How online extremists are shaping the minds of white teens

Mar 2012
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Schools are now warning parents of this..

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 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.

"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.

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.

Sociology Prof Margaret Hagerman at Mississippi State University says she was surprised to learn that many of these parents believed their children had no ideas about race and were "colourblind". Meme-culture, gamer-culture and white nationalist culture can overlap and inform each other, he adds, and it's all too easy for them to start with one and travel to the other without knowing it.

How online extremists shape minds of white teens