By Ellie Halpert

The third episode of Netflix’s cyber-warning docuseries, “Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies, and the Internet,” features a young woman and her descent into the alt-right and Nazi subculture. The episode discusses the idea that we are in an informational crisis, where it is impossible for normal people to differentiate the truth from lies in their daily lives. In our culture, we are flooded with tons of information daily, creating a deep resistance to speech boundaries and a slippery slope in understanding new ideas. There are strong debates concerning the value of free speech when weighed with the risk of alt-right, neo-Nazi, and other extremist groups taking over communication platforms (think social media and gaming). Michael German, a former FBI agent that specialized in targeting neo-Nazi groups in southern California, explains that new ways of communication are generally first adopted by groups avoiding the government because the government constantly experiences a technological lag. This allows illegal or harmful groups to reach people before the government may intervene, causing alt-right ideology to spread.

Samantha Froelich’s grandmother was in Hitler youth, and when she meets a group of alt-right individuals, they encourage Samantha to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps. Slowly, Samantha becomes more and more involved in the group Identity Evropa, which promoted “peaceful” ethnic cleansing, which involved the Jews willingly leaving and no need for a racial war. However, as Samantha unravels the ideology of the group, she explains that the original premise is simply a way of gradually drawing people in the movement that wouldn’t immediately buy into major anti-semetic claims. Samantha describes anti-semitism in the alt-right as similar to alcohol consumption: the more you drink, the higher your tolerance is, so you have to drink more to get the same effect. After several years of recruitment and planning of alt-right events, Samantha decides to leave the group, sharing much more of the horrors behind the scenes of the alt-right movement that are elaborated on further in the episode.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever fallen down a Youtube, TikTok, Instagram, Discord or other platform’s rabbit hole? Whether it was conspiracy theories, makeup tutorials, or gaming videos, what made you keep watching? Discuss how this could be harmful if it occurred with dangerous ideology.
  2. How do you differentiate between the truth and falsehood as you explore the internet?
  3. Have you ever thought something as fact from the internet and later learned it to be false? Explain how this can be harmful.
  4. Do you think the government should restrict people from extremist groups, like the alt-right, from spreading damaging ideology on the internet? Where is the line between protecting people and free speech restriction?

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