Intellectual dark web

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Intellectual dark web (IDW) is a term used by an informal group to refer to themselves and other allied commentators who oppose what they believe to be the dominance of identity politics, political correctness, partisan politics, and the establishment in higher education and the news media. The term metaphorically compares opposition to mainstream opinion to what is illicitly found on the dark web. The term was coined by Eric Weinstein, and was popularized in a 2018 editorial by Bari Weiss.[1]

Weinstein's characterization was met with a mixed response, focusing on the assertion that members were silenced. Sources differ on the nature of the IDW, with some describing it as left, and others as ideologically diverse, but nonetheless united against primary adversaries hailing predominantly from progressives, including postmodernism, post-structuralism, Marxism, and political correctness.


Sources disagree on what, if any unifying factors exist throughout the IDW. Psychology Today characterized it as "generally concerned about political tribalism and free speech",[2] or as a rejection of "mainstream assumptions about what is true".[3] Salon dubbed it a politically conservative movement united more over a rejection of American liberalism than over any mutually shared beliefs.[4][5] Alternatively, the National Review posited that, despite comprising "all political persuasions", the IDW was united in a particular conservative leaning conceptualization of injustice and inequality specifically.[6]

Origin and usage[edit]

Eric Weinstein, the director of an American venture capital firm, stated that when he coined the term he was "half-joking".[1][7] This occurred after Weinstein's brother, biologist Bret Weinstein, was forced to resign in 2017 from his position as professor of biology at Evergreen State College in response to protests against his criticism of a campus event that asked white students to stay off campus, as opposed to the previous annual tradition of black students voluntarily absenting themselves.[8] The website Big Think has argued that other controversies, dating back to 2014, should also be viewed as antecedents to the IDW. These include a debate between Sam Harris and Ben Affleck on Real Time with Bill Maher in October 2014, the publication of Google's Ideological Echo Chamber by James Damore in August 2017, and Cathy Newman's interview of Jordan Peterson on Channel 4 News in January 2018, each of which related to controversial topics such as Islamic extremism and workplace diversity policies.[9]

The term gained traction after a May 2018 opinion piece by then staff editor Bari Weiss in the The New York Times titled "Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web". Weiss characterized individuals she named as associated with the intellectual dark web as "iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities", who have been "purged from institutions that have become increasingly hostile to unorthodox thought", and who have instead taken to social media, podcasting, public speaking, and other alternative venues outside "legacy media".[1][10] Weiss stated "the Intellectual Dark Web [is] a term coined half-jokingly by Mr. Weinstein".[1]


Weiss's article sparked a number of critiques. Jonah Goldberg, writing in the National Review, said the "label is a bit overwrought", writing that it struck him "as a marketing label — and not necessarily a good one: seems to me this IDW thing isn't actually an intellectual movement. It’s just a coalition of thinkers and journalists who happen to share a disdain for the keepers of the liberal orthodoxy."[11] Henry Farrell, writing in Vox, expressed disbelief that conservative commentator Ben Shapiro or neuroscientist Sam Harris, both claimed to be among the intellectual dark web by Weiss, could credibly be described as either purged or silenced. Weiss' fellow New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted the irony of claiming popular intellectual oppression by the mainstream, while publishing in the Times, among the most prominent newspapers in the nation.[12] David A. French contended many of the critics were missing the point, and were instead inadvertently confirming "the need for a movement of intellectual free-thinkers."[13]

In 2019, a study from the UFMG found a pattern of migration of viewers who comment on YouTube videos, from commenting on clips associated with the IDW and the "alt-lite" to commenting on more right-wing and/or alt-right videos. The study looked at over 331,000 videos that an algorithm had classified as right-wing, analyzed 79 million YouTube comments, and found a group that migrated from IDW channels to "alt-lite" channels, and then the alt-right channels. The subjects who left comments at an IDW channels were more likely to graduate after a few years to leaving significantly more comments on alt-right channels than the control group. The study's authors said they were not intending to "point fingers" rather draw attention to the effects of YouTube's recommendation algorithm, calling it an "almost totally algorithm-driven process."[14][15]

Associated individuals[edit]

According to Bari Weiss, individuals associated with the intellectual dark web include[1][10]:

Although those associated with the IDW primarily criticize the political left, "some claim to lean to the left, others to the right".[16][1] Criticism of the IDW has come primarily from the left and support from the right.[1][16][17] The Guardian characterized the IDW as strange bedfellows that nonetheless comprised the "supposed thinking wing of the alt-right", despite many associated individuals repeatedly expressing contempt for the alt-right, including Ben Shapiro, who is frequently a target of anti-semitism from the alt-right but whose arguments often include the viewpoint that it is black culture, rather than systemic racism, that causes disparities in wealth and other conditions in the United States.[18][19] The Los Angeles Review of Books described the members as identifying with both the left and the right, but united against "primary adversaries" hailing predominantly from the left, including post-modernism, post-structuralism, Marxism, and political correctness in general, as well as being united against "the neo-fascist alt-right".[16] Additionally, members routinely speak against identity politics, whether from the progressive left or the alt-right.

The characterization of being an Alt-right group, for example, from the left-leaning The Guardian, has been rejected by members of the IDW. Uri Harris, wrote in Quillette, a site founded by Claire Lehmann and described by Politico as the "unofficial digest" of the IDW, that the majority of the members of the IDW, such as Sam Harris and Daniel Miessler, skew toward the left, despite the fact that prominent conservatives are also considered members.[20][21]

Regarding the organization of the IDW, Daniel W. Drezner observed that it is essentially leaderless, and may be individually beholden to their audiences, and unable to progress a coherent agenda.[22] Some writers, including Cathy Young, have expressed uncertainty over whether they belong in the intellectual dark web.[23] For her part, historian of medicine and science Alice Dreger expressed surprise in being told she was a member of the IDW at all. After she was invited to be profiled in the New York Times article, she stated that she "had no idea who half the people in this special network were. The few Intellectual Dark Web folks I had met I didn't know very well. How could I be part of a powerful intellectual alliance when I didn't even know these people?"[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Weiss, Bari (May 8, 2018). "Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  2. ^ Blum, Alexander. "The Intellectual Dark Web Debates Religion". Psychology Today. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  3. ^ Baker, Jennifer. "The "Intellectual Dark Web" and the Simplest of Ethics". Psychology Today. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  4. ^ Everson, Ryan (June 13, 2019). "Jordan Peterson announces new social media platform amid Pinterest controversy". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  5. ^ Link, Taylor (September 2, 2018). "The Intellectual Dark Web conservatives fear". Salon. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  6. ^ Alejandro Gonzalez, Christian (May 16, 2018). "Inequality and the Intellectual Dark Web". National Review. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  7. ^ Maitra, Sumantra (May 30, 2019). "The Intellectual Dark Web Is Collapsing Under Its Contradictions". The Federalist. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  8. ^ Svrluga, Susan; Heim, Joe (June 1, 2017). "Threat shuts down college embroiled in racial dispute". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  9. ^ Beres, Derek (March 27, 2018). "5 key moments that led to the rise of the Intellectual Dark Web". Big Think. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Lester, Amelia (November 2018). "The Voice of the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". Politico. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  11. ^ Goldberg, Jonah (May 8, 2018). "Evaluating the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". National Review. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  12. ^ Bonazzo, John (August 5, 2018). "NY Times 'Intellectual Dark Web' Story Savaged on Twitter—Even by Paper's Staffers". The New York Observer. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  13. ^ French, David A. (May 11, 2018). "Critics Miss the Point of the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". National Review. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  14. ^ Dickson, EJ (August 28, 2019). "Study Shows How the 'Intellectual Dark Web' Is a Gateway to the Far Right". Rolling Stones Magazine. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  15. ^ Ribeiro, Manoel Horta; Ottoni, Raphael; West, Robert; Almeida, Virgílio A F; Meira Meira, Wagner (2020). "Auditing radicalization pathways on YouTube". FAT* '20: Proceedings of the 2020 Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency: 131–141. doi:10.1145/3351095.3372879. ISBN 9781450369367. S2CID 201316434.
  16. ^ a b c Hamburger, Jacob (July 18, 2018). "The "Intellectual Dark Web" Is Nothing New". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  17. ^ Bowden, Blaine (May 6, 2019). "Yes, The Intellectual Dark Web Is Politically Diverse". Areo.
  18. ^ "The 'Intellectual Dark Web' – the supposed thinking wing of the alt-right". May 9, 2018. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  19. ^ "Ben Shapiro: The problem of "anti-racism"". July 4, 2020. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  20. ^ Harris, Uri (April 17, 2019). "Is the 'Intellectual Dark Web' Politically Diverse?". Quillette. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  21. ^ Lester, Amelia. "The Voice of the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  22. ^ Drezner, Daniel W. (May 11, 2018). "The Ideas Industry meets the intellectual dark web". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  23. ^ Young, Cathy (May 20, 2018). "Who's afraid of the "Intellectual Dark Web"?". Arc Digital Media. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
  24. ^ Dreger, Alice (May 11, 2018). "Why I Escaped the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved June 25, 2019.