The Boy and the Internet
It's not a coincidence that these shootings are constantly committed by 18-24 year old boys.
Disclaimer: the murderous boy who shot down those children in Uvalde deserves not an ounce of sympathy from anyone regardless of what issues he may have had. This article will not pity that boy. I’m also going to discuss straight men’s mental health and behaviors so I dont recommend reading further if you’re not interested in that subject.
It’s the same pattern over and over again.
1) Mass shooting at a school.
3) 16-24 year old boy.
Nothing I’m about to talk about regarding boys is unique to America — this is a global phenomenon and the only aspect unique to the United States is that these troubled boys have guns.
The shooter was a nobody who died the same as he lived: in pathetic failure. But as we work on curtailing the weapon that gave that nobody power, we must also try to understand why this violence is so gendered. There’s a reason 18-year old girls are not walking into schools shooting people. There’s a reason men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of shootings in America and violent crime.
Troubled young men who are somewhat socially inept and turn to violence is not a new concept. From the young gangsters, to the socially awkward skinhead, to the Zodiac-styled killers, to the cult murderers — they’ve always been here. But we need to accept a new reality: children are being raised on the Internet. It is no longer a wonderland we “log onto” and “surf” in our personal free time. The Internet is now something we perpetually exist on 24/7 from birth.
One day, I was watching an anti-social justice, anti-feminism YouTube video in high school. These videos of gamers ranting about encroaching social justice ruining our community or whatever were all the rave back in 2014. I paid it no real mind, as I had often listened to videos just to hear people I disagreed with while doing homework. As the YouTube autoplay continued, the subsequent videos became increasingly misogynistic in nature. I hadn’t even clicked on a single one of these videos and yet YouTube was offering them up.
But then I heard something that snapped me out of my trance: a woman frantically screaming and the sound of glass shattering. Surprised, I turned back to the YouTube tab and found that the video playing was a compilation of women who had hit men and then getting knocked out by those men. This genre of women being “righteously beaten” is prevalent on YouTube and as I scrolled through the comments it was nonstop cheering and affirmation of women “getting gender equality.”
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know exactly what kind of men consumed this nonsense: young, dissatisfied boys. Mainstream websites sometimes talk about how women are mentally harmed and depressed by endless imagery of overly skinny bodies in an endless parade on Instagram. About how slut-shaming harms young girls and women and so on.
But as any gender studies class will teach you: men get harmed by this patriarchal content, too. In our own way. Boys are flooded with imagery of men who have unrealistic bodies, attractive women and a lot of money on social media. From a very early age, boys are taught by television, social media and school peers that the measurement of their worth is in the quality and quantity of women they can have sex with and the size of their wallet.
Young men in high school are often ridiculed or feel inadequate if they don’t have girlfriends or haven’t had sex — even though most boys at these ages haven’t either. (Regardless of what they claim.) The social aspect of being “left out” breeds dissatisfaction in their young lives, even though they fail to realize that their life has barely started yet.
The radicalization process then targets these boys quite early: at around 12 years old. Most parents are worried about kids seeing porn sites but honestly it isn’t anywhere as dangerous as much of the content on YouTube or TikTok is. Far more harmful than porn is the top posts on Reddit ranting about women or violent threats and verbal aggression in a video game live chat.
In our patriarchal society, beauty standards assert that women are attractive as early as teenagers until they’re 30 and that men’s attractiveness starts when they’re older, usually after 25. Thus a lot of teenagers and young adult boys who go through this phase being moody about their perceived inadequacy as men gradually grow out of it by their late twenties. But many young boys who are romantically or sexually unsuccessful become extremely resentful, especially towards girls of the same age. This is essentially the incel phenomenon.
While both boys and girls are harmed by the high social expectations of their gender, girls usually opt for violence against themselves through starvation, depression and self-harm. Boys, adhering to their learned patriarch roles taught by media, peers, family members and the Internet often opt to commit violence onto others instead. Killing and imposing force is often the ultimate masculine act, they think.
Sexually frustrated, masculinity inadequate young men have always been a pipeline to fascism and violence: from the Klan to the Nazis. These school shooters always feature the common denominator of a dissatisfied, lonely, celibate young man, feeling inadequate to some fictitious ideal of a man, and who tries to fulfill themselves by taking life away from other people.
What makes these young men? How do they get that way? The internet helps breed it and we should be honest that the way society talks about and showcases masculinity is a part of the problem. In the old days, the sociopath young men were relegated to obscure cults and organizations in their area. Today, they have an unprecedented level of communication with every racist, fascist nutcase and right-wing lunatic online. Not in the depths of 4chan or some racist website, but often right on the front pages of websites that come auto-downloaded on your newest smartphone.
4chan and Reddit feature the worst misogynistic content, yes, but it is quite deep in the rabbit hole for most young men. The websites that are the true gateway drugs to toxic masculinity are YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. A young man who just went through a breakup will easily find an endless stream of what I call “breakup content” with young men calling girls whores and sluts on TikTok and YouTube — and their algorithms outright encourage them to view it!
A young man bitter about a string of rejections can easily get lured into a parade of YouTube pickup artistry with basic self-improvement advice but often laced with right-wing and misogynistic content. From there a far-right YouTuber will segue from how dating apps are unfair — a target rich environment that easily lures in young boys — onto how immigration is bad; how Black Lives Matter is a lie; how white people are being replaced. And the social media algorithm will be delivering that content to your 16-year old son.
If young men are being told about masculinity not from their schooling but instead from any bitter idiot on the Internet, you’re going to get a lot of violent radicalization. Sadly, viral men like this are among the most popular YouTubers in the world for young men and boys. He lures them in with some half-truths about social dynamics young boys have to deal with, speaks honestly about young male loneliness and dissatisfaction, then blames feminism for the cause of their plight (despite it being patriarchy which imposes these expectations), and delivers these boys right onto the far-right conveyor belt of white identity politics, woman hating and nationalism.
But whether it’s the extreme end point: a fanatical school shooter or white genocide believer who shoots people to compensate their inadequacy; or the rejected white frat bro I witnessed last week screaming how the woman who rejected him is a whore and tried to fight her partner; or the young Black and Latino boys I grew up with who walked with a gun in their pants to get respect: this is a masculinity problem. Not just the school shooters, or the common handgun homicide: America’s obsession with guns is a masculinity problem. We’re a society of insecure men who desire to role play as John Wick or James Bond with a gun while at the expense of other people’s lives and our own.
Remember, that the dissatisfaction trend enabled by digital radicalization is NOT exclusive to men, nor is it abnormal, as women too are suffering from this social atomization and gender role-induced depression. But again, femininity encourages self-harm and self-blame while masculinity encourages blaming others and harming others. And that’s why so much violent crime is fueled almost exclusively by men.
And that’s how you get a maniacal school shooter like the Uvalde murderer, who among his final pathetic actions was flirting with some girl he didn’t know on Instagram with pickup lines about his guns. It is the peak, most clearest example of a young, insecure boy who thinks that violence is what makes men attractive in the Information Age.
Now to be clear, most young men are not even close to becoming school shooters or any kind of shooter. Much of the masculinity advice on social media is pretty basic: go to the gym, focus on becoming rich, dating strategies etc. But unfortunately, that ecosystem of topics is often mixed with a lot of toxic masculinity and becomes a gateway to the far-right. It’s difficult for a young boy to discern what’s blunt and honest advice versus what’s a far-right/misogynistic gateway drug, and sadly, the latter is the more common on mainstream social media platforms.
In the absence of trained professionals, a media willing to discuss young boys’ emotions, a competent sexual educational system that focuses on behaviors as much as biology, and grown men speaking out who have experienced but aged out of these feelings, young boys will internalize many toxic beliefs. As a result, they will impact our political system, how women are treated in their personal lives and their views on violence.
Make no mistake: if you have a son, you need to teach them early on — I’m talking middle school — things about self-worth as a man, social expectations for masculinity, and transitioning into an adult. Especially by grown men who understand how patriarch standards are misleading young boys and not just the “beat people up, be confident, get a girlfriend” nonsense.
That said, there are some popular male political content creators that are speaking up against this pro-violence, misogynistic tide while offering useful advice about masculinity to young men. (HasanAbi, Macabre Storytelling, Vaush comes to mind). But it is still heavily outweighed by far-right masculinity content and remarkably mainstream misogynistic podcasts.
I was in the first generation to grow up with modern social media, and the first to grow up with web forums from the cradle. It is so easy for young boys to be drawn into the toxic mindset that leads to this violence. As we work to get rid of guns we need to work on getting rid of toxic masculinity and it’s not hidden within the dark web but in plain sight. We as in other men: this is not women’s or any other identity’s responsibility.
I see a lot less toxic masculinity in the younger generation but it might just because I grew up in rural America and my daughters go to school at a San Francisco public school.