COMMENT:

Up until very recently, whenever I've heard the word "radicalisation" it has been preceded by the word "Islamic".

Whenever I've heard the word "terror" it has been preceded by the word "Muslim".

Much of the Western world has been caught in a loop in which those words could only go together. How wrong we were.

Advertisement

Over the past decade, an enormous amount of airtime has been dedicated to the radicalisation of young Islamic men while the very real threat of the radicalisation of young white men was hiding in plain sight.

I've heard expressions of shock over the last few weeks that white supremacy has raised its ugly head in New Zealand. I am not shocked. When you're a Māori with an opinion, who has a public platform, living in a country that was founded on the white supremacist notion of colonisation, dealing with white supremacists is just a sad fact of life.

Being shocked by the existence of white supremacy is part of the problem. The Christchurch shooter may have been Australian, but the views he holds exist in New Zealand too. They often go hand in hand with other evils, like misogyny and homophobia. My many experiences with people who hold these kinds of views have shown me that it's likely that if you drew a Venn diagram of white supremacists and misogynists, it would look like a single circle.

These people live among us. They've always been a part of our society, but until recently they've been isolated and silenced; shunned by the mainstream and left to nurse their hatred behind closed doors.

Not anymore. Now white supremacists, misogynists and misfits of all inclinations have a safe harbour to congregate online, hidden behind fake personas and shielded by the wilful inertia of tech giants. There, in their cloistered digital communities, they educate each other about different ways to hate, and new fears to fuel their fury.

We all know that social media is a cesspit. I'm not sure though if casual, everyday users know just how disgusting online environments can be. I wish I didn't.

I have a folder on my laptop containing screenshots of online hate I've received. It's organised into categories like "Racism", "Sexism", and "Weird Obsessives". I opened the Racism folder this week, and found gems like "you bunny brained token Māori dunce" and "kick the fat ass of Māori bitch, say no to Māori". That's on the tame end. And it's practically quaint compared to what you'll find in places like Reddit, 4Chan, 8Chan and the comments sections of various blogs.

Online culture wars have become sophisticated over the last few years. White supremacists and misogynists have now developed whole forums dedicated to indoctrinating new users with their warped worldviews. Sexist and racist acronyms, memes and in-jokes have become a kind of social currency, providing bonding opportunities for groups of mainly disaffected young men.

Advertisement

It's tempting to think that sexist and racist comments online are just silly jokes that have no bearing on real life. The reality is that some young men are particularly vulnerable to such rhetoric, seeing it as a way to vent their frustration at their perceived marginalisation in a more multicultural and gender equal world. They're not psychopathic devil children; they're everyday kids at all kinds of different schools. And they say some terrifying stuff.

In 2017, I spoke at my alma mater King's College as part of the school's literature week celebrations. I gave a talk on the various silly (and sexist) tropes that permeate many of our most-loved fairy tales. Hardly controversial stuff. Which is what made what happened next so baffling.

A few hours after my talk, I noticed that I had a slew of Instagram notifications. I opened the app to find hundreds of comments. Comments like – and I won't censor them, because it's important that we shine a light in dark places:

"You need to shove your stupid incorrect prejudice opinions up your gaping c***."

"Third wave feminism is cancer lmao, SIEG F***."

"Life was good when women couldn't vote."

"You're the reason why I hit women you stupid two hole."

That's only the tip of the iceberg. These comments came from teenage boys who were in the audience. Where did these boys learn these things? And how do they treat the young women in their lives?

When I've spoken at other co-ed schools, I've also encountered intolerant behaviour. I've been heckled, asked inappropriate questions and even had a row of boys fold their arms and close their eyes for some 20 minutes while I spoke about gender equality – and no, they weren't asleep.

I have never encountered such behaviour at girls' schools. In most of the situations I mentioned above, girls have reached out to me on social media to apologise for the behaviour of their male classmates. Some lovely boys have too.

What's going on? Kids don't just spout "feminism is cancer" or reduce women to (the erroneous slur) "two holes" off the top of their heads. They're learning these things online, reading repugnant views shared with the intention of indoctrinating as many people as possible.

At some stage, the Christchurch shooter would've been a kid knocking around an online forum, stumbling upon threads about "white genocide" and other fallacies. Of course, not every kid on 8Chan will go on to commit public acts of violence, but there's no telling how internalising such warped views will impact upon their relationships, families and engagement with people who do not look like them.

I've heard a lot of talk about tolerance and inclusion over the last few weeks. I hope that will continue. But we must also talk about what's going wrong. Most New Zealanders are decent human beings who are not racist or sexist, but all of the tools for radicalisation are readily available online.

We've talked plenty about Islamic terror. The question we now must turn our minds to is what are we going to do to stop the next white male terrorist?