What Is The Internet Doing To Boomers’ Brains?

Michael Hobbes
·2 min read

The last time they spoke, John’s father accused him of being part of the deep state.

They have never exactly gelled politically — John, 38, is an executive at a left-wing think tank and his father is a lifelong reader of the New York Post — but there was a time when they could at least work through their disagreements. When he was an aide to a Democratic legislator during the debate over health care reform, John kept a big yellow copy of the Affordable Care Act in his living room.

“When my dad started talking about all the terrible things that would happen if it passed, I would read him the actual sections of the bill,” John said. (Some of the sources in this article asked HuffPost to use pseudonyms to preserve a semblance of family comity.) “That shut a lot of it down.”

But appealing to reality doesn’t work anymore. Since Donald Trump’s election, John watched his 67-year-old father’s Facebook feed fill with links to Fox News and Breitbart, then more radical websites like Gateway Pundit and Russia Today. By 2017, his father had graduated to Pizzagate and QAnon.

When they spoke two years ago, John’s father insisted that his progressive think tank was part of a cabal of human traffickers. John tried to explain that he had worked in Democratic politics for more than a decade and had never seen anything remotely resembling his father’s QAnon-fueled fantasies.

“It was heartbreaking,” John said. “That was the moment when I knew my father trusted these right-wing Facebook groups more than he trusts his own son.”

It has become a familiar story: The older relative, the intensifying Fox News habit, the alarming Facebook posts, the inevitable detachment from reality. Losing a parent to the conservative cyber-swamp is such a common experience among millennials that it has produced an entire sub-genre of documentaries, books and online support groups.

What it has not produced, however, is a satisfying answer to a simple question: What is...

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