A mom cautioned parents to stay vigilant with their children's social media engagement because she believes White supremacist groups may be grooming White teens for radicalization.
Joanna Schroeder, a Southern California author and mother of three children with two boys, urged parents—specifically with White teenage boys—to "listen up."
Schroeder wrote in a viral Twitter post from August:
"Listen up. I've been watching my boys' online behavior & noticed that social media and vloggers are actively laying groundwork in white teens to turn them into alt-right/white supremacists."
Do you have white teenage sons? Listen up. I've been watching my boys' online behavior & noticed that social medi… https://t.co/7SGwr8PtCj— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565670048.0
She published an essay in The New York Times about something she never saw coming pertaining to her 11 and 14-year-old sons.
"What I didn't predict, was that my sons' adolescence would include being drawn to the kind of online content that right-wing extremists use to recruit so many young men."
One of her boys saw a defamatory meme on Instagram that asked:
"If you can be [transgender] and just decide what you are then how come you can't just decide to be a penguin?"
Discovering that her boys were exposed to memes normalizing abhorrent ideals was a wake up call for Schroeder.
"I knew it was time to start looking at their social media use and figuring out what they were being exposed to."
When the concerned mother had her son scroll through his YouTube and Instagram newsfeeds, something disturbing caught her eye.
Schroeder told CNN that White supremacists are targeting teenage boys.
"They've studied the way that our young men interact online, and they have looked at what these boys need. And they have learned how to fill those needs in order to entice them into propaganda."
"He was scrolling quickly, really quickly. It was so fast, and he slowed down, and I saw an image of Hitler and I stopped him, and I said, 'Wait, is that Hitler?'"
The discovery about the führer was just the beginning.
"I know my kids understand Hitler, but as I scrolled through his [social media] I saw more memes that joked about the Holocaust and joked about slavery."
She followed up her initial Twitter post by explaining how subtle, hateful propaganda infiltrates social media designed to "disillusion White boys away from progressive/liberal perspectives."
It's a system I believe is purposefully created to disillusion white boys away from progressive/liberal perspective… https://t.co/UYLF3Iz2ky— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565670217.0
Then they're called out for these jokes/phrases/memes by parents, teachers, kids (mostly girls) at school & online.… https://t.co/yegcVXtB4a— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565670336.0
The second step is the boys consuming media with the "people are too sensitive" and "you can't say anything anymore… https://t.co/bQZq2iJs8g— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565670496.0
And who is their anger with? Women, feminists, liberals, people of color, gay folks, etc etc. So-called snowflakes… https://t.co/uQMwC5BUnM— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565670604.0
And NOBODY seems to notice this happening - except, it seems, moms of teenage girls who see the bizarre harassment… https://t.co/FZxKJ3Ugn4— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565670933.0
She advised parents to watch for key phrases as an early indication that your impressionable son is already being influenced.
Schroeder told told CNN she was unnerved when one of her boys started using terminology associated with alt-right groups, like "trigger."
"You'll hear this from your conservative uncle, and you may also hear this from a kid that's getting a lot of alt-right messaging online — that everyone's too sensitive today,
"That is a very alt-right talking point that is entryway terminology. It's not racist. No, it's not, but it's often used against people who are calling out racism or sexism or homophobia as a way to imply that those of us who don't accept that language are just too sensitive."
These are often boys from progressive or moderate families - but their online behavior & viewing habits are often i… https://t.co/ZKUY6runt9— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565670933.0
Look through his Instagram Explore screen with him. Explain what's underlying those memes. Explain why "triggered"… https://t.co/HD0DWjwzZo— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565671043.0
Propaganda makes extreme points of view seem normal by small amounts of exposure over time - all for the purpose of… https://t.co/j83PTC8br1— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565671140.0
Teenagers have an innate drive toward independence, and once this system is exposed, they're likely to start questi… https://t.co/IaqJp8JqUp— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565671277.0
You can also watch political comedy shows with him, like Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Hasan Minhaj. Talk about what ma… https://t.co/eGw265Kznc— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565671453.0
Our boys want funny guys to relate to. Give them John Mulaney, Hannibal Burress, Hasan Minhaj, Neal Brennan, Dave C… https://t.co/zUyGmzoyJP— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565671624.0
Show them that progressive comedy isn't about being "politically correct" or safe. It's often about exposing oppr… https://t.co/hlo0N8un9n— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565671740.0
Disprove this "snowflake" garbage once & for all. Ask your son: Who is more of a delicate "snowflake" - the pers… https://t.co/BzJhEU5UMG— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565671879.0
Above all, we need to stay engaged & challenge our kids without shaming them. I'm lucky, my kids are smart and ha… https://t.co/9sJiPr0NDw— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565672169.0
Thanks to the commenter who shared this thread by journos doing the real work on this subject. @Max_Fisher you're a… https://t.co/02Dxl9tT5B— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565702313.0
And someone suggested this relevant interview with a former white supremacist on how he became radicalized. https://t.co/r9g1o6Aoiq— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565703305.0
another great source that I read sometime back and had forgotten about. This is a parent's true story. I don't know… https://t.co/EqfIkKOomZ— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1565829636.0
Other parents chimed in with mixed reactions.
@iproposethis Thanks for posting all this information. Thankfully my boys are grown up. Shared with my daughter tod… https://t.co/9I7a8YXXRs— Tree's Photography (@Tree's Photography)1571748005.0
@iproposethis This is why I keep my kids off the internet. It's a cesspool. YouTube is one of the worst offenders.… https://t.co/279HpF7k11— Ambassador_Kong 🆘 (Pelosi still needs to go) (@Ambassador_Kong 🆘 (Pelosi still needs to go))1566139007.0
@iproposethis Ive said this and will always say this: those ‘politically incorrect’ jokes and memes are harmful as… https://t.co/q630yDTFGF— Kash Money (@Kash Money)1565781541.0
@iproposethis This is so damn condescending to teenagers. Sure they're prone to make mistakes, but holy hell. I don… https://t.co/pOyUXow3mV— Woodside (@Woodside)1567437473.0
@KallieWoodside It's not just memes, it's a concerted effort by white supremacists and other alt right - and there'… https://t.co/vl8jIQRMid— joanna schroeder (@joanna schroeder)1567440423.0
After discovering the alt-right propaganda, Schroeder's first instinct was to take away her sons' phones, but her husband convinced her to reel it in a bit.
"Condemning or shaming him would simply push him farther away from me and right into their hands. Shame is a force that I believe leads people to their worst decisions."
She now actively engages with her sons by analyzing memes and posts that raise concern.
It's part of what she calls "modern parenting."
"I taught them their ABCs, I potty trained them. My next big lesson is how to look at the media they are consuming constructively."
She proudly added:
"The kids and I are conspirators together."
The book Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories That Give Us Meaning is available here.