July 20, 2012 § 122 Comments
So. A terrible thing happened in Aurora, CO last night. By this morning, certain anonymous instigators were triumphantly declaring that 9gag, the much-maligned mostly SFW content aggregator, was somehow responsible for, or at least contributed to, the shooting. Adrian Chen at Gawker has a rundown of how the story unfolded.
One major detail is missing from this account — it’s called Operation 9gag, and has been in effect on 4chan’s /b/ board (in my original post I didn’t bother including this qualifier, since it’s 2012 and where the trolls live on 4chan isn’t exactly a state secret) since late 2011. Essentially the op is an attempt to frame 9gag for everything terrible on the internet. Consider the following case:
A few days after Christmas 2011, 15 year-old Amanda Cummings attempted suicide. She was still alive at the scene, and was rushed to the hospital. Trolls got wind of the story via the local news and posted links to her “get well soon” page, and later RIP page, onto /b/. They weren’t alone, however; as Jezebel reported, 9gag had apparently joined forces with 4chan. This was a shocking, unholy union. In fact participants seemed more upset about 9gag’s involvement than Amanda’s death. Posters repeatedly apologized to Amanda’s friends and condemned the site and its users, whom an increasingly vocal majority of voices decried as being the worst sort of internet bully. On /b/, trolls howled with laughter as 9gag was thus raked over the coals, revealing the true target of their raid. Not Amanda Cummings, not her friends, not her family. But 9gag itself.
Why this raid, why this focus? For months, trolls had been grumbling about 9gag, which they charmingly refer to as “9fag” (they’re so clever, these trolls!). 9gag has come to occupy the go-to scapegoat role once filled by Ebaumsworld, making public references to the site akin to a subcultural calling card. In Amanda Cummings’ case, the calling card was used to harness what the trolls knew would be a strong media reaction, which would be made even stronger based on the 9gag tie-in.
In other words. Media outlets. THE AURORA SHOOTINGS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH 9GAG. EVERYONE PLEASE IGNORE THE TROLLS.
Normally I keep my mouth shut about these sorts of details. My job as a researcher is to watch things unfold, not participate. But in this particular case, the stakes are way too high — if the trolls get their wish for hyperbolic, breathless media coverage, ideally (for them) culminating in a moral panic surrounding 9gag, what will actually come under fire is meme culture first, and online anonymity second. This will be framed as the new “violent video games” bullshit media effects non-argument, which could prove to be a catalyst for all sorts of nasty legal interventions, not just for trolls, but for everyone who has any investment in anonymous online communication.
Don’t take this bait. There are other things to talk to talk about here, much more important things, like the fact that the shooter, who was clearly disturbed, was able to get his hands on some serious weaponry. Forget 9gag, forget 4chan, forget anything related to the internet. Be in the real world with this one.
Update: If you hadn’t guessed by reading through the comments section, the trolls in question got wind of this post. Enjoy?