A random Twitter user named Gwen Snyder offered the world a simple observation that more or less blew half of the internet's mind last week.
As someone who gets contacted / threatened by a lot of random weirdos, Gwen apparently got fairly adept at checking people out on Facebook to see what kind of nut she's dealing with. I get a lot of weird contacts too, although nothing that ever made me legitimately worried that I might be in danger – more the 'obsessive internet guy who wants attention' variety. But I do usually look at profiles when someone is really pestering me; not the one comment telling me I'm an asshole type, but the kind that sends private messages by the dozens. Usually it's obvious with one glance that the guy (it's usually a guy, but surprisingly not always) is standard issue alt-right garbage. Lots of Facebook timeline posts about white genocide, lots of "snowflake" memes, etc.
Gwen points out something I never knew, which is that if you look at which pages a Facebook user has "Liked" it lists them in chronological order. This is different than the "likes" a person makes on regular posts – it doesn't track those in any way other users can see. But if you like pages (Chicago Bears, Gin and Tacos, CBS News, whatever) it lists them in the order you liked them. So she found that it was easy in many cases not only to see that the person bothering her is now into the white nationalist discourse, but how they got there.
She takes us through the example of a guy in Philadelphia whose "likes" began with normal "middle aged urban white guy" preferences – the local news networks and newspapers, local elected officials (both parties), Philadelphia sports teams, and some generic "we support our police" type stuff. Then he discovered Fox News and everything changed. Soon it was a parade of Fox News personalities, then the more prominent right-wing internet presences that Fox promotes (Turning Point USA, Ben Shapiro, Brietbart, etc.) Then came the hardcore Trump sites – not just Trump himself, but the "we love our hero president" meme factory groups on Facebook. Then, especially once he crossed the threshold into Breitbart territory, came the explicitly far-right / white power stuff.
It literally tracks step-by-step the process of this guy becoming a white nationalist threatening to kill people on Twitter, whereas he was once a normal Average Joe who liked going to pancake breakfast fund raisers for the local Fire Department and thought his Democratic mayor wasn't half-bad. We've all seen people we know go through this process but couldn't really quantify it. It turns out that Facebook tracks the evolution pretty systematically.
Fox News absolutely is a gateway drug. It's not just what Fox itself covers – it's the way it introduces addicts to the broader universe of the right wing internet. And it doesn't take long before the user is introduced to the Harder Stuff. The journey from Fox & Friends to explicit white supremacy is surprisingly short.
As Gwen demonstrates toward the end of her thread, this kind of progression doesn't go unnoticed. Her "friend" was identified quickly by local white power groups in Philadelphia and followed on Facebook. They know a good potential recruit when they see one – and they know where to look.