Donna Zuckerberg: ‘Social media has elevated misogyny to new levels of violence’

When the academic, sister of Mark Zuckerberg, began exploring online antifeminism, she discovered far-right men’s groups were using classical antiquity to support their views

onna Zuckerberg didn’t expect to spend two years trawling through the corner of the internet defined as “the manosphere”, unpicking the grim alliance between pick-up artists, men’s rights activists, incels (involuntarily celibate men), the far right and the most ardent Make America Great Again advocates.

“It started as a curiosity,” she says, as we video call from her home in Silicon Valley, which she shares with her husband and two children. “But it took on a life of its own.” A classicist with a PhD from Princeton, Zuckerberg edits the online journal Eidolon, publishing scholarly essays on the Greco-Roman world from academics and students.

In the summer of 2015, she noticed an unprecedented level of traffic towards a piece entitled “Why is stoicism having a cultural moment?” and went down a rabbit hole to determine why. The results stunned her: men – or rather, misogynists – were using an armchair enthusiasm for the classics to justify manifestos of hate against women. The results were spreading online under a pseudo-intellectual guise, twisting ancient world philosophy to buttress a contemporary hatred of feminism. And it wasn’t a one-off.

“So, there are online communities that exist under the umbrella of what we know as the Red Pill, which are men connected by common resentments against women, immigrants, people of colour,” she explains. “What I was surprised to find was the extent to which they are using ancient Greek and Roman figures and texts to prop up an ideal of white masculinity.”

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