On 27 April, before he burst into a San Diego synagogue and opened fire, killing one worshipper and injuring three more, the gunman said goodbye to the community that radicalised him. “It’s been real dudes,” he posted on the far-right politics board, /pol/, on the image-posting site 8chan. “I’ve only been lurking for a year and a half, yet what I’ve learned here is priceless.”
Why this story?
There’s no room for argument about whether hate-filled internet message boards encourage real-world violence: they do, and none more so than 8chan. It normalises racism, misogyny, and extremism – and helps turn nightmarish, loud-mouthed talk of action into reality. What kind of person would set up a site like 8chan?
The question matters if we’re serious about trying to regulate it, or prevent similar sites coming into being. We might assume that the brains behind 8chan would belong to a committed, hard-line ideologue; someone, perhaps, we could identify and deal with. But what if other impulses are in play? How do we deal with the motivating power of poverty, disability, anger and self-loathing? Meet Fredrick Brennan. Ceri Thomas, editor
The story was familiar. Six weeks earlier, a 28-year-old had killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Before starting his attack, he, too, had posted on 8chan’s /pol/ board. “It’s been a long ride,” he had written. He signed off his post: “Meme magic is real.” The first response from an anonymous 8chan user urged him to “get the high score”.
From its effect on the world, 8chan could be ranked as one of the internet’s most dangerous sites. Some have even compared it to terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda or ISIS. The pattern is similar: men – and it is always men – find their way there, and get radicalised into an extreme ideology which drives some of them to violence.
Ahmed Al-Mahmoud, centre, survived the attack on the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. The perpetrator posted on 8chan /pol/ beforehand