Before the New Zealand shooter would kill 50 people across two mosques, he would announce his intentions on the controversial message board, 8chan. “I have provided links to my writings below,” he allegedly posted, “please do your part by spreading my message, making memes and shitposting as you usually do.” In the days since the shooting, the extremists of 8chan have done just that.
8chan has a variety of message boards for numerous subjects. “Politically Incorrect” is one of the most popular boards and is primarily dominated by Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. One post shows what appears to be a painting of the shooter on the side of a building in the style of a saint; hand raised, head glowing, his manifesto in hand in place of the Bible and his assault rifle tucked under his arm. “Epic,” the poster says of the image. “Reminder to do your part. Posters can easily be printed and put up in a matter of minutes. The harder we push, the greater the reaction. Keep going and don’t stop.”
Another post entitled, “Spread the Message” encourages readers to spray paint the Black Sun, a Neo-Nazi symbol, in public places. “Ideally in predominantly Muslim communities to spread fear create an uneasy atmosphere,” the poster explains. “Draw it around university campuses and public buildings to garner media attention. Draw it on the wall of your local grocery store. Draw it on Muslim run businesses.”
The anonymous nature of posting on 8chan allows to users to discuss ideas that they might not in public. In one post called “How to deal with sorta being evil?”, the poster confesses to feeling alienating for his radical beliefs. “I have found myself supporting Brenton and being kind of in favour (sic) of more terrorist attacks if it helps save our race,” he writes, “but I kind (sic) help feel a bit dissapointed (sic) in myself for becoming somebody that can not be devastated by such an attack.” At the top of the post is a meme featuring the cartoon character, Pikachu, with a shocked expression. The picture is often used in memes to joke about something suprising, but in this version of the meme, Pikachu is given a crudely scribbled beard to make him look vaguely middle-eastern. The caption reads, “When you’ve spent the past two decades terrorizing the entire world and your community does nothing but deny there is a problem and take zero action against it and then someone decides to attack you.”
Such memes are often used to introduce Internet users to alt-Right ideology; a process extremists refer to as “red-pilling”. In the film, The Matrix, the red pill was the key to unlocking a new, unknown world lying under the surface of the known. To Neo-Nazis and white supremacists, it is the key to believing that ‘white genocide’ is occurring under our noses though no one sees it or experiences it. According to a study for New York Magizene, the humor of memes often makes indoctrination easier. “It helps that the extremists are also extremely adept at making their ideas palatable, by using irony and humor,” the authors write. “Internet trolls have been using racist and sexist language as a shock tactic for years, giving it a veneer of edgy irreverence.” Over time, the line between provocateurs who are edgy for edginess’ sake and actual hate groups become blurred as was the case on 8chan.
The site was originally founded by Fredrick Brennan after a similar site, 4chan, began taking down memes and posts regarding GamerGate – a reaction to the perceived influence of liberalism and political correctness on the videogame industry. 8chan, a place for absolute, lawless freedom of speech, was Brennan’s response to what he believed was the authoritarian left, but now he says the experiment went too far. It was through this experiment that the New Zealand shooter’s hate speech thrived. One user called him a “meme wizard” in a post celebrating his posts.
The 70 plus page manifesto released by the shooter on 8chan contained many jokes meant to mock news media and political correctness. The New York Times barely referenced the manifesto in their reporting because they believed shooter “intentionally filled it [the manifesto] with language to troll and confuse the news media.” In the manifesto, the shooter jokingly claims that he contacted the “reborn Knight Templar for a blessing in support of the attack”, that the videogame Spyro 3 indoctrinated him with ethno-nationalism and that Fortnite trained him to be a killer.
Even the act of the shooting itself was accompanied with inside jokes for the posters of 8chan. The shooter streamed the shooting on Facebook, linking to the stream in an 8chan post. For example, in the early portion of the stream – just minutes before the killing began – the shooter encouraged viewers to “subscribe to PewDiePie.” The phrase is a reference to the most-subscribed YouTube channel and the campaign its fan have launched to keep him there as another channel is projected to surpass him. White nationalists are often attracted to PewDiePie because his insensitive jokes about Jews and Nazis have often put him at odds with the media. Posters on 8chan have suggested that he may be “on the journey” to being “red-pilled.”
Currently, 8chan is still alive and well, but its founder has cut ties with the site. “It was very difficult in the days that followed to know that I had created that site,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “It wouldn’t surprise me if this happens again.”
While hate speech continues to thrive on the platform, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are actively trying to fight hate speech on their platforms. As of writing this, the video of the shooting continues to reappear on these sites, despite aggressive action.