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The rise of online child racism vigilantes is a disturbing, scary and dystopian view of how we now live

Frank Furedi
Frank Furedi

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte

The rise of online child racism vigilantes is a disturbing, scary and dystopian view of how we now live
Numerous groups are hunting down, humiliating and ruining the lives of pupils who say a ‘wrong’ thing, express support for the police, or simply stay silent. And morally illiterate teachers and schools are encouraging it.

I don’t like vigilantes at the best of times. But when a 16-year-old organiser of @Smithtown_Racist_Callouts brags about outing peers for making racist comments online, in order to prevent them from going to college, you know that something really scary is going on.

There are now numerous groups of teenagers in the United States who are devoted to the project of exposing and humiliating other children whose remarks they perceive as racist or problematic. Anonymous Instagram accounts devoted to calling out racist comments made by fellow students have appeared in the United States. Within a few hours, one such account launched at San Marcos High School in San Marcos, California, attracted around 900 new followers.

The aim of these student groups is not only to punish and humiliate, but also to ruin the future prospects of someone who made a racist comment. They hope that one outcome of their exposure will be to prevent their target from gaining acceptance into university.

Individual would-be vigilantes have also joined in the game of outing racist teenagers. One Instagram account run by a “white British Male who supports BLM” states: “We don’t condone racism – DM us any information on these racist thugs!”.

Youthful vigilantes policing social media are often far too ready to interpret people’s remarks as evidence of their racism. All it takes is for a post to be deemed “insensitive” before they are condemned as racist. Invariably, calling someone out serves as an invitation to mob them, like a playground ‘pile-on’.

Children facing the wrath of their sanctimonious vigilante peers can easily feel intimidated and socially isolated. Brynna Barry, 16, a student at a Catholic day school in Jacksonville, Florida, was called out for advocating for the Blue Lives Movement on Instagram and TikTok.

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This teenager, whose dad is a police officer, swiftly became the target of a hate campaign. She noted that her “own friends were commenting that I was a racist” and that, therefore, they could not support her. “Things travel fast. I’m nervous about my address getting leaked,” she noted.

It is important to realise that child vigilantes policing social media for remarks that can be portrayed as racist are motivated not so much by the imperative of fighting racial oppression, but by the impulse to demonstrate their ‘awareness’.

The rhetoric of being ‘aware’ is used to signify moral superiority over all those other children who have refused to see the light and failed to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement. Is it any surprise that thousands of children are posting ACAB on their digital platforms? Posting ACAB, an acronym for “All Cops Are Bastards,” is a way of signalling that you are aware. 

The main outcome of teenage vigilantism is to contribute to the fostering of the disturbing climate of conformism demanded by supporters of BLM. In many schools, the question of support for BLM is not a subject for discussion.

I have talked to numerous parents who informed me that their children, some as young as 11 and 12, have been told by their headmaster that “those who think they are colour blind are in fact racists.” One school in North London has informed pupils that “silence is racist” and so they need to voice their support for BLM. One mother told me that, in her daughter’s school, a group of A-level students were instructed to read ‘White Fragility’ and acknowledge their racism.

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Child vigilantes are not brave radical souls taking on an unpopular cause. They are in effect digital snitches, the kind of pupils who squeal on their peers in order to suck up to their teachers. Their mission is fully supported by the school authorities, who regard the imposition of unquestioned conformity to the outlook of the identity politics of BLM as essential.

Worse still, child vigilantes – in partnership with their morally illiterate educators – are complicit in the act of racializing their schools and their digital lives. In a world where a relatively innocent remark like “blue lives matter” is denounced as a symptom of racism, just about any comment that is not on message can become re-branded as an expression of racial hate. What has happened to the liberal humanist ethos of education?

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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