Based on labyrinthine and anonymous comment threads, 8chan is one of the darkest corners of the Internet
A suspected shooter in the terror attacks in Christchurch’s livestreamed his rampage at the Al Noor Mosque on Facebook, but gave earlier warning of it via 8chan, a message board known as one of the Internet’s darkest corners.
“Well lads, it’s time to stop shitposting and time to make a real life effort post … by the time you read this I should be going live,” the 8chan post reads.
As the Washington Post’s Drew Harwell remarked on Twitter: “The New Zealand massacre was livestreamed on Facebook, announced on 8chan, reposted on YouTube, commentated about on Reddit, and mirrored around the world before the tech companies could even react.”
We know the main suspect is a 28-year-old Australian white nationalist who hated immigrants, and sought “revenge” against Muslims. But what is 8chan and why did the killer choose this platform to announce himself?
Based on labyrinthine and anonymous comment threads, 8chan, which has allowed users to post child porn and pro-Nazi material, was founded by Fredrick Brennan, a user of similar site 4chan, in 2013. It is now owned by American Jim Watkins, who is said to be based in the Philippines.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, where users who post hate speech are often banned, 4chan and — to an even more extreme degree — 8chan are very light on moderation.
8chan was spawned by #GamerGate, a long-running episode in which forums were frequently used to “dox” and harass female video game enthusiasts who were pushing back against sexism in their industry.
When sites like 4chan belatedly clamped down on such hate-filled forums, Brennan began 8chan as a “free speech friendly 4chan alternative,” the Washington Post reported in 2015. The site became the second-biggest “imageboard” outlet, after 4chan.
“Imageboards are a haven for (terrible things) … and that’s exactly what makes them such wonderful places. I wouldn’t change a thing,” Brennan said at the time.
“It (8chan) became the new digital home for some of the most offensive people on the internet, people who really believe in white supremacy and the inferiority of women,” Ethan Chiel wrote for Splinter News in 2016.
At about 1:30 p.m. New Zealand time on Friday, the anonymous user told 8chan’s “/pol/ – Politically Incorrect” message board of his impending attack. Approving responses to the post included Nazi images and memes.
The user linked to a Facebook page and 74-page manifesto of a person using the “Brenton Tarrant” name on Twitter. The Twitter account was suspended not long after the shooting, as was the brenton.tarrant.9 Facebook page.
The manifesto said the shooter was motivated by “white genocide,” a term white supremacists use to describe immigration and the growth of minority populations. It’s “time to stop shitposting and time to make a real life effort” he said.
“Shitposting” sees posters deliberately send out online content that is sarcastic and trolling in nature, safe in the knowledge that news consumers — who aren’t aware that the joke is on them — will be upset after taking the “humour” literally.
On the investigative site Bellingcat, Robert Evans pointed out that the manifesto, called “The Great Replacement,” contains views that do actually seem to match the shooter’s held beliefs. His actions, too, indicate extreme white supremacist views. One of his weapons, for example, was emblazoned with the number 14 — this is presumed to refer to the 14 words penned by one infamous neo-Nazi: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
In the shooting’s aftermath, six of the seven top message rooms on 8chan were dominated by the attack, ABC Australia reports. One user posted that “finally” one of their own had “done something.”
But the shooter referred to various right-wing figures in his manifesto and not all references appear to have been genuine praise. Evans says the manifesto “is a trap itself, laid for journalists searching for the meaning behind this horrific crime. There is truth in there, and valuable clues to the shooter’s radicalization, but it is buried beneath a great deal of, for lack of a better word, ‘shitposting.’”
For example, in one apparently ironic reference, the shooter talks of far-right figure Candace Owens, saying it was she who first radicalized him as her stunning “insights” pushed him towards violence.
“The ultimate goal is to derail productive discussion and distract readers,” Evans writes. “The Great Replacement is a clear and brutally obvious example of this technique.”
Journalists must not annotate the NZ murder’s manifesto. The coded language is not worth your time
It is misdirection, he says, used to split left and right and maybe even lead them to violence.
Joan Donovan, Director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard Kennedy’s Shorenstein Center, agreed. She posted to Twitter:
“Journalists must not annotate the NZ murder’s manifesto. The coded language is not worth your time. Moreover, his social media celebrity call-outs don’t mean you need to ask those influencers to speak on this. Those references were strategically placed to create coverage.”
“Violence is being used to cause attention to these ideas. Don’t share or decode the manifesto.”
As for 8chan’s users, many welcomed the attack as they continued to post their own in-jokes, make references to obscure pop culture, and praise neo-Nazis.
“Nice shootin Tex” one remarked. Another hailed the shooter as “the next Breivik” — a reference to Norwegian white supremacist Anders Breivik, who murdered dozens in a 2011 rampage.
— With files from Reuters, Associated Press