Who was living upstairs in the room with the bunk beds, surrounded by glow-in-the-dark solar-system decals?

He loved Reddit and its unceasing conversations about the nuances of memes-he seemed in love with the whole enterprise, as if it were an adolescent crush

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I couldn’t understand how this had happened. The situation was ludicrously overdetermined, as contrived as a bad movie. My husband and I poured everything we had into nurturing an empathetic, observant child. Until then, it had seemed to be working. Teachers and family friends had always commented on Sam’s kindness and especially his gentleness toward the underdog. Then an internet chorus of alt-right sirens sings their song of American History X to my kid and he turns into the evil twin of Alex P. Keaton: merciless, intolerant, unwilling to extend the benefit of the doubt to anyone.

I trained myself to freeze my facial expression into something neutral so that when I countered Sam’s remarks-Feminists keep divorced dads from seeing their kids was a favorite-it would seem as if I’d actually considered his perspective. I tried to tell myself that at least he was talking to me. And at least he cared about something again; he was animated and engaged.

I did try to clear my own mind enough to understand some situations as he did, such as his belief that the men’s-rights movement restored justice to the world. Sam pledged fealty to the idea of men’s rights because, as he said, his former administrator had privileged girls’ words and experiences over boys’, and that’s how all of his troubles had started in the first place. I’d never in my life backed the masculinist cause or imagined that men needed protecting-yet I couldn’t help but agree with Sam’s analysis.

These moments where Sam and I found common ground became increasingly rare, though. Although he had legitimate reasons to feel aggrieved, it was impossible for him to make sense of his situation or to trust that time would heal the hurt. The chasm between us grew. Head down, eyes averted, he trudged straight to his room after school, responded that he wasn’t hungry when I called him down for dinner, and went to bed without saying goodnight.

Meme-World

Soon Sam stopped trying to convince me to join his brave new world. He was so active on his favorite subreddit that the other group leaders, unaware that he was 13, appointed him a moderator. Among his new online besties, this was a huge honor is japan cupid free and a boost to his cratered self-esteem.

But as Sam became a courtier among Reddit royalty, it became clear that meme-world was subject to a hierarchy as rigid and byzantine as England’s class system. If users didn’t follow the rules, they got humiliated publicly. The worst offenders were people who posted normie memes-pictures with upper-case slogans across the top and bottom. My husband and I started to hear a lot about normies, normie culture, and how normies were ruining the internet and destroying what they (meme insiders?) worked so hard to achieve. Sam and his fellow Redditors used language that was often violently hostile: Not only did normies have no right to dare participate in meme-world; they had no right to live. Literally.

I read later in the Daily Beast that normies are agreeable, mainstream members of society and that when they try to get in on the joke, the joke is ruined forever. Ergo, clueless normies who put their own spin on your brilliant memes deserve to die. Or something like that.

Still, the mods invited Sam to a local Meetup-and because I’d read somewhere that your child’s internet activity is constructive if online connections cross over into IRL pals, I was actually happy for him. Friend-making at the new school was slow going; Sam never had plans on the weekend. So this Reddit thing was borderline obsessive and some of the people seemed deeply disturbed, but maybe it would turn out okay after all?

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