Words: Jenny MacInnes (She/Her)
CW: sexism, misogyny, rape, racism, homophobia
Generation Z are navigating significant portions of their lives through the lens of social media. And while it has its perks, the insidious corners are beginning to cast deeper shadows. Some of the internet’s darkest places are among the proliferating alt-right communities. Initially, on the fringes of the online world, the ideologies found on these niche websites have slowly seeped into the mainstream. Their hate speech has found a powerful mouthpiece: influential TikTokers. Content spanning from misogyny and racism to homophobia and religious intolerance is reaching the eyes and ears of millions of scrollers worldwide. Social media is redefining our political landscape right in front of our eyes and, in doing so, corrupting a whole new generation of people.
The term “alt-right” was coined by Richard B. Spencer in 2008. It describes a political stance outside of the classic left to right spectrum, situated beside fascism and white nationalism. This political movement rose in popularity in the mid-2010s, mostly through forums such as 4chan and Reddit, among communities dominated by cishet white males. Under the guidance of a charismatic individual, who acts the part of alpha male to their emasculated followers, these cultish figures gradually groom men and boys’ minds into seeing the world as one that oppresses them.
Jordan Peterson is the pseudo-intellectualising demi-god within these communities. With a PhD in clinical psychology and a past of teaching in both Harvard and the University of Toronto, his statements seem to bring a foundation of legitimacy. This convinces extremists that subjective opinions are instead factual. Another key figure is Milo Yiannopoulos who is both openly gay and ethnically Jewish, two groups whom the alt-right target. Since Yiannopoulos endorses hate against groups he is a part of, it becomes another way of offering validity to their logic. It could be argued that people are actually ‘just too sensitive’ because this one member of the minority group is okay with it. While Peterson feels he and other white men are unfairly villainised and claims ‘the marginalised are supposed to have a voice’, Yiannopoulos thrives off the chaos he creates and proclaims himself the ‘most fabulous supervillain on the internet’. This is a case of delusion, positioning themselves as victims while pedalling discourses that perpetuate the oppression of others.
Most recently, a new wave of indoctrination was led by former kickboxer Andrew Tate. Using TikTok, Tate managed to grow a following that was one of the most influential among alt-right figures. In the new age of social media where TikTok has been downloaded 3 billion times, these ideologies reach huge audiences at speed. Andrew Tate, the self-proclaimed ‘alpha male’, grew in popularity over the summer months with his virulent misogynistic hot takes. It started with people mocking his videos, not taking his insidious statements seriously like, ‘If you put yourself in a position to be r*ped, you must bear some responsibility’, and ‘You can’t be responsible for a dog if it doesn’t obey you,’ in reference to the women he dates. With his platform being elevated, it exited the scope of people making fun of him and forged a community where his words were cheered and considered gospel for those who supported his anti-feminist message. When these men fear that their position at the top of the social hierarchy is being threatened, they resort to bigotry and hate as a defence. Tate has managed to corrupt a generation of boys with dehumanising rhetoric, which reintroduces dangerous patriarchal attitudes.
Misogynistic content is justified by attempting to contextualise it as a joke. Boys post videos with archaic views but do so “ironically”, knowing it gets high levels of engagement. It provokes people and boosts their videos, and so the cycle continues. To them, this is a harmless joke, but in reality, they’re simply perpetuating the cycle of manipulation. By isolating themselves further into a sphere of like-minded individuals, they start to see everyone as a caricature of what the alt-right have created them to be. They no longer see them as fully human.
So what now? Is the problem one of education? Or the untrammelled freedoms offered by the online space? Is there a way to combat these influencers? There is not a black and white answer. The issue with social media changing the way we navigate our lives, our thoughts, our beliefs and values, is that the algorithm will continue to push more of what we interact with, especially if they are critiques or negative opinions. It is time for social media companies to recognise the Frankensteinian monster they have created and put their expertise to use for a better social outcome.