There’s an interesting piece in The Walrus about the radicalisation of “incels”, celibate men who increasingly turn to violence. Frustratingly the reporting of these men as mentally ill lone wolves disguises the fact that there’s something much more serious going on: the online radicalisation of angry young men on a very large scale.
There are three pillars of radicalisation: needs, narratives and networks. These are the critical drivers that can turn perfectly nice, normal people into something much more dangerous. And social media brings them together more effectively than ever before.
Needs are people’s motivations: what drives them. That could be a need to feel special, or a need to feel part of something, or it could be a negative such as having experienced trauma.
Narratives are the stories these people can become part of, and many of those narratives are conspiracy theories. They’re incredibly appealing because they tell you that you’re special, that you have knowledge that the wider population is too stupid, too brainwashed or too evil to see.
And finally there are networks, which are the people who will give you the approval and status you crave and who will constantly reinforce the narrative of your particular group. These networks have always existed to some extent but social media has supercharged them and brought them into every home. As a result the time between someone, say, expressing doubts about the government’s COVID strategy and attending anti-mask, anti-5G marches because the Coronavirus is a global conspiracy can be measured in weeks.
“QAnon feeds on widespread conspiracy theories, new age, and occult belief systems,”said Chamila Liyanage of the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right. “QAnon will not be able to influence UK politics right away, but it will first gain a foothold among the enthusiasts of fringe belief systems and conspiracy theories. This is metapolitics, changing minds, then cultures can be changed in the long run.”
QAnon is still relatively small in the UK, but we shouldn’t be complacent. In a few years we’ve gone from laughing at American cranks to waving QAnon banners outside Buckingham Palace. From incels to anti-trans conspiracy theories to QAnon, social media is radicalising people like never before. It’s truly terrifying.