least, it seems that it is driving young men in particular to lash out most violently.

One teenager who replied to Ms Schroeder's tweet said: "I've seen this happen to people that I was surrounded by in high school. Watched how the divide formed between those that were heavily affected and those that weren't."

A gaming video on YouTube could include a suggestion to something political, for example.

"And that is likely to be content carefully curated to attract young men," Ms Schroeder says. "After they watch one of those, the next videos in the series may grow more and more extreme."

 

 

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