Intellectual dark web

The intellectual dark web (IDW) is a neologism coined by American mathematician Eric Weinstein, and popularized in a 2018 editorial by Bari Weiss. The term refers to a grouping of public personalities who oppose what they believe to be the dominance of identity politics and political correctness in academia and the media. The term idiomatically compares opposition to mainstream opinion to what is illicitly found on the dark web. The characterization by Weiss was met with a mixed response, focusing on the assertion that supposed members were silenced or marginalized, despite being prominent public figures. Sources differ on the nature of the IDW, with some describing it as the 'anti-woke' left, and others as ideologically diverse, but nonetheless united against "primary adversaries" hailing predominantly from progressives or the left, including postmodernism, post-structuralism, Marxism, and political correctness.

Use and critique of term

Intellectual dark web members attribute the coining of the term as a "half-joking" creation of mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein.[1][2] This occurred after Weinstein's brother, biologist Bret Weinstein, resigned from the Evergreen State College in response to protests against his criticism of a campus event, that invited white students to stay off campus as opposed to the previous annual tradition of black students voluntarily absenting themselves.[3] 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, Cathy Newman's interview of Jordan Peterson on Channel 4 News and the publication of Google's Ideological Echo Chamber by James Damore.[4]

The term was again used in 2018, after an opinion piece was published by staff editor Bari Weiss in 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][5]

Weiss's piece sparked a number of critiques. Jonah Goldberg, 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."[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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."[9]

In 2019, a study from the UFMG found that the YouTube video recommendation algorithm directed viewers of IDW YouTube channels toward alt-right videos more than viewers of a control group of content. The study looked at over 331,000 videos that the researchers' algorithm had classified as right-wing, analyzed 79 million YouTube comments, and found a group of users 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 random control group.[10][11]

Associated individuals

According to Weiss, individuals associated with the intellectual dark web, in addition to Eric and Bret Weinstein, include Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sam Harris, Heather Heying, Claire Lehmann, Douglas Murray, Maajid Nawaz, Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, Lindsay Shepherd, Michael Shermer, Debra W. Soh, and Christina Hoff Sommers.[1]

Although those associated with the IDW primarily criticize the political left, "some claim to lean to the left, others to the right"[12][1] and members have drawn criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.[1][12][13] The Guardian characterized the IDW as strange bedfellows that nonetheless comprised the "supposed thinking wing of the alt-right."[14] 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 generally, and "to a lesser extent the neo-fascist alt-right".[12]

This characterization has been rejected by others from within the IDW, such as Quillette, founded by Claire Lehmann and described by Politico as the "unofficial digest" of the IDW. Quoting Sam Harris and Daniel Miessler, they have contended that the majority of the most prominent members of the IDW tend to skew toward the left on most political issues, despite also including a number of prominent conservatives who do not.[15][16]

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.[17] Some writers, including Cathy Young, have expressed uncertainty over whether they belong in the intellectual dark web.[18] 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?"[19]


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",[20] or as a rejection of "mainstream assumptions about what is true".[21] Salon dubbed it a politically conservative movement united more over a rejection of American liberalism than over any mutually shared beliefs.[22][23] Alternatively, the National Review posited that, despite comprising "all political persuasions", IDW was united in a particular conservative leaning conceptualization of injustice and inequality specifically.[24]

See also


  1. Weiss, Bari (May 8, 2018). "Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  2. Maitra, Sumantra (2019-05-30). "The Intellectual Dark Web Is Collapsing Under Its Contradictions". The Federalist. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  3. Svrluga, Susan; Heim, Joe (June 1, 2017). "Threat shuts down college embroiled in racial dispute". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  4. Beres, Derek (2018-03-27). "5 key moments that led to the rise of the Intellectual Dark Web". Big Think. Retrieved 2019-09-11.
  5. Lester, Amelia (November 2018). "The Voice of the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". Politico. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  6. Goldberg, Jonah (May 8, 2018). "Evaluating the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". National Review. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  7. Farrell, Henry (May 10, 2018). "The 'Intellectual Dark Web,' explained: what Jordan Peterson has in common with the alt-right". Vox. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  8. 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.
  9. French, David A. (May 11, 2018). "Critics Miss the Point of the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". National Review. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  10. 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.
  11. Ribeiro, Manoel Horta; Ottoni, Raphael; West, Robert; Almeida, Virgílio A. F.; Meira, Wagner (2019-08-22). "Auditing Radicalization Pathways on YouTube". arXiv:1908.08313 [cs.CY].
  12. Hamburger, Jacob (18 July 2018). "The "Intellectual Dark Web" Is Nothing New". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  13. Bowden, Blaine (2019-05-06). "Yes, The Intellectual Dark Web Is Politically Diverse". Areo.
  14. "The 'Intellectual Dark Web' – the supposed thinking wing of the alt-right". May 9, 2018. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  15. Harris, Uri (April 17, 2019). "Is the 'Intellectual Dark Web' Politically Diverse?". Quillette. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  16. Lester, Amelia. "The Voice of the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved 2019-05-30.
  17. Drezner, Daniel W. (May 11, 2018). "The Ideas Industry meets the intellectual dark web". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  18. Young, Cathy (2018-05-20). "Who's afraid of the "Intellectual Dark Web"?". Arc Digital Media. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  19. Dreger, Alice (May 11, 2018). "Why I Escaped the 'Intellectual Dark Web'". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  20. Blum, Alexander. "The Intellectual Dark Web Debates Religion". Psychology Today. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  21. Baker, Jennifer. "The "Intellectual Dark Web" and the Simplest of Ethics". Psychology Today. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  22. Everson, Ryan (June 13, 2019). "Jordan Peterson announces new social media platform amid Pinterest controversy". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  23. Link, Taylor (September 2, 2018). "The Intellectual Dark Web conservatives fear". Salon. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  24. Alejandro Gonzalez, Christian (May 16, 2018). "Inequality and the Intellectual Dark Web". National Review. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
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