What do you think would happen if a black man became an undercover spy in the alt-right?
Could it work? What would that even look like? How would a black man have to dress to “fit in” as a white supremacist?
In a recent TEDxTalk, Theo E.J. Wilson shared how he did just that…via Facebook.
In this talk, he shared how he was not only a survivor of police brutality during the height of Black Lives Matter, but also how he woke up one day to more racial slurs, internet trolls, and white supremacists than he had ever experienced before. These people treated him like he wasn’t even human. To the alt-right, he was “an idea, an object, a caricature.”
After reflecting upon this experience, Wilson shared on the TED stage,
I also began to notice that a few of my trolls actually had brains, which made me even more curious and what to understand them even further. And although these supposed morons engaged in what appeared to be original thought, I said to myself, “Um, these guys are highly misinformed, at least according to my knowledge.” Where are these guys getting these arguments from? Like, was there some kind of alternative universe with alternative facts?
Was history and gravity optional over there? I don’t know. But I needed to know. Like, I wanted to know. And as it turns out, I had no idea about digital echo chambers. That same target marketing algorithm that feeds you more of the products you like to buy also feeds you more of the news that you like to hear. I had been living in an online universe that just reflected my worldview back to me. So my timeline was pretty liberal. I had no Breitbart or Infowars or Fox News. No, no, I was all MSNBC and The Daily Show, CNN and theGrio, right? Well, these trolls were hopping the dimensional doorway and I needed to figure out how.
After this realization, Wilson decided to setup a profile on Facebook as a white supremacist in the alt-right, in order to personally experience the echo chamber that these trolls lived in. In the online world, he switched identities and became Lucius25—the white supremacist lurker. He friended white supremacists, he liked American Renaissance and the National Vanguard Alliance, and he began talking bad about Black Lives Matter and Al Sharpton.
Guess what happened? He entered into another reality—the echo chamber of the alt-right where all he began to see was other viewpoints, ads, and comments that perpetuated this worldview.
Isn’t that scary?
Just think about the recent American election. Why was the media so surprised that Trump won? Especially when they were convinced that Clinton had it in the bag?
Two words: Echo Chambers.
Marketing, media, and technology are conditioning us for highly specified, focused, and personalized messages that we’re more likely to comment on, like, and share.
As a result, we’ve learnt that the more general something is, the less likely it is going to relate to me. So we just skip over it and let it go in one ear and out the other. In other words, if it’s for all, it’s not necessarily for y’all.