Opinion | Radical terrorism originates from poisonous online forums

A+protester+wearing+a+troll+face+mask+during+the+anti+ACTA+protest+in+Paris+on+Feb.+25%2C+2012.+Opinions+editor+Aparna+Lakkaraju+argues+that+radical+terrorism+stem+from+online+forums+like+4chan.+

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A protester wearing a troll face mask during the anti ACTA protest in Paris on Feb. 25, 2012. Opinions editor Aparna Lakkaraju argues that radical terrorism stem from online forums like 4chan.

By Aparna Lakkaraju, Opinions Editor

This past week, yet another mass shooting devastated America in a small supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. The perpetrator was an 18-year-old white male who killed 10 and injured three — 11 of the victims were Black.

Each detail revealed about the suspect as the investigation proceeds unveils the sinister strategy behind how far-right ideology poisons American youth.

The shooter wrote and posted a 180-page manifesto detailing why he chose that specific supermarket, where he acquired his assault rifles and a meticulous scheme that outlined how he would approach the supermarket and leave after taking as many African American lives as possible. 

Chillingly, the shooter — who was a self-described white supremacist, anti-Semite and fascist — cited a racist conspiracy theory as his motive behind the shooting. The “great replacement” theory claims that white American voters are being “replaced” by other races and was penned a decade ago by French author Renaud Camus, who used it to describe his concerns surrounding the immigration of nonwhite populations into Europe.

In his manifesto, the shooter mentions the anonymous online forum 4chan, which is where it is glaringly apparent he learned of the “great replacement” theory and much of his far-right ideology, as numerous racist and antisemitic memes embedded throughout the manifesto were directly copied from 4chan politics boards. 

Forums like 4chan are effective in spreading baseless right-wing theories and radicalizing youth, who are more receptive to extremist ideologies. The indoctrination into these platforms isolates these young populations from “regular,” non-extremist human interactions and further drives them into their delusions. 

Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time a radical online forum was brought up during a mass shooting. The shooting of two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019 turned the public attention to 8chan — a sister forum of 4chan — when the shooter proudly announced his attack on the forum before the shooting. 

8chan was shut down a few months later in August after two copycat shooters also announced their plans on the site shortly following the Christchurch shooting. It resurfaced on the internet a few months later, operating under different Russian internet service providers. Since then, it has floated in and out of existence on the cloud.

These forums end up fostering a breeding ground for toxic ideologies that are diluted into mainstream media — the “great replacement” theory was once merely a fringe white supremacist sentiment until it was popularized on various conservative media platforms such as Fox News, where Tucker Carlson and other hosts introduced the ideology to standard American households.

Notably, 4chan is also where QAnon, the conspiracy theory that alleges that the world is run by a class of elite, devil-worshipping pedophiles, originated. Many of QAnon’s believers led the attack on the Capitol, which undermined our nation’s democracy merely a year ago.

There is a push by a few to limit restrictions on free speech on social media platforms — Elon Musk claimed that Twitter would uphold all free speech that is protected by the First Amendment if he were to own the social media company. 

There seems to be no visible solution to quickly stop the spread of radical right-wing ideology, since the demand for platforms that do not restrict free speech is high, especially among youth. If people want spaces where they can circulate hate speech and radical ideology, they will find ways to cultivate them.

The emphasis on holding mainstream media and politicians accountable for what they circulate to the general public could be a starting point to mend this. Restricting hate speech should be a practice that is maintained on social media, as forums such as 4chan and 8chan are a testament that unregulated online speech has tangible, devastating consequences. 

 

Aparna is a freshman in LAS.

[email protected]