State officials have estimated that between 7 and 13 people have been killed at a mass shooting the Umpqua Community College in Oregon. Media outlets have drawn a link between the shooter and /r9k/, a board for social recluses on the 4chan imageboard, based on an anonymous post made there the day before the shooting.
A number of outlets including Ars Technica, Jezebel, and the UK’s Daily Mail have drawn attention to posts on the 4chan imageboard the day before the shooting, in which an anonymous poster warning board users “not to go to school in the northwest tomorrow” because “some of you are alright.”
Aside from the coincidental timing, there is no evidence to link the anonymous post to the shooter. With the shooter now reported to be dead, it is unlikely that any such evidence will be forthcoming. Nonetheless, federal law enforcement officials are currently looking into the 4chan thread, according to the New York Times.
Some commentators and journalists have taken the opportunity to launch an attack on 4chan as a whole. The Daily Mail’s report, for example, calls the site an “internet cesspool” used to spread “the most vile material.” The article also links the site to the “sinister mask-wearing international vigilante hacking group Anonymous.”
As has now become typical in the aftermath of U.S. mass shootings, the opposing sides of the gun control debate have begun gearing up for a new stand-off. The White House has already called for more gun control laws.
Activists on social media have begun gearing up for a different battle – how far online platforms should police speech and communication. Rumours of the shooter’s posts on 4chan’s “r9k” or “robot 9000” board have incensed activists who believe that unmoderated, uncensored speech ultimately leads to hatred and harm.
The /r9k/ board is a point of congregation for posters who have problems with social awkwardness. Similarly to every other board, the board is a mix of people who have genuine problems functioning in society, and those who are there for the “board culture” – the mix of memes and in-jokes that characterise every 4chan board. Distaste for the “normies” – well-adjusted members of society – is one of the board’s defining in-jokes.
Silicon Valley social justice warrior Faruk Ates blamed internet platforms for their “hands-off approach to regulating speech” which allowed “hate speech to thrive” and “mass killing plans to get egged on.” A post on anti-men’s rights blog We Hunted The Mammoth expressed horror that 4chan users could be seen laughing and joking about the shooting in its aftermath. Game developer Zoe Quinn, who recently spoke at the launch of a U.N. report recommending state-led censorship of the web, called on website owners to “moderate your f***in platforms before the government steps in.”
It appears many have assumed that the posts were legitimate – despite the fact that 4chan users could be seen openly planning to prank the media by tweeting fake suspects to journalists.
They also assume that the “egging on” of the shooter that can be seen in some of the archived threads is meant to be serious. “Trolling” – leading people on with exaggeration, provocation, and deception – is a key element of 4chan culture. The famous “navy seal copypasta” is an example of the absurd, empty threats that are made on imageboards on a daily basis. The poster claims to have “graduated top of his class in the Navy Seals” who would threaten to “wipe you out with the precision the likes of which as never been seen before on this Earth.”
4chan has always been a mix of deliberately offensive humour, deception, and absurd claims. A warning on the top of one 4chan board specifically warns people that “only a fool would take anything posted here as fact.” It’s a warning that many today have apparently ignored.
Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter.