I-Team: How White Nationalists Are Using Social Media To Target and Recruit Teenagers – NBC New York

Posted By on November 21, 2019

What to Know

Writer and mother Joanna Schroeder was shocked to find her 14-year-old accidentally liking a picture of Hitler.

A lot of these memes like that are coming up because you may be accidentally liking these things that have a sort of subtle message of things that might be anti-Semitic or homophobic," said Schroeder.

Schroeder says that since she posted on Twitter about what she saw on her sons feed, hundreds of parents and teachers have written to her about similar experiences.

A growing number of accounts on social media are posting memes geared toward teens featuring subtly racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic content and glorifying violence.

Anywhere that there is a new platform there will be extremists, says Oren Segal, director of the Antidefamation League Center on Extremism. Extremists are able to reach, research and radicalize in ways that they havent had to, or could do, in human history.

Since 2012, FBI hate crime numbers have increased, with more than 7,000 reported hate crimes in 2018. According to investigators, suspects of recent mass shootings in El Paso, Pittsburgh and New Zealand had all engaged with extremist content online.

As part of his Role, Segal monitors hateful content and reports it to local authorities and law enforcement. You dont know who is reading that [hateful content], how it will land on them and what they will then do

Segal says identifying the content isnt always so straightforward.

Right on first blush you might not recognize that this is an extremist meme or what the intent is its a challenge for parents to educate themselves before they even have that conversation with their kids, he said.

The ADL has created a database of some of these hate symbols.

A Sense of Belonging

Teenage boys are a vulnerable demographic which are particularly susceptible to influence from extremist groups, according to Schroeder, due to a strong desire during adolescence to fit in. But while Schroeder was able to intervene her sons engagement with hateful content, many arent so lucky.

Long Island-born Yusuf Abdul-Lateef found himself in the middle of the skinhead movement during the late 1980s, dealing with his fathers death and watching a family member struggle with drugs.

Yusuf turned to music as an escape. He picked up a record by the band Screwdriver known as the original Hate Rock band. As he replayed the songs over and over, the messages in the music began to resonate with him.

The songs, he said, were filled with messages about how the white man was oppressed and had other white nationalist themes that gave him the answers we were searching for.

Its like a gang: My mothers not taking care of me, my father, you know well take you in, its all this false hope, its a fraternity, were all part of the white race, said Abdul-Lateef. Propaganda gets in your head. I was very angry at that time.

That messaging can reach teens without ever leaving their couch, Segal says. Even the darkest online spaces can provide a sense of comfort to some individuals who feel alienated, a tactic which extremists have been using for generations. When you combine alienation and that sense of belonging with extremists that pretend to give you that answer that you want, thats very powerful and very empowering to that person who is searching for meaning.

Lateef eventually found his way out of the skinhead music, ironically he says, through hip-hop music. He is now a devout Muslim with an interracial family.

Opening Up The Conversation

Schroeder feels that opening a dialogue with teens and adolescents is the best way to mediate and foster important lessons in tolerance.

Segal wants websites to step up their own monitoring of accounts promoting hateful and extremist content. But until changes are made, its up to parents to flag any questionable material.

The more engaged parents are with their kids, whether its online, the better prepared they will be to mitigate any error in judgment early on. He says.

Schroeder admits that these conversations are easier said than done.

I can say you're not alone if your kids have fallen on this rabbit hole, Schroeder said. It doesn't make you a bad person. Nobody is teaching parents how to have these conversations.

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I-Team: How White Nationalists Are Using Social Media To Target and Recruit Teenagers - NBC New York

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