4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump
February 17, 2017 10:02 AM   Subscribe

In which Dale Beran traces the rise of 4chan and how a bunch of lulz-loving guys in their parents' basements seized on the loser-winner Trump as the ultimate prank on an outside world they had long abandoned. Long, but full of insights and well-worth the read. Ends with a challenge and note of hope for the left.
posted by criticalbill (73 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Damienmce at 10:10 AM on February 17 [9 favorites]


I'm beginning to suspect that maybe lulz are overrated.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:25 AM on February 17 [47 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I wanted to do it myself, but Dale is a friend of mine and I didn't want to run afoul of the rules.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:26 AM on February 17


I've got a canned comment ready for this one.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:28 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Another piece on a similar theme of the danger of lulz culture is The Downfall Of YouTube’s Biggest Star Is A Symptom Of A Bigger Illness. It's nominally about PewDiePie, but really it's a summary of the sickness of a certain kind of nihilist Internet culture.

I appreciate Beran's piece spending so much time on the Chanology / Scientology war. I was cheering the 4chan folks along from the sidelines back then because Scientology is a dangerous cult that deserves to be taken down. But the methods got creepier and more upsetting over time. Turns out the ends don't justify the means, particularly when the means get incubated and turned outward to more hateful things.
posted by Nelson at 10:39 AM on February 17 [25 favorites]


Banned from the internet for life seems fair.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:53 AM on February 17 [5 favorites]


This is a great article. I figured out the Project Chanology connection to the alt-right and GamerGate a while back and was thinking of writing something similar. There's one piece of the puzzle the author misses, and that's the infiltration of 4chan by white supremacist groups like Stormfront, in the wake of Project Chanology.

It wad Project Chanology that elevated 4chan from "curious internet shithole," to "infamous internet shithole," and white supremacists saw it as an easy place to recruit. The pre-existing "ironic" racism of /b/ certainly didn't help, either, but Project Chanology showed that a loose group of trolls whose biggest accomplishment was rigging Time Magazine polls could be mobilized towards something bigger.

Though the white supremacist influx was most seen on /new/ and later /pol/, it infected other boards too. Inside of a couple years, I watched the /mu/ board go from discussion and sharing of music to regular discussion threads about how violent rap music is, and how ugly and crazy various female musicians are. (Grimes was a particular target, especially after her Tumblr post complaining about /mu/.) Other ex-Channers have made similar comments on other boards: how /lit/ started talking more about "degenerate culture", or /x/ going completely off the rails.

Combine this with the NEETs that hang around on /r9k/, /adv/, and /soc/ desperate for advice on getting laid, and you have a population ripe for radicalization. GamerGate wasn't the first push by the radicalized 4chan. For that, you have to look at Operation Lollipop, which attempted to disrupt black and feminist Twitter though multiple sock-puppet accounts. (The same tactics were used again during the "#NotYourShield" portion of GamerGate.)

What truly chaps my hide about all of this is how Christopher Poole (moot) takes no responsibility for what he has wrought, and indeed, was rewarded with a cushy job at Google instead.
posted by SansPoint at 10:53 AM on February 17 [57 favorites]


Likewise, the left should not be paralyzed with horror by the deplorables, but rather view them of as a symptom of a larger problem, one which only the left can truly solve.

That is quite the cliffhanger. As the lulz falls further into white supremacy and hate mongering, how exactly is the left supposed to pull them out? The current boycotting and protesting of the provocateur M*l* Y**nn*p**l*s indicates to me they're still clueless about how to approach this. M*l* pours the gas over everything and the left ignorantly tosses the matches.

What truly chaps my hide about all of this is how Christopher Poole (moot) takes no responsibility for what he has wrought, and indeed, was rewarded with a cushy job at Google instead.

Moot started 4chan, but I would argue that he wasn't the sole force in its evolution. If it wasn't him starting 4chan, it would have happened elsewhere. The same thing has happened to Reddit to a large extent, and you can't blame the platform for the users.

As for Google, you should know by now that they collect "star" employees whether they do anything or not. Witness the hiring of Vint Cerf. Has he done any engineering at all at Google?
posted by pashdown at 11:06 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


pashdown: The same thing has happened to Reddit to a large extent, and you can't blame the platform for the users.

You most certainly can blame the platform for the users. If it wasn't for MetaFilter's excellent moderation, it could have easily become as toxic as Reddit.

4chan and Reddit both have a history of extremely hands-off moderation, which led directly to them becoming cesspools. At least Reddit is trying, if not exactly with any great deal of success... or consistency... or understanding... to clean house, though it's likely too late.

The most involved moot got was banning GamerGate discussion, and then washing his hands of the whole thing not long after.
posted by SansPoint at 11:13 AM on February 17 [50 favorites]


America's rules absolving website of guilt are to blame tbh. Moot would be in jail in most western countries for giving aid to hundreds of convicted terrorists.
posted by Yowser at 11:28 AM on February 17 [8 favorites]


By terrorists, I of course mean lone wolves.
posted by Yowser at 11:29 AM on February 17 [13 favorites]


He mentions that 4chan's first wave of users were Something Awful users, but not that most of the people who went SA->4chan in the first wave were people banned in the "pedocaust", a mass-perma-banning of pedophiles in the anime subforum.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:30 AM on February 17 [50 favorites]


Pope Guilty: Woah. I did not know that. Explains a bit about 4chan culture to be sure.
posted by SansPoint at 11:33 AM on February 17 [9 favorites]


That is quite the cliffhanger. As the lulz falls further into white supremacy and hate mongering, how exactly is the left supposed to pull them out?

Yeah, it's sort of a dirty trick to end on a line like that. You've built up a picture of men who have been misled and beaten down by toxic masculinity, in a sense, but the core of their worldview is a rejection that such a thing exists. How can you fix that?

And the piece, as SansPoint notes, really does gloss over the fact that, sorry, the white supremacy and hate isn't just "for the lulz." Maybe some of these men got there because they were hurting and some Stormfronter came along and offered a scapegoat, but it's not just an epic troll.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:38 AM on February 17 [8 favorites]


SansPoint: Granted, moderation helps to some extent, but it is still cutting the head off the hydra. If they aren't allowed there, they'll go to where they are allowed, re: pedocaust. Blaming Moot for not moderating doesn't mean that it wouldn't have happened at all, anywhere else.

Cue the "Internet routing censorship as damage" quotes.
posted by pashdown at 11:45 AM on February 17


When I was a teenager in the 90s, media aimed at young, nerdy guys--and girls, too--was already playing heavily into a fairly simple fantasy: You're the Designated Protagonist, and life will find some way to provide you with adventure and meaning and probably an attractive partner.

I don't think feeling disappointed by the fact that the adventure and meaning never shows up is really that bad; until there were places where guys started congregating and turning it into an angry feedback loop, the thing seemed to be that you plodded off to college and you got your grown-up job and you just made do. The places where the girls congregated turned into some weird feedback loops, too--see also: the omegaverse, but don't google that if you don't already know. But in a simplified sense, the communities I was in as a teenager evolved, and the girls got sad and lonely and produced literally billions of words about boys kissing, and the guys got angry and lonely and decided to burn the world down.

I can't help but think that this has more to do with how the boys got socialized to express their frustrations by going out and fighting something, and the girls got socialized to escape into romance fantasies, than it really does with one specific website, however much I think 4chan and Reddit got mishandled by their owners. I'm not sure there's much that can be done right now about that except to try to empower young people who AREN'T in that group, and to push hard that the next generations get raised better, including giving them media that models men with decent emotional coping skills and women with actual agency to impact the world.
posted by Sequence at 11:46 AM on February 17 [39 favorites]


Didn't /b/ try to brigade Stormfront in the wake of Chanology, and Stormfront wound up reverse-brigading 4chan with greater success? Or something like that? Although I can easily believe that they just saw 4chan as a useful tool after seeing the kind of attention it got.

Chanology was such a weird thing. 4chan was always a cesspool of illegal and distasteful shit, that was the whole point. But then Chanology exposed this weird fracture between the groups that kind of cared about some things maybe a little bit ("moralf*gs") and the groups that really, truly, only cared about lulz (i.e., sociopaths). Scientology presented the ideal target to bring both together temporarily, as a dangerous cult with hilariously bizarre beliefs.

I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure most of the "moralf*gs" went on to get involved with Occupy Wall Street. I say this because of similarities in tactics and methods of coordination between the two. (Disclosure: I participated in Chanology even though I wasn't a regular 4chan user.) Whereas the sociopaths... well, we know what they wound up doing.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:47 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


A problem with the "If it didn't happen here it'd happen elsewhere, internet routes around damage" idea is that 4chan tried taking that to heart with the "Containment Board" policy. At least they're contained here where we can limit the danger is all well and good, until the issue festers & then they decide they're ready to annex the other boards, and then expand from there. It's not containment, it's incubation.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:50 AM on February 17 [18 favorites]


Blaming Moot for not moderating doesn't mean that it wouldn't have happened at all, anywhere else.

Alright, maybe, but if you moderate them out, then you're not the bad guy, somebody else is. If you fail to moderate it, guess what, you get to be remembered as the guy who said that harassers and hatemongers are a-okay in your book.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:51 AM on February 17 [15 favorites]


White Supremacists infiltrated 4chan, which the article does seem to ignore for some reason.

And Justine Tunney, one of the leaders of Occupy Wall Street (with the Twitter account to prove it), was a channer less interested in equality than in techies being the rulers of the universe (with the Google job to prove it).
posted by Yowser at 11:51 AM on February 17 [9 favorites]


Is there any reason to think that 4chan-type young people are really a major part of the Trump coalition, as opposed to an exceptionally loud and visible but numerically insignificant component? The median age of a voter in the 2016 election was 45, and of those under 30, Democrats won by 18 points. It was among the 65+ crowd that Trump had his strongest showing.
posted by enn at 11:55 AM on February 17 [36 favorites]


enn: Bare minimum, they helped with the disinformation campaign against Hillary, even if they didn't show up to vote for Trump en masse.

Small numbers, massive influence.
posted by SansPoint at 11:57 AM on February 17 [14 favorites]


You think anyone under 65 believed that channer spirit pizza bullshit?

That was done for the olds.
posted by Yowser at 11:58 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


This is a brilliant article, fascinating thesis. Offensive too, of course. Virgin shaming and reinforcing status quo symbols of success throughout. But I guess that was intentional? Trying to infuriate the Pepes? Regardless, the overall point definitely rings true.

You most certainly can blame the platform for the users. If it wasn't for MetaFilter's excellent moderation, it could have easily become as toxic as Reddit.

MetaFilter is toxic in its way. So much so that I've been mostly silenced over the last few years despite how much I'm personally invested in this place. .. I just spent a few minutes trying to find a MetaTalk comment that could sum up my ideas about this, but frankly it is too depressing digging into that history.
posted by Chuckles at 11:59 AM on February 17 [26 favorites]


tobascodegama: I do seem to recall /b/ trying to be pushed into attacking Stormfront, but who on earth knows if that was "moralf*gs" trying to push against racism, or Stormfronters trying to prove a point about how easily they could mobilze 4channers. Whatever order it was in: Stormfront coming to 4chan or 4chan coming to Stormfront, that was the point where the inevitable explosion of horrors we've seen was primed and the fuse lit.
posted by SansPoint at 12:12 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Chuckles, your comment is the saddest thing I've read for ages. I find MetaFilter a daily dose of sanity that is sorely needed these days. I'm sorry that you don't have the same experience.
posted by stanf at 12:19 PM on February 17 [21 favorites]


Thank You Mario, but your princess is in another castle.
posted by mannequito at 12:21 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


You think anyone under 65 believed that channer spirit pizza bullshit?

Edgar Maddison Welch is 28. So, yes, at least one person under 65 actually believed that bullshit.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:26 PM on February 17 [15 favorites]


There's a difference between saying "this was inevitable" as in there was nothing anybody could ever have done, and saying "this was not a problem that could be fixed with website moderation". Websites can help or hinder the effort, but websites can't fix problems that websites didn't create.
posted by Sequence at 12:31 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


the girls got sad and lonely and produced literally billions of words about boys kissing...giving them media that models men with decent emotional coping skills and women with actual agency to impact the world.

I'm sorry that someone taught you that romance in general and roll-your-own romance in particular was a mere escapist pursuit for sad and lonely women who are powerless in the real world, but you're very much mistaken, at every step of the way.

A really really odd equivalence to draw.
posted by praemunire at 12:31 PM on February 17 [11 favorites]


All of our cultural values have to some degree been debased or called under critical scrutiny at this point. Young people must be confused as fuck coming up in this mess, especially considering there's still so little sympathy and social support for working families among the political classes and even a lot of activists. Kids are still our most vulnerable and least powerful population group. As a rhetorical image, the notion of people clutching their pearls and saying "think of the children!" is an easy way to dismiss those kinds of concern, but it's true. Note the gendered language of the trope: it's coded as women's work to care or worry about what happens to children.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:41 PM on February 17 [6 favorites]


Nah, I think Sequence may be a bit wrong on romance fiction being bad for you, but they're not off on the female fannish community having its own set of toxic feedback loops. Unlike the mostly-male channers, though, it didn't go to the alt-right but it does use a lot of the same weirdness except towards lefty-ish goals. Using the language of social justice to bully people shipping the wrong pairing is only the least of it.

I'm beginning to think that any internet-based subculture will turn toxic, no matter how "moderated" one thinks a site is. It will find somewhere else, or somewhere decentralized, to go.
posted by Electric Elf at 12:43 PM on February 17 [16 favorites]


MetaFilter is toxic in its way. So much so that I've been mostly silenced over the last few years despite how much I'm personally invested in this place. ..

Cool so tell me at what point MetaFilter fostered a space so that a chunk of mefites want to rape or murder you? Like, fine if you don't think MeFi is the space for you, but read Bust's article on the Beta Males that we're talking about here, and then maybe rethink what "toxic" means.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:46 PM on February 17 [46 favorites]


I'm sorry that someone taught you that romance in general and roll-your-own romance in particular was a mere escapist pursuit for sad and lonely women who are powerless in the real world, but you're very much mistaken, at every step of the way.

A really really odd equivalence to draw.


I've been neck-deep in the female side of fandom/'net culture since I was fourteen - almost half my life, now. We are absolutely just as susceptible to toxic feedback loops as our male counterparts, and face many of the equivalent pressures in this changing world. It is not incorrect to speculate that our toxic feedback loops turn inward and become witch-hunts, bullying, and social games because of how women are generally socialized to handle negative emotions.

Sequence is not correct to characterize those feedback loops as being strictly romantic in nature - though they can be, remember channellers? RP drama? Snape's on an Astral Plane? Thanfiction? Sephiroth? - but they absolutely exist.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 1:15 PM on February 17 [17 favorites]


MetaFilter is toxic in its way. So much so that I've been mostly silenced over the last few years despite how much I'm personally invested in this place. ..

Cool so tell me at what point MetaFilter fostered a space so that a chunk of mefites want to rape or murder you? Like, fine if you don't think MeFi is the space for you, but read Bust's article on the Beta Males that we're talking about here, and then maybe rethink what "toxic" means.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:46 PM on February 17 [2 favorites −] Favorite added! [Flagged]


Flagged as fantastic.

We are absolutely just as susceptible to toxic feedback loops as our male counterparts, and face many of the equivalent pressures in this changing world. It is not incorrect to speculate that our toxic feedback loops turn inward and become witch-hunts, bullying, and social games because of how women are generally socialized to handle negative emotions.

We're saying using the same word to describe horribly destructive behavior that is directed inward as horribly destructive behavior that is directed outward, towards victiminizing entire demographics of people, is inherently kind of bullshit. Those two things are not the same.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:22 PM on February 17 [17 favorites]


What truly chaps my hide about all of this is how Christopher Poole (moot) takes no responsibility for what he has wrought, and indeed, was rewarded with a cushy job at Google instead.


The proliferation of "chan" sites beyond 4chan does diminish his responsibility.

It's an easy formula: no user accounts. No long term storage of threads.

Now that there are chan sites in the .onion realm, this monster is truly outside anyone's control.
posted by ocschwar at 1:24 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


We're saying using the same word to describe horribly destructive behavior that is directed inward as horribly destructive behavior that is directed outward, towards victiminizing entire demographics of people, is inherently kind of bullshit. Those two things are not the same.

Morally, no, they are not equivalent. In terms of understanding the psychology behind why young men are lashing out, there appear to be useful parallels. I believe it would be productive to examine that.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 1:24 PM on February 17 [12 favorites]


I definitely didn't mean to say that romance fiction is bad for anybody. I've watched the entirety of Yuri on Ice twice just in the last two weeks. I've been involved in fandom communities online since the mid-90s. Women's media tends to have a different emphasis than men's, but I'm using this as a shorthand, not saying it's bad. Writing or reading fic, roleplaying, art, all of these things can be great, but there have been a lot of young women who've invested in those things instead of investing in their own personal relationships, their own careers, their own adventures, because those things didn't seem possible or accessible. (And often weren't.)

It can be a problem, but it's explicitly not a problem the same way channer culture is a problem because girls' socialization doesn't have the same problems with encouraging aggression and discouraging emotional openness. That was precisely my point. But we all got these gender roles from our parents, from the media. Those are the root problems. The frustration with the inaccessibility of better lives is a generational issue. I'm saying that the thing that made channers is not just that they hung out too much on the internet, because women who did the same thing didn't start SWATting anybody.
posted by Sequence at 1:28 PM on February 17 [17 favorites]


they're not off on the female fannish community having its own set of toxic feedback loops

We are absolutely just as susceptible to toxic feedback loops as our male counterparts

Sure, like pretty much every subculture will develop over time. The fandom I'm following right now features a bunch of fans harassing creators because they were convinced the creators were sending them secret coded messages (I don't mean subtext in the usual sense, I mean, literally, that they thought that the set and costume design contained coded messages directly from the creators to the viewers) that two of the male characters were going to get together at the end of the most recent series and, when it didn't happen, felt it was AN EARTH-SHATTERING BETRAYAL OF THE GAYS or some such. A toxic stew of mental illness, fannish entitlement, manipulation, general stupidity, and misuse of social justice rhetoric that truly outstrips anything I've seen before...

...but the rhetoric of romance as a field where weak emotional women to go be pathologically weak and emotional because they're miserable and powerless offline is still misogynist BS.
posted by praemunire at 1:29 PM on February 17 [10 favorites]


Ah, yes, are they still watching Apple Tree Yard in the hopes that it'll turn into the Lost Episode?

I think everyone is this thread is in agreement on that rhetorical point. Sequence seems to have misspoken, is all.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 1:36 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


the infiltration of 4chan by white supremacist groups like Stormfront

Is there a good article to read about that?
posted by Nelson at 1:43 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


You most certainly can blame the platform for the users. If it wasn't for MetaFilter's excellent moderation, it could have easily become as toxic as Reddit.

The evergreen If your website is full of assholes it's your fault.

It's even on a professional white background
posted by phearlez at 1:48 PM on February 17 [10 favorites]


There's one piece of the puzzle the author misses, and that's the infiltration of 4chan by white supremacist groups like Stormfront, in the wake of Project Chanology.

How Reddit Became a Worse Black Hole of Violent Racism than Stormfront (Previously on the blue)

I totally agree. The man-babes weren't self motivated to go after Trump, they're not that organized. IMO, they're mostly just the useful idiot Brownshirts, the wreckers. The masterminds are using them as sockpuppets to hide their own activity---even the white nationalists know they're deeply reviled---but also as a revenue source via fake media sites like Breitbart and monetized Youtube channels.
posted by bonehead at 1:49 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Thanks but that article is about Reddit.
posted by Nelson at 2:24 PM on February 17


A co-worker told me the day after the election to watch and see all the creepy people who would suddenly appear claiming relevance and victory. Go figure.
posted by onesidys at 2:43 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


I don't think there's any website out there that has that sweet spot between moderation and allowing conversations to happen naturally. But then again, that sweet spot will depend on the individual. I do like Reddit though, but I have a set of subreddits that I read and they're all moderated, some more loosely than others. But it has a wider range of opinions than I find on here, which is why I seek a range of forums to post in, they each appeal to one of my facets. (I've never been to 4Chan and have no interest, in my mind I have grouped it in with FYAD, and I made the mistake of going there once, nope - not for me!).
posted by Hazelsmrf at 2:53 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Reading this makes me really glad 4chan and it's ilk didn't exist back when I was a lonely involuted twenty something boy. Instead my Forever Alone angst found expression in playing a sexy dragon lady on Furrymuck, which eventually saw me becoming a trans woman with an actual social life involving imperfect physical bodies. I like to think my parents at least raised me to the point where I would have balked at being recruited by Stormfront and it's ilk (there IS a subsection of furries who "just like the uniforms, honest" and tend to be Angey White Dudes) but who the hell kniws?
posted by egypturnash at 3:19 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


...but the rhetoric of romance as a field where weak emotional women to go be pathologically weak and emotional because they're miserable and powerless offline is still misogynist BS.

Certainly, but that's not what I meant by a long shot.

I don't think "emotional" is a bad thing; I think the larger emphasis on feelings in media aimed at girls and women, as opposed to such messages as "you have to look like a badass" and "destroy all your enemies", is a big contributor to why girls and women are much less likely to randomly decide to hurt strangers for fun even when they're trying to deal with similar lack of satisfaction with modern adulthood.
posted by Sequence at 3:27 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I'm not persuaded these guys helped Trump in any way. The fairly low percentage of young people who voted for Trump did so for guns, taxes, immigration, regulations, Jesus, abortion, Israel etc. Not memes, not anything on a *Chan or r/theDonald. Clinton's actually devoting a major address to the Alt Right was one of the more notable demonstrations of the complacency and political incompetence that cost her the White House -- when she could have been talking trade policy in Wisconsin or attacking Trump's tax cuts in Detroit.
posted by MattD at 3:56 PM on February 17 [7 favorites]


4chan defined itself by being insensitive to suffering in that way only people who have never really suffered can

This is the one truly false note in the essay for me. Someone withdrawing away from everything real and human in their life as the author suggests 4Channers are and were, does not suggest to me a lack of suffering. I could try and unpack the use of the word "really" there, but the author kind of does it themselves, later on in the essay.
posted by Grimgrin at 4:24 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


The one under 30 person I know who voted for Trump did so exactly because of identity and these white male hurt feels sentiments. At least 2 more I suspect did not vote for her out of the sort of nihilistic complacency that these sites reinforce.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:25 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


I just wanted to say thank you for this post. This thread is really helping me to understand this particular leg of Trump's support base.

Every time I think about these particular misanthropes, that quote from the Big Lebowski runs through my head, "Say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos."... and I make a note to self that Trump has somehow managed to unite the nihilists and the Nazis so at least maybe we no longer have to choose which are worse.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:44 PM on February 17 [6 favorites]


Modern Russian propaganda: a firehouse of falsehood.

Distinctive Features of the Contemporary Model for Russian Propaganda
1. High-volume and multichannel
2. Rapid, continuous, and repetitive
3. Lacks commitment to objective reality
4. Lacks commitment to consistency.

Via the rand corporation.
Source:
http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/perspectives/PE100/PE198/RAND_PE198.pdf
posted by Freen at 5:13 PM on February 17 [6 favorites]


A lot of mainstream punditry is silly and innumerate, so I guess it's not surprising that DIY op-eds like this from Medium are turbo-silly and even more oblivious to scale.

It was a close election so people can finger a laundry list of marginal phenomena as a deciding factor and not exactly be wrong, but this author goes even further and actually depicts 4 channers as a key demographic in Trump's win and that shit is outerspace cuckoo bonkers.

It's true that lower education whites turned out for Trump like they haven't for previous Repubs (but keep in mind he also won white college grads), but I doubt the trolls he's harping on are actually all that uneducated. And I'm definitely sure they comprise a very low percentage of any demographic. The young and the poor are still largely Democrats and this election was no exception.

Even outside of numbers, the influence of Internet trolls on the election is pretty doubtful, and I think it's possible they even cost the Republicans some unknown (small) percentage of the educated white vote. A lot of the visible right-wing intelligensia on Twitter, etc, swung never-Trump seemingly in part because they were being ceaselessly antagonized by pepe shocktroops too.
posted by dgaicun at 5:46 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


I don't have any doubt about the influence of the trolls on the election. Nearly every Clinton scandal emerged from /pol/, from Hillary being sick to Pizzagate. It got stories, lots of stories, on mainstream channels. Not just FOX News and InfoWars.
posted by SansPoint at 6:08 PM on February 17 [11 favorites]


Wait. Hang on. A Lesson is Learned but the Damage is Irreversible Dale Beran? The Nerds of Paradise Dale Beran? That Dale Beran wrote an analysis on the rise of internet Nazis and Trumpism?

This. This. This is my beyond-the-looking-glass moment. It's not that I'm surprised he can write this; he's an intelligent and clear writer, and as an educator is obviously going to have opinions on stuff like this. It's that he did and it's here that's this weird mildly disorienting everything-can-be-anything-welcome-to-2017-the-zeitgeist-sort-of-threw-up-all-over-itself-sorry thing that crosses all my streams.
posted by byanyothername at 6:42 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Excellent essay.

I had a conversation during the election when someone asked me, speaking of poor Trump supporters: "What do they think he's going to do for them?" I replied: "They don't think he's going to do anything for them." I wasn't, however, able to unpack that intuition at the time. This essay spells out one way to do so really well. Yes, theirs is a "defiant" expression of "utter contemptuous despair". And that's the most that can be said for them.
posted by bertran at 7:08 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


He mentions that 4chan's first wave of users were Something Awful users, but not that most of the people who went SA->4chan in the first wave were people banned in the "pedocaust", a mass-perma-banning of pedophiles in the anime subforum.

I knew the early users of 4chan at the time it was founded and while a few pedophiles did show up after being kicked out of ADTRW it was far from a majority. They were outnumbered by 2chan enthusiasts and generic anime fans who got annoyed at the new mod without being banned.

When the site blew up in popularity maybe a year later it went from being a quaint place where people posted niche japanese memes and anime stuff to the mods spending a lot of time deleting child porn.
posted by zymil at 8:34 PM on February 17


This was really interesting. Thanks for posting.
posted by latkes at 9:43 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Is he on metafilter?
The article had all the gender talking points of metafilter. I never encounter those anywhere else.
posted by jouke at 7:36 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


The whole "lulz" culture suggests to me that traditional, classically liberal norms of free speech need to be reexamined. Liberalism has always had difficulties with the whole "will no one rid me of this troublesome priest" sort of plausible deniability of the link between one person's speech acts and another's actions, and it also has major problems with dealing with bad faith arguments. More broadly, a very reductive or self-satisfied version of the commitment to free speech has replaced any sort of nuanced, well-examined version.

It's a mechanism built on an 18th century vision of human reason and character, a view that collapses to some extent in the face of research on cognitive bias, on group psychology, on sociological analysis.

More broadly, free speech is justified either as an a priori or as a purposive mechanism in a democratic society. The a priori case isn't really used anymore; everything from the recognition of how speech acts can create a hostile environment in workplaces and public life to libel or slander to gross violations like "shouting fire in a crowded theatre" and threatening language have long since reduced this position to absurdity.

So what is left is the functional justification, be it the slippery slope of repression, the notion that no0 view may go unexamined or challenged, or the "marketplace of ideas" model. The slippery slope argument has its limits. however. When certain categories of speech acts are doing visible damage to a democratic system -- the organization of mass harassment campaigns form beneath a fig leaf of legal deniability, the collapse of shared cultural and social standards of facticity, unequal access to platforms due to media consolidation and the attention economy -- then it becomes hard to argue that the consequences of "slipping down the slope" are worse or more real than the actually occurring consequences of an unexamined, often reductive commitment to "free speech."

And of course, the other two models are, fundamentally, still built on the highly questionable assumptions of rationality in human action. The "marketplace of ideas" concept seems to bizarrely assume perfect information, when real markets are built in large part on the effects of information asymmetry. and the marketplace of ideas, specifically, does not seem to punish irrational behavior, at least not efficiently or without considerable collateral damage in the meantime. There are plenty of historical cases to show this, and show it clearly. (Moreover, the market for goods and services also demonstrates considerable signs that its outcomes reflect, rather correct the irrationality of many of the inputs. Behavioral economics exists for a reason. But this is a different debate.)

As to the principle of relentless examination of all views, it runs aground when confronted with the problems of nihilism and bad faith. How do you examine the absence of a view, and what of views that have been tested and produced such horrible results that the potential cost of replicating those results would be high? History and society offer no control groups; there must be ethical, not merely procedural a priori guidelines for social and political outcomes. And free speech, in its common and reductively framed form, is often merely a procedure. Indeed, there is no basis for examination without some kind indeed a general set of them.

So the question of speech, of spaces for speech, seems to me to lead inevitably to the conclusion that unfettered self-expression on an atomistic individual level is a good idea or a working ethical principle in and of itself. And there are in fact limits already on expression, as noted above, in the case of threats and harassment; the question is whether or not those limits reflect a complete understanding of the social effects of speech acts, whether they sufficiently account for the way speech acts are transformed by particular media and modes of representation. We already acknowledge that speech is not always merely speech, and that the continuum from the expression of an idea to that idea's impact has room for legal liability.

There seems little reasons to treat these as settled questions, particularly as history shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

I'm not persuaded these guys helped Trump in any way. The fairly low percentage of young people who voted for Trump did so for guns, taxes, immigration, regulations, Jesus, abortion, Israel etc.

Not everything is amoral game theory bullshit. That perspective, in large part, *is* the problem. It's not a million miles away, in principle, from the "lulz" idea. Whatever gets a reaction and attention is successful rhetorical strategy, right? All that matters is what achieves a goal, not any examination of the goal itself. Trump attempted to mobilize Voter Groups X and Y, and they were mobilized along the usual lines. So the fact that the result is President Trump, that result is that this sort of political and public conduct is rewarded, means nothing? Or means only that it works?

So, let's be clear, this sort of weird "view from nowhere" isn't much of a contribution to any kind of meaningful political conversation. It is in fact the evacuation of meaning from that conversation. People hold political positions because of their ethical and personal commitments, and those commitments themselves are what must be examined in order to meaningfully discuss politics.

So the real question is always: which of these policies do you support, and which don't you? What are your own opinions of this politician's stated views and public conduct? What are your own commitments, and why are they your commitments? Why should they be shared by others?

When that is not the heart of the conversation, the rest of the conversation doesn't really matter much.
posted by kewb at 7:56 AM on February 18 [13 favorites]


Hmm, seems like the principles around free speech are good ones, but other factors, such as the complete undermining of family and village/neighbor level community commitments due to industrialization, de-industrialization, forced migration, etc have an impact on people's sense of ethical obligation to their fellow humans. Not that village level norms didn't have problems too...
posted by latkes at 9:49 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Maybe, latkes, but how does one separate the act of speech from all those other things in the first place? Does it have a purpose, an ethical value in itself, or only in relation to prior ethical commitments?

It seems to me that something besides speech itself has to be prior here for the principle of free speech to have meaning or value.
posted by kewb at 10:06 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]


There's was a kind-of-out-there article posted here a little while ago arguing that the alt-right versus the Internet Left is essentially a continuation of 4chan versus SA. Which contains a surprising amount of truth.
posted by atoxyl at 10:06 AM on February 18 [5 favorites]


Previously.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:11 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I missed that one before.

I bet a lot of the people in he 4chan/SA conflict would have expected a "nerds/jocks" fight more than a "nerds/nerds" fight.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:57 AM on February 18


OK so this is literally the first time I've heard about the claiming to be Newgrounds thing, and I'd only ever heard of the raiding being associated with 4chan. I didn't even know Newgrounds had a community for someone to lie about being a part of.
posted by ckape at 1:58 PM on February 18


There's was a kind-of-out-there article posted here a little while ago arguing that the alt-right versus the Internet Left is essentially a continuation of 4chan versus SA. Which contains a surprising amount of truth.

Maybe it's intrinsically linked to those websites and the organizations/individuals on them, but perhaps the overall spirit is between internet anarchism vs. moderated order.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:58 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


OK so this is literally the first time I've heard about the claiming to be Newgrounds thing, and I'd only ever heard of the raiding being associated with 4chan. I didn't even know Newgrounds had a community for someone to lie about being a part of.

The classic 4chan move was to claim to be from eBaumsWorld.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:34 PM on February 18


There's a great essay from a decade ago called A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy which talks about how online groups can be subverted and how the fact that this happens keeps surprising people even though at this point we have nearly 40 years of data on how this happens.

4chan's subversion was inevitable, because 4chan had no way to defend or define its community other than being obnoxious and posting memes. How were /b/ supposed to define where their line was when the whole point was that anything was allowed? Once the Nazis showed up and the anti-fascists got tired of fighting with them, it was all over. (I understand, incidentally, the same thing happened with Occupy Wall Street, and finding out Justine Tunney was a 4channer is the final piece I needed of that particular puzzle.)

Obnoxious people are called 'toxic' for a reason - they slowly poison a community, driving out the people who labour to make it work, and making it only fit for people like themselves who can survive in that environment. Moderation is a good start, but what you really need is a way for the community's most valued members to decide for themselves what the community should be about. As far as I'm aware, this isn't a common model on the Internet, but very common in meatspace groups.

Clinton's actually devoting a major address to the Alt Right was one of the more notable demonstrations of the complacency and political incompetence that cost her the White House -- when she could have been talking trade policy in Wisconsin or attacking Trump's tax cuts in Detroit.


Remember how Clinton's team tweeted some policy at 3:20am to mock Trump for being up at 3:20am tweeting about some rubbish? It was a widely celebrated move. That policy her team tweeted about was about AmeriCorps. Do you remember any of the specifics of the policy, without looking it up?

American presidential politics hasn't been about policy for a very long time. There's almost no media analysis about policy, the potential impact of policy, even whether it's good or bad. (Part of the problem is that only one major party has policy that stands up to this sort of analysis, and the other one has made it clear they'll attack anyone in the media who tries.) American presidential elections are about Red vs Blue, the horserace, and keeping score. There's no attempt to go deep on policy because if you're a voter that's going to be persuaded by policy during the campaign, odds are you probably aren't committed to voting.
posted by Merus at 6:50 PM on February 18 [18 favorites]


4ch is kinda like a giant petri dish for growing weaponized offensive content. Lots of the stuff that grows on the agar of /b/ is just... junk. But the propagandist lab rats are constantly studying it, and occasionally they swab a promising region, grow it out, cross it with another prospective weapon, and aerosol it into the mainstream media.

If you want to continue to the analogy, moderators on boards like this? You're the non-specific immune response. You don't have any particular strategy for dealing with chan-derived infections other than "delete".

Eventually, the specific response ramps up. The amateur PR folks here and elsewhere figure out a reasonable message counter to the racist/misogynist/xenophobic/whatever infection is, and eventually it loses airplay in the MSM.

Problem is, it looks like the specific response is losing potency. And, just as with people, ramping up the non-specific response carries with it some serious potential side effects.
posted by -1 at 8:46 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


[A few comments deleted. If you need to talk about what Metafilter is like, Metatalk is the place for that. If you want to vent, you can also vent to us at the contact form.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:42 AM on February 22


How recommendation algorithms tried to make me a Nazi
Once correlations are established and picked up algorithmically, the feedback loops inherent in the process begin to emphasize these connections’ “naturalness.” This makes algorithmic discipline particularly helpful for movements that work through the infiltration of “nonpolitical” spaces, who, like the far right, find it necessary to use Trojan horses for their ideology and hide it behind “jokes,” trolling, irony, and insincerity. Today’s Nazis used spaces where young, angry, isolated middle-class white boys were already gathering — gaming communities, Reddit, 4chan, 8chan — to recruit, radicalizing aggrieved beta masculinity into openly white supremacist politics. The algorithms clocked the connection infiltrators fomented between gaming and far right politics, and re-enforced and reproduced it. This strategy exploits liberal tolerance while radicalizing the uninitiated.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:02 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


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