In March, in the aftermath of the Christchurch shooting, I tried to distinguish between internet problems and platform problems. Internet problems arise from the existence of a free and open network that connects most of the world; platform problems arise from features native to the platform. The fact that anti-vaccination zealots can meet online is an internet problem; the fact that Facebook recommended that new mothers join anti-vaccination groups is a platform problem.
The recent rise in white supremacist violence around the world has given us fresh reason to ask which aspects of the problem belong to the entire internet, and which belong to our biggest social networks. It seems apparent that the internet is cultivating loose but potent networks of extremists. But what are the mechanics of this radicalization? And what role could platforms play in discouraging it?
I thought about that question while reading Joe Bernstein’s unsettling piece about Soph, a 14-year-old YouTuber who has gained a measure of fame (and 800,000 subscribers) by preaching a slur-laden gospel of homophobia, Islamophobia, and racism.