There is a good chance that you have heard the term, “Alt-Right pipeline.” You can be forgiven for not yet understanding the phrase as it is still a somewhat fringe concept. But even if you have not heard the term, you have definitely seen its effects.
There are many questions you might have if this is a new concept. First, what is it? Is this just a new buzzword? Why is this happening? Is it a problem specific to the Right? Is it just internet culture run amok? What will the effects be? Who is at fault for this? And many more. It is important to get the answer to these questions before taking a side on the issue.
Firstly, what actually is it?
Investigators and believers in the theory describe it as a chain of events. First, impressionable teens and preteens are allowed to access the internet at an early age. Usually these kids don’t go directly to the depths of Reddit and 4chan, two common social media platforms used by the far-right en masse.
Social media sites divide their content according to their specific demographics. So, the kids will quickly be targeted with content designed for them.
They start by looking at memes on YouTube or Instagram. Pretty soon, after these young kids, usually boys, are advertised content that is disguised as “dark humor,” but in reality it carries deeply bigoted and problematic undertones. And because they are children, they don’t know how to put these things into proper context.
Once social media starts identifying these users as right-wing, they market more of that content to the kids. They start with the more “acceptable” content which slowly shifts the kids’ opinions before they are able to see other points of view.
Over time, impressionable kids are suggested content like, ‘Ben Shapiro destroys feminist.’ If you are not familiar with this branch of the internet, it is a common trend in some right-wing media. These commenters find videos of women who are visibly upset or flustered and perniciously use these clips to argue against feminism.
Things like this may seem relatively harmless to adults who can contextualize it easily. But a child might not understand that a 5 minute long video is not a fair representation of an entire group’s views. The massive expansion of the incel movement can be attributed to social media encouraging divisive content and allowing anti-feminist content to prosper.
Next, kids are encouraged to enter right wing spaces because all of the people they see on social media are there. So you have 10 year olds on Reddit learning about Nazis from their most sympathetic apologists.
But this isn’t just regular political influencing. The Alt-Right is particularly dangerous compared to other political groups.
Events like the Charleston Unite the Right Rally that occured on August 11th, 2017 required things like this for support. The 2019 El Paso shooting was a rightwing attack that left 23 people dead. According to a 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office, “Of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far right wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73 percent).” 27% were committed by Islamic groups and there was 1 attack attributed to a left-wing act of terrorism.
Some people disagree with the theory and point to supposed “left wing indoctrination” as a defense. They argue that the real threat is the left’s control over the media and that right wing internet commentators are simply “defenders of free speech.” The left definitely does have a grip on the media so perhaps it is even.
However, the data makes it clear. There are large, deadly problems with the right at the moment. And the cause seems to be uncontrolled social media.
In 2021 a lawsuit against Facebook resulted in the company having to pay $150 billion dollars in fines. This was following the site failing to stop the spread of misinformation and hate speech targeted towards the Rohingya people. The company continued to promote inflammatory posts as if it was any other type of content.
Many people, including the heads of many social media sites have been asking for increased monitoring of social media in order to prevent harm from coming from their apps. A New York Times article titled, Facebook Admits It Was Used to Incite Violence in Myanmar, stated, “Facebook employees missed a crescendo of posts and misinformation that helped to fuel modern ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.” In 2021 a class-action lawsuit against Facebook started by a Rohingya refugee living in California resulted in the company having to pay $150 billion in fines.
A similar lawsuit is expected to take place in the UK soon this year.
Whatever the answer is, talking about the problems is key to understanding the solution.
Parents need to monitor what is on their kids’ phones and teach them what kind of content is acceptable before they come across it on their own. Social media sites need increased monitoring and protection for children. And an open dialogue must be started to address questionable content online.