HOW EXTREMIST GROUPS ARE RECRUITING YOUNG PEOPLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Encore: November 22, 2022

As the country continues to grapple with a rise in right-wing extremism, many are left to wonder, “Why are so many young people seduced by so much hatred?”  Joanna Schroeder is a writer, editor, media critic, and a mother of three – who focuses on gender and parenting issues.  In her New York Times op-ed piece, “Racists Are Recruiting.  Watch Your White Sons.”, she lays out how a combination of cultural changes, social media and the awkwardness of adolescence have created a fertile ground for extremists to feed off of.  Tonight, Ms. Schroeder joins us to the discuss ways to protect young people from being indoctrinated into violent white supremacist groups – before it’s too late.

 

Aired on August 1, 2022

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

AS THE COUNTRY CONTINUES TO GRAPPLE WITH A RISE IN RIGHT-WING EXTREMISM, MANY ARE LEFT TO WONDER, WHY ARE SO MANY YOUNG MEN BECOMING SEDUCED BY SO MUCH HATRED?

AS PART OF OUR EXPLORING HATE INITIATIVE, EXAMINING THE ROOTS AND RISE OF ANTI-SEMITISM, RACISM, AND OTHER EXTREMISM IN AMERICA, OUR NEXT GUEST HAS A THEORY SHE'S BEEN SOUNDING THE ALARM ON FOR THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS.

JOANNA SCHRODER IS A MEDIA CRITIC LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS OF PARENTING AND GENDER.

IN 2017 SHE WROTE A 'NEW YORK TIMES' OP-ED ENTITLED 'RACISTS ARE RECRUITING, WATCH YOUR WHITE SONS'. IN IT SHE LAYS OUT HOW A COMBINATION OF CULTURAL CHANGES, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND THE AWKWARDNESS OF ADOLESCENCE CREATED A FERTILE GROUND FOR EXTREMISM TO SEED.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

FIRST I WANT TO GET INTO THE SUBJECT, BECAUSE ACE MENTIONED IN THE INTRO, A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE INGREDIENTS FOR EXTREMISM, THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND ALGORITHMS A LOT OF THESE PLATFORMS PLAY.

BUT HOW DID YOU COME TO UNDERSTAND THIS?

IT CAME TO ME VERY PERSONALLY, BECAUSE IT CAME THROUGH MY OWN KIDS' INSTAGRAM PAGES WHEN THEY WERE YOUNG.

AND WHAT ENDED UP HAPPENING IS THEY -- I ALWAYS MONITORED THEIR 'FOR YOU' PAGED AND WHATEVER THEY WERE LOOKING AT.

IN FACT, I EVEN HAD A -- I EVEN HAD A MIRROR FOR MY YOUNGER KIDS ON MY PHONE WHERE I COULD SEE WHAT THEY WERE DOING.

I ORIGINALLY STARTED MONITORING THEM TO PREVENT THINGS LIKE BULLYING AND ANY KIND OF PREDATORY BEHAVIOR.

BUT WHAT I SAW THAT CONCERNED ME THE MOST WAS THAT THEIR 'FOR YOU' PAGES AND EXPLORE PAGES WERE JUST FULL OF VERY SUBTLE BUT VERY TROUBLING HATE FILLED CONTENT.

SUDDENLY ANTI-SEMITIC, SUBTLY RACIST, ANTI-WOMAN, ANTI-TRANS, ANTI-QUEER, EVERYTHING, AND IT WAS MIXED WITH MEMES THAT ARE -- I REALIZED THIS IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM.

OF COURSE, AND SO I THINK A LOT OF PARENTS OF, PERHAPS, TEENS AND TWEENS MIGHT HAVE COME OF AGE BEFORE SOCIAL MEDIA, AND SO A LOT OF THE TRADITIONAL WARNING SIGNS THAT THEY MIGHT BE LOOKING FOR, THEY DON'T MAN TEST IN THE SAME WAY.

CAN YOU EXPAND ON THAT?

I'M GENERATION 'X,' AND WHEN I WAS YOUNG, YOU COULD TELL SKINHEADS FROM EVERYBODY ELSE.

THEY STOOD OUT.

OR PEOPLE WOULD WEAR STAWASTIKA OR OTHER SYMBOLS.

NOW THESE HIT-FILLED GROUPS LOOK LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE AND THEY'RE RECRUITING PEOPLE WHO LOOK LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

THAT ALLOWS THEM TO BE MORE FESK AND APPEALING THEM GENERATION DON'T START OUT WANTING TO BE DANGEROUS RACISTS OR ANTI-SEMITIC.

THEY DON'T START OUT WANTING TO BE HOLOCAUST DENIERS.

THEY ARE LURED AND ROMANCED INTO IT, AND IF THEY WERE APPROACH BID SOMEONE EXTREME LOOKING THEY'D PROBABLY BE LESS LIKELY TO BE LURED IN.

I WAS WONDERING IF YOU COULD GET A LITTLE MORE INTO THE EXPLORE PAGES, DISCOVERY PAGES, 'FOR YOU' PAGES, BECAUSE AGAIN, I THINK PERHAPS -- I'M NOT A PARENT MYSELF, BUT PERHAPS A LOT OF PARENTS -- YOU KNOW, MY KIDS ARE FRIENDS WITH THEIR FRIENDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA, AND THEIR FRIENDS ARE FINE, SO IT SHOULD BE FINE, BUT HOW DOES THE ALGORITHM -- HOW COULD IT SUCK YOU INTO SOMETHING THAT'S MORE VIOLENT AND MORE DANGEROUS?

YEAH, THAT'S THE TRICKY THING.

WE THINK WHENBY WE SET UP A PRIVATE ACCOUNT FOR OUR KIDS AND CHECK WHO THEY'RE FOLLOWING, KIDS FROM SCHOOL, THEIR AUNTS AND UNCLES, THEY'RE SAFE.

THE REALITY IS, THEIR EXPLORE PAGES OR FOR YOU PAGES, BASICALLY WHAT WE WOULD CALL THEIR TIME LINE, IS FILLED WITH STUFF THAT'S NOT JUST FROM THEIR FRIENDS.

IT'S FROM EVERYWHERE OUTSIDE OF THE INTERNET, OUTSIDE THEIR PRIVATE PAGE.

SO WHAT HAPPENS IS -- AND I FIGURED THIS OUT KIND OF BECAUSE I WAS DOING MEDIA BUYING OR AD BUYING FOR THE COMPANY I WORK FOR AND I LEARNED HOW PEOPLE TARGET ADS AND POSTS TO DIFFERENT DEMOGRAPHICS.

AND I REALIZED THAT THESE KIDS THAT ARE ON PRIVATE ACCOUNTS ARE SEEING THINGS THAT ARE TARGETED TOWARD KIDS THAT WATCH MINECRAFT VIDEOS.

AND MINECRAFT IS A WONDERFUL GAME.

IT'S TOTALLY INNOCUOUS, IT'S SAFE FOR KIDS GENERALLY, AND SO PARENTS HAVE NO IDEA THAT THERE'S THESE BAD GUYS OUT THERE THAT ARE USING THEIR KIDS' INTEREST IN VIDEO GAMES TO SHOW UP IN THEIR TIME LINES ON A PRIVATE ACCOUNT, WHERE THEY'RE NOT EVEN FOLLOWING HETHESE PEOP.

AND OF COURSE WITH THE WAY THAT A LOT OF THE ALGORITHMS WORK, BECAUSE THEY WANT TO YOU STAY ON, IF YOU ENGAGE WITH SOMETHING, EVEN IF IT'S INNOCENTLY, YOU SEE MORE OF IT, IS THAT CORRECT?

ABSOLUTELY.

THE WAY I FOUND THIS WITH MY OWN SON, THEY SCROLL REALLY FAST THROUGH THEIR TIME LINES.

IT IS LIKE SCROLL, CLICK, SCROLL CLICK, AND THEY LIKE EVERYTHING THAT THEY SEE, ESPECIALLY THE YOUNGER KIDS.

AND I SAW HIM HAVE THIS IMAGE COME UP, THIS HISTORICAL PICTURE OF HITLER.

HE HEARTED IT, HE MOVED ON.

I SAID, WAIT.

WHEN I LOOKED AT IT, THERE WAS A SUBTLE MESSAGE THAT WAS PROFOUNDLY PRO-HITLER AND HOLOCAUST DENYING, AND THIS CHILD HAD NO KIDEA.

HE HAD NO IDEA.

THAT WAS WHEN THE LIGHTBULB WENT INTO MY HEAD, PARENTS ARE TOTALLY UNPREPARED FOR KID BEING EXPOSED TO THIS, ESPECIALLY KIDS WHO HAVE NO INTEREST IN HISTORY, IN POLITICS.

THEY'RE JUST PLAYING VIDEO GAMES.

THIS KID'S SUDDEN INTEREST IN DEEP PRIDE MEMES, IRREVERENT GOOFY CONTENT AND VIDEO GAMES, SOMEONE KNEW TO SEND THESE KIDS THIS CONTENT.

AND IT KEEPS THEM ENGAGED, SHOWS THEM MORE.

BUT THEY'RE CLEVER AND THEY MIX IT WITH STUFF THAT'S NOT OVERTLY ANTI-SEMITIC AND HOLOCAUST DENYING.

YOUTUBE CAN BE EVEN WORSE, BECAUSE THEY AUTOPLAY VIDEO AFTER VIDEO AFTER VIDEO, AND OUR KIDS SIT DOWN, AND THEY WATCH AN AWESOME YOUTUBE BLOGGER PLAYING VIDEO GAMES THAT MAYBE AS A PARENT YOU'VE SCREENED AND FEEL TOTALLY COMFORTABLE WITH, AND THEY'RE ENJOYING THAT.

AND ANOTHER ONE PLAYS BY THAT PERSON.

THE THIRD VIDEO THAT MIGHT PLAY MAYBE WHEN YOU WALK OUT OF THE ROOM OR START LISTENING TO YOUR OWN PODCAST MIGHT BE SOMEBODY WHO WANTS TO TEACH YOUR KIDS THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH VIDEO GAMES THAT INDOCTRINATE THEM WITH VALUES THAT DON'T JIVE WITH YOUR FAMILY.

FOR ME, I REALIZE THAT JORDAN PETERSON WAS A PROBLEMATIC -- HE'S A PSYCHOLOGIST IN CANADA, BUT HIS THEORIES ARE VERY ANTI-FEMINIST, ANTI-TRANS, VERY SUBTLY PROBLEMATIC IN MANY WAYS WHEN YOU'RE JUST BEGINNING WITH THEM.

HE WAS AUTOPLAYING, AND I KNEW ABOUT HIM BECAUSE OF MY WORK, AND IT WAS LIKE A CARTOON.

I RAN IN THE ROOM AND LIKE SCREECHED TO A STOP, AND I WAS LIKE -- WHAT IS THIS?

AND HOW DID IT GET HERE?

AND I DON'T KNOW THAT PARENTS REALIZE THEY'RE STARTING SO INNOCENT AND THEY'RE GETTING EXPOSED TO THAT STUFF THAT WAY, SLOWLY.

SPEAKING OF STARTING SO INNOCENT, I ALSO MENTION, AS FROM YOUR ARTICLE, THE AWKWARDNESS OF ADOLESCENCE.

IT'S UNIVERSALLY UNDERSTOOD THAT THAT PERIOD IN YOUR LIFE, PUBERTY IS UNPLEASANT TO PUT IT MILDLY.

WHAT MAKES THAT A UNIQUE TIME FOR BOYS TURNING TO MEN?

IF YOU RAISED A BOY OR GIRL, YOU KNOW IT'S HARD.

THEIR BRAINS CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE GENDER POLITICS AT WORK.

THE WAY THEY PROCESS THAT IS I DON'T HAVE A PLACE IN THE FUTURE.

THE FUTURE IS FEMALE AND I'M MALE AND I DON'T KNOW WHERE I BELONG.

AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THAT.

ON TOP OF THAT, WHAT THEY SEE HAPPENING IN THEIR OWN SCHOOLS IS THERE'S A LOT OF RAH, RAH, GO GIRLS, WHICH IS A GREAT THING.

AND THE FUTURE IS FEMALE IS A GREAT MESSAGE.

BUT UNLESS THEY'RE IN SPORTS OR OTHERWISE VERY MAINSTREAMED, THEY'RE NOT GETTING THAT MESSAGE SO.

THEY THINK GIRLS HAVE IT ALL GOING FOR THEM, AND THERE'S ALL THIS POSITIVITY FOR EVERYBODY BUT THEMSELVES.

SO THEY FEEL DISENFRANCHISED, THEY FEEL MARGINALIZED, WHETHER THEY ARE OBJECTIVELY OR NOT, WE CAN'T SAY.

BUT THAT PAIN POINT, THAT AWKWARDNESS, EVEN THE PIMPLES, THE CHANGE HORMONES, THE TESTOSTERONE, ALL OF A SUDDEN FEELING DESIRE, MAKES THEM FEEL LIKE LOST.

AND THAT'S WHERE THESE PEOPLE WHO, IT'S NOT EXTREMIST THE SAY THAT THEY'RE RECRUITING.

THESE PEOPLE RECRUITING INTO THIS IDEOLOGY, THEY HIT OUR BOYS.

THEY TARGET THEM.

THEY SAY, YOU CAN'T JUST SAY WHATEVER YOU WANT ANYMORE, AND YOU'RE BEING POLICED, AND GIRLS HAVE HAVING, AND WHITE BOYS ARE BEING HARMED BY SOCIETY SILENCING THEM.

AND IF YOU DON'T KNOW YOUR KIDS ARE BEING EXPOSED TO THIS, YOU DON'T KNOW HOW TO CHECK THAT NARRATIVE AND COUNTER IT IN A WAY THAT'S LOGICAL FOR THESE KIDS.

SO FOR PARENTS THEN OF THESE YOUNG MEN, IS IT JUST AS SIMPLE AS TELLING THEM, DON'T DO THIS, DON'T SAY THIS?

OR DOES THE APPROACH NEED TO BE A LITTLE MORE NUANCED?

THEY ARE GETTING A LOT OF FEELINGS OF BEING SILENCED AND SHAMED, AND YEAH, AS ADULTS WE MIGHT BE ABLE THE SAY, YOU'RE NOT BEING SILENCED, BUT THEY FEEL THAT WAY, AND IT'S IMPORTANT TO MAKE SURE WE'RE NOT ADDING TO THAT FEELING.

SO FOR INSTANCE, WHAT YOU WANT TO TELL YOUR KIDS IS THERE'S A LOT OF STUFF GOING ON ONLINE THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE FALL FOR, AND PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO TRICK KIDS AND ADULTS, AND IT'S NOT JUST YOU WHO MAY BE TRICKED INTO IT, AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW YOU'LL PROBABLY SEE THINGS THAT AREN'T HONEST, THAT AREN'T REAL, AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT IT'S OKAY IF YOU FALL FOR IT, BUT I'D RATHER HAVE YOU COME TO ME FIRST SO WE CAN TALK.

IF YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT'S HAPPENING IN A MEME, COME TO ME.

LET'S TALK ABOUT IT.

I'M NOT GOING TO JUDGE YOU.

I'M NOT GOING TO BE MAD.

LET'S JUST GO OVER IT.

BECAUSE IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT THAT THERE'S THESE GROWNUPS OUT THERE THAT THINK THEY CAN TRICK YOU INTO THINKING SOMETHING YOU DON'T BELIEVE, THAT CAN TRICK YOU INTO THINKING SOMETHING YOU NORMALLY WOULDN'T BELIEVE, AND I'M JUST HEAR TO HELP WITH YOU THAT.

DYOU DID OFFER ONE GREAT SUGGESTION, AND THAT WAS TEACHING KIDS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BAD WORDS AND HARMFUL WORDS.

WITH ABOUT A MINUTE LEFT, CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THAT IS AND HOW YOU IMPLEMENT THAT WITH YOUR KIDS?

FROM THE TIME THEY'RE LITTLE WE TELL THEM, THAT'S A BAD WORD, NAUGHTY WORD, DIRTY WORD.

AS THEY GET OLDER, THEY HEAR THE NAUGHTY WORD.

OOH, THAT'S A BAD WORD, AND THERE'S A LITTLE ZING AS THEY GET OLDER TO SAYING THE WORD THEY'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO SAY.

OF COURSE.

YEAH, AND WHAT END UP HAPPENING IS THEY GET TO MIDDLE SCHOOL, THEY WANT TO PUSH BACK AT THE NORMS AND EXPECTATIONS FOR THEM, AND THEN THEY KNOW THERE'S WORDS THEY'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO SAY, BUT THEY'RE HURTFUL WORDS.

SO FROM THE TIME THEY'RE VERY YOUNG, YOU HAVE TO TALK TO THEM ABOUT, LIKE, THIS IS A NAUGHTY WORD SOME PEOPLE FIND RUDE.

THAT'S A HURTFUL WORD THAT CAN MAKE PEOPLE FEEL UNSAFE OR LIKE THEY'RE IN DANGER OR LIKE YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT THEM.

AND THAT DISTINCTION WILL HELP YOUR CHILD GROW THEIR EMPATHY AND UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING SILENCED AND BEING THOUGHTFUL, BEING ASKED TO BE THOUGHTFUL ABOUT WHAT THEY SAY.

WELL, I THINK THAT'S A GREAT PLACE TO LEAVE IT FOR US.

JOANNA SCHRODER, WRITER, MEDIA CRITIC.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING SCHOOL BUS GIVING US SOME VERY INSIGHTFUL WAYS TO LOOK AT THE CHANGES THAT ARE HAPPENING IN OUR COUNTRY AND CULTURE, SO THANK YOU SO MUCH.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

HAVE A GREAT DAY.

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