I Mean I Guess

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

It’s possible that the Virginia mall shooter really did post about his plans on 4chan’s /b/ board minutes before the shootings, but there are a whole lot of reasons to approach this sort of thing with a high degree of suspicion. As I wrote in response to the 2012 Clackamas shooting, in which the shooter was also said to have posted about his crimes on /b/ beforehand, this sort of thing has happened before. In fact it happens EVERY time there is a mass shooting, a detail that certainly doesn’t preclude the possibility that one day there really will be a wolf lurking in the bushes, but, again, is a very good reason not to immediately jump to conclusions.

What I think is particularly weird about the coverage on Gawker and Wired is that none of the authors directly acknowledge the 4chan shooter note trend (and it is a trend: here’s another in response to the Sandy Hook shootings and another in response to a residential hostage situation). If the shooter really did post this note, you’d think journalists would lead with “now, we know you’ve heard this story before, over and over again, but this time it’s real,” rather than reporting the story with little qualification and even less evidence, other than an anonymous “reliable source” who apparently saved the thread as a PDF before it disappeared off the site forever. Even weirder was BuzzFeed’s John Herrman‘s decision to highlight the not very surprising detail that there were memes –MEMES!!– in the message. As Herrman notes:

“Also notable, if the post was really made by the shooter: the use of meme-derived language, which was popularized by 4chan, to talk about suicide.”

Why this would be “notable” (as opposed to 4chan business as usual) and why those italics, I can’t really say, but it does have me wondering if we aren’t going to start seeing some strange link forged between memes and violent crime, particularly after the recent Confession Bear doxxing controversy on Reddit.

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