FBI documents reveal that the use of popular internet slang terms like ‘based’ and ‘red pill’ are now deemed signs of violent extremism. Could the next term they target be the one you use every day?
If you have ever called someone Chad, or talked about Larping- you know, people who dress up and act out dungeons and dragons or any other role-playing game in real life, then congratulations, you are now on FBI’s radar.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has released documents detailing their views on internet slang terms that are associated with what they term “violent extremism.” The FOIA request, which was filed by the Heritage Foundation, uncovered an FBI document that labels words like “based,” “red pill,” and “accelerationism” as signs of extremism. This revelation is both concerning and confusing as the usage of these terms is widespread across the internet and is often used for innocent or humorous reasons.
The document can be found within a larger report on “incels” and “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism.” It paints the innocent internet slang use as “extremist” language and associates those terms with associated negative connotations. Yet this simply isn’t true, according to KnowYourMeme, who are the internet’s leading archive of internet slang.
The FBI’s interpretation of these terms is misguided, to say the least. Based, for instance, is used far more widely as a term to refer to things that are agreeable or cool, by people of all ideological persuasion. Red pill is used colloquially to express someone wanting to be educated about a subject. Not in the way described by the FBI, with anti-Semitic or fascist beliefs.
Who could have anticipated that terms such as “based,” “red pill,” and “accelerationism” would be labeled as signs of violent extremism by the FBI? It is true according to the FBI’s leaked document that was brought to public attention by the Heritage Foundation. The report initially aims to identify “incels” and “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism.” Still, it decided to include an extensive list of both political and apolitical internet slang terms deemed associated with bad intentions.
Take the term “based,” for instance, which, despite what the FBI claimed, is much more frequently used outside of racist ideology circles. The FBI links the term to racists who are referring to someone who has been converted to racist beliefs. But the reality is that the word “based” is commonly used across the political spectra to mean something that is correct or agreeable. And more often than not, it does not even have a political context.
Similarly, “red pill,” as the FBI views it, is not reflective of its broader usage. In this case, it says that it means someone who has “adopted racist, anti-Semitic, or fascist beliefs,” which is not accurate if you take into account the wider use of the term across the internet. Often users that adopt the term are seeking knowledge rather than down the rabbit hole of extremist beliefs.
The document also includes an array of other terms, for example, accelerationism, Neet, Chad, and It’s over linked to the incel movement. However, these terms also have broader use and are used by people that the FBI would describe as not holding a racist ideology.
The contentious point here is that too much use in the wrong context can lead to these terms’ idea linking to negative and derogatory meanings. However, the FBI’s proposed solutions of labeling it as violent extremism is not helpful and only stokes division among people of different ideological persuasions on the internet.
The FBI has not responded to questions from mainstream news outlets, so the full extent of their intention behind these classifications is a mystery. It could lead to people who use these terms innocently or in jest to be monitored and labeled as potential “extremists.”
The FBI documents detailing a potentially misguided set of slang terms deemed associated with extremist ideology are at worst, worrying and at best, confusing. It is common across all societies to signal one’s beliefs, affiliation or dislikes through the use of language. But labeling harmless and widely used internet slang terms as violent extremism is unnecessary, divisive and insensitive. As society needs to move forward with unity, the FBI’s release of documents is not only alarming but also lacks wider context. The use of these terms, while they could be used negatively, does not inherently indicate that a user is interested in engaging in violent or harmful acts. It is the actions and behavior that people engage in that should be examined, not their use of language. It is essential that we don’t let over-enthusiastic and potentially misguided FBI personnel limit the free expression of millions of internet users.
Let’s continue this conversation, in the comments below.