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October 1, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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Digital Militarization: The Rise of the Manosphere

The internet has given us communities like we’ve never seen before. But what are the consequences?
Katie Meadows investigates.

CW: the shit parts of the internet. Discussions of suicide, eating disorder, incels, and Donald Trump.

When did you first get the internet? When was the first time you realized you could be whoever you wanted online? What was the first forum where you really felt like you were among like-minded people? Neopets? Bebo? Geocities? Or did you get a little darker? Vampire Freaks? Best Gore? The depths of Fanfiction.net?

Being online in the early 2000s was a doozy, but it’s a fully-fledged second world in 2018. Quietly, all this time, corners of the internet were and are being radicalized by the least radical of all: a division of young white men who believe their rights face extinction in a liberal society gone wild. They are known as MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists) and the Alt-Right — and they’re not so quiet anymore, with huge thriving communities on massive platforms like Reddit (aka “the front page of the internet”), and 4chan.
Unbeknownst to much of the general (older) population, these sites operate as meeting grounds to mobilize a generation of angry young men, where they plant seeds for infiltrating the wider culture with discord and bigotry. Basically, it’s like if Revenge of the Nerds was real, and they also had guns. It’s terrifying, and it’s spreading rapidly, like a fungus with a neckbeard and a My Little Pony dakimakura.

I’ve had plenty of my own brushes with online toxicity. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed internet access in my home until I hit high school. My mother hoped keeping me offline would prevent me from becoming dependent on the World Wide Web; this backfired and it wasn’t long before she’d be charging down the hallway to the lounge at 4am, threatening to unplug the modem if I didn’t get off the computer immediately.
I began my first online diary at age 13 on Livejournal.

As of 2018 Livejournal is owned by Russia and kept afloat by large groups following K-pop and celebrity gossip. But in my prime years (2005-2009), it was also known for pro-anorexia networks that I fell right into during the throes of my eating disorder. In amongst the hundreds of posts a day of calorie counts, binge regrets, and “inspirational” quotes, I found another poster from New Zealand who lived in Hamilton. She came and stayed with me in Christchurch when I was 15. We ate twice the whole week (sorry mom).
After highschool I moved my online diary keeping to Tumblr. My blog became an extension of myself, as it began to deliver more validation than my real life. It was a place to unload my most intrusive thoughts, and I quickly attracted a number of anonymous voyeurs drawn in by my vulnerability, who felt entitled to tell me things like, “I masturbate over your pictures every day,” and “Everyone is waiting for you to kill yourself”. Once, someone told me they talked about me so much that their mother consulted a psychic friend about me. But I had never felt more appreciated, more important, or simply more cool, than when I was posting 20 times a day on my stupid blog. I was in a bubble of people who thought like me and uplifted me for it — when they weren’t trying to crawl into my brain and lay worms inside. At the time I really couldn’t see any fault in this fun hobby that was literally destroying my self-esteem day by day, and misinforming the fuck out of me.
These experiences all ended with pretty big wake up calls for me about my privacy, my internet usage, the sources of my information, and how easy it is to get caught up in something that makes you feel important when you didn’t before.

But being Extremely Online doesn’t always end with optimistic personal growth.

Elliot Rodger, who took 6 lives in a stabbing and shooting spree killing in California in 2014, has become an “incel hero” (incel meaning “involuntary celibate”) after his misogynistic YouTube rants were found after the incident. Alek Minassian, who drove down a busy Toronto street in his van earlier this year and killed 10 people, prefaced his attack with a Facebook post announcing his intent to begin “an incel rebellion”. MRA and Alt-Right communities are not dissimilar in operation to cults. They prey on vulnerabilities, and claim to provide not only a solution to life’s problems but control over those who cause them. Paradoxically, its members pride themselves on being too smart to be manipulated. As soon as these ideals began to leak into the public consciousness through Donald Trump’s campaign and current presidency, these communities became training grounds for the real-time weaponization of pure hatred and resentment.
At the forefront of these communities is Reddit’s /r/TheRedPill, a reference to 1999 film The Matrix, where main character Neo is offered the choice of two pills; the blue pill, which will keep him within the blissful ignorance of the simulation that is the Matrix, or the red pill, which will wake him up and force him to exist in the harshness of the real world. In The Red Pill speak, the blue pill represents succumbing to the mainstream “delusion” that men, women, and gender minorities are equal (or that the latter even exist), and the red pill represents waking up to the true nature of women: abominable monsters set on the destruction of men. As an operation, it targets alienated young men who feel disconnected from the expectations of mainstream cis-heteronormative society. It emotionally manipulates them with rhetoric that takes the onus of their behavior and places it onto the unrequited object of their affections. Their emotions then manifest as a deep-seated hatred of women and the desire to wholly dominate them. It describes itself as a forum for “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men”, aiming to rescue men who have fallen victim to the women’s rights movement by way of lost job opportunities or sexual harassment allegations, or worse: become emasculated incels. Along with being a “safe space” for men to share tips and personal experiences in their desire to mentally and physically subordinate women, the subreddit also serves as a front page for the Men’s Rights movement online, with a plethora of links to related podcasts and other media for the Alpha male consumer.
A browse of the subreddit’s top all-time posts includes: “The most important part of the game is not being emotionally invested”, “Three ways to consciously manipulate women before they subconsciously manipulate you”, and “Now I am become Chad, destroyer of pussy”. The latter is a lament on how the author has apparently implemented The Red Pill’s system for becoming attractive to such success that he now feels depressed instead of triumphant that he can see all women as “lying fucktoys”, a post that inexplicably opens with a Sylvia Plath quote and clocks in at over 4,000 words. You would think that when you end up creating an acronym for when women do not wish to consent to sexual relations with you — LMR, “Last Minute Resistance” — it’s time to seek help for your own behavior, but The Red Pill doubles down on this being the unfortunate — and in their eyes, hopefully reversible — result of a world turned upside-down by the advancement of women’s rights. When respecting those different to you is presented as a weakness and the source of all one’s loneliness, it pushes these men further away from being able to fix their behavior before it is too late, prevents them from finding real meaningful connections in life, and enables the cycle of violence against women and gender minorities out of spite.
Along with The Red Pill, /r/TheDonald fall within the movement known as the Alt-Right, a relatively loosely defined group with extremely far-right aligned politics, as held by white nationalists and Holocaust deniers.
The Alt-Right is associated with figureheads such as Richard Spencer, a prominent neo-Nazi who was infamously punched in the face after Donald Trump’s inauguration while wearing a Pepe the Frog pin, and Gavin McInnes, former editor of liberal zeitgeist tome Vice Magazine. He now heads a far-right men’s organization known as the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys believe that it is humiliating and emasculating for men to not consume meat or dairy, and disparagingly refer to those who do not consume either as “soy boys”. The Donald, and indeed Donald Trump’s fanbase in general, operates in a similar way to The Red Pill, weaponizing insecurities in those who have always been told they have no need to feel insecure.

Reddit’s accessibility, combined with the relative anonymity of the internet, means it can serve as a mainstream forum for such open bigotry more so than the more “underground” 4chan, and has effectively mobilized a legion of young white men, who were otherwise isolated from social networks, to rail against their perceived oppressors. The users of The Donald aim to antagonize and troll the left into self-destruction, while chipping away at their credibility and attempting to infiltrate and build distrust within those communities.

Their tactics, fostered within the internet’s original Hellmouth, 4chan, can seem so innocuous that it’s easy to miss their gravitas. An example is 4chan and the Alt-Right’s successful rebranding of illustrator Matt Furie’s friendly character Pepe the Frog to a mascot for white supremacy, akin to a modern day version of the re-appropriation of the swastika by the Nazis (Furie, after an admirable campaign to reclaim Pepe, announced the character’s death in 2017).
First launched in 2003, 4chan is a forum modelled on Japanese image boards for discussing otaku and popular culture. It’s entirely anonymous, and its original focus on anime and manga has expanded over time to boards for broader and Western-based topics such as film, music, video games, and NSFW content. The site soon became known as a hub for the propagation of racist and misogynistic memes, encouragement of doxxing (posting personal information of someone online with the intent to direct abuse to them in real life), and uploads of revenge and child pornography.
4chan’s founder Christopher “moot” Poole stepped down from and ceased involvement with the site in 2015, after Gamergate, where several boards including /pol/ (politics), /v/ (video games), and /b/ (“random”), participated in the targeted harassment of women in the gaming industry. Their primary target was developer Zoë Quinn, who was forced to flee her home after being subjected to repeated hacking and doxxing. Many 4chan posters and members of online groups for male-coded hobbies like video games see women and gender minorities as threats to these tight-knit communities, which most of these men do not have in their IRL lives.
/pol/ in particular received heavy traffic during the 2016 US Presidential Election, with a general board-wide support of Donald Trump, either for his politics or his role as “the ultimate troll” that embodied 4chan’s ideals of societal chaos. /pol/ planned several campaigns of their own during this time that revolved around the infiltration of pro-Clinton groups to disseminate disinformation and distrust; there are rumours that the infamous “Pee Tape” is a hoax of /pol/ origins, operating as a straw man to discredit liberal media and validate Trump’s “fake news” agenda. Along with The Donald, /pol/ was integral to the spread of the officially debunked Pizzagate conspiracy. “Pizzagate” alleged that officials in Hillary Clinton’s campaign were involved in the satanic ritual sexual abuse of children, operating out of a pizza restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, in Washington, DC. In 2016 a man was apprehended in Comet Ping Pong after firing a rifle, after he had travelled from North Carolina to investigate the conspiracy for himself.
Since their inception, online MRA and Alt-Right communities have escalated in confidence of their bigotry and their threats of violence — and Donald Trump’s presidency and his propagation of such open hatred only fuels these young men in their behavior.

But all is not lost. For every cry of “soy boy Beta cuck” on one subreddit, there will be a young person learning the grassroots of intersectional feminism on another. Like humanity itself, the internet is constantly growing and expanding, and we the user have the power to use this tool for the positive, and brave through the nuclear winter of viral misogyny. While even in New Zealand we suffer the consequences of President Donald Trump, it is important to remember the words of First Lady Michelle Obama: when they go low, we go high — with a little sprinkle of cathartic roasting of these nerds on the Twitter timeline, which I can’t directly quote Michelle Obama on. The internet is an incredibly valuable resource for humanity, in giving a voice and a platform to those who have historically not held those things, and should be providing multitudes of diverse, positive, and informative communities all over the world. We simply can’t let that space be used to unite literal fucking Nazis in 2018.

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