Rambling thoughts on “pizzagate” from a self-appointed ambassador of no-life losers
I’ve seen a lot of people say that the “Pizzagate” guy was radicalized by the Internet almost jokingly, as some sort of rhetorical point that they don’t seem to really believe, like “if he were Muslim, they’d be saying it’s radicalization!” But to me, it’s a fact that he was radicalized, it’s not a joke or a rhetorical thing, it’s just reality. That’s how I’ve personally been thinking of it all along.
There are a lot of “Internet Culture” (for lack of a better word) elements to “pizzagate” that I haven’t seen the news reporting on. I don’t think this is out of any kind of malice or negligence, I just think this is something that not a lot of people understand, and gaining understanding of these things without being part of it (e.g., with interviews) is difficult for two reasons: 1) dishonesty and disingenuousness is baked into “Internet Culture” and as a result almost no one who truly understands this stuff is going to be forthright about it, and 2) “Internet culture” is youth-oriented and going on the Internet means being bombarded with information at all times, which is hard to keep track of, so as a result, a complete lack of collective long-term memory is also baked into Internet culture, and thus, it can be hard to draw connections even if you want to.
But you do not understand the current problem of “fake news” without understanding reddit and 4chan. You do not understand Breitbart without realizing how much reddit users contributed to its fame, how much Milo Yiannopoulos used reddit communities and reddit outrage to build his brand.
If you read what I’m about to say and go “no shit”, then the post isn’t aimed at you. I write this in the hopes that people like my parents, older people and, frankly, normal people, have a better understanding of what we’re up against.
Let me lay it out for you:
As most of my younger friends and family probably know, 4chan is an anonymous message board. You go on there and you post comments. What separates 4chan from most other message boards is two things: the first is that other “anonymous” message boards (reddit, for example) usually involve registering an account and coming up with a pseudonym to write under. Some people can use pseudonyms as an excuse to spout nonsense, but sometimes you can develop a sort of friendship with other pseudonymous accounts, sometimes a pseudonymous account can gain a reputation for insightful comments and do you really want to ruin that by saying something stupid? No, and so you (sometimes) self-regulate to an extent, even if your Internet friends have no idea where you really live or what your real name is and there are no “real-world” consequences. But on 4chan, even those illusory consequences don’t really exist because there are no accounts, each post is separate from each other post, and you don’t really forge an “identity” on 4chan the way you can on, say, Twitter or Tumblr.
The second thing that separates 4chan from most other Internet forums is their (relative) lack of moderation, which is why it tends to see itself as a bastion of “free speech”. The only rules on 4chan basically boil down to “you can’t post the same thing over and over, and if the community ends up obsessed with one topic and that topic is all you ever see, talking about that thing will be banned” and “you can’t post anything that breaks the law”. [These rules are sometimes considered too onerous by portions of the 4chan userbase, and they’ll periodically run off to start their own, even freer-speechier clone of 4chan, which will then attract the attention of law enforcement because of their unwillingness to moderate people breaking the law, whereupon the forum will be forced to start moderating its userbase, who will then leave in a huff at the perceived “censorship”, to either return to 4chan or start their own clone which will REALLY have free speech unlike all those other censoring mods, and so on and so forth. I call it the “Freeze Peach Cycle”. This is why you should not take seriously the reports that Twitter Trolls are going to run off and form their own clone of Twitter that won’t censor them. They’ll look around and realize who they have to talk to, and the community will be a husk in no time at all.]
I want to be clear that 4chan is a fairly large, fairly old (by Internet standards) community that many people use casually. It can be funny. Some of the most famous memes that you are probably familiar with (such as lolcats and rickrolling) originated on 4chan. 4chan has a “politically incorrect” board completely dominated by Nazis at this point, but it also has many boards dedicated to topics like cartoons, books, music, and science (although many of these are fairly low quality communities even if benign, but that’s just my opinion). But 4chan’s whole appeal is its lack of moderation and censorship, and so it attracts a certain element.
Which brings us back to “pizzagate”. Remember how I said that one of the only rules on 4chan is that you can’t post anything illegal? That includes child pornography. In fact, a lot of a moderator’s job comes down to censoring child pornography. It’s very common; it’s inevitable that any time a new forum exists on the Internet, especially a new forum hesitant to moderate its users, pedophiles will flood it with child pornography for as long as they can until eventually they’re forced to bring the hammer down. And, some argue, isn’t censorship of any kind, even of illegal material, a violation of free speech? Of course, the only reason they care so much about this is because they are dedicated to the principle of free speech. There are certainly no ulterior motives going on here, nosireebob.
So, because of all this, 4chan developed its own slang relating to this subject of never ending debate. “Child pornography” became “CP”. “CP” became “cheese pizza”. “Cheese pizza” became “pizza”. And then these very same users read the WikiLeaks emails, in which DNC staffers referred to enjoying “pizza” at a pizza place, and assumed that these staffers must be using “pizza” as code the same way they do, when in fact they were obviously just referring to the foodstuff.
AGAIN: THE ONLY REASON THEY THINK THAT THE WORD “PIZZA” REFERS TO PEDOPHILIA IS BECAUSE THEY, THEMSELVES, ARE PEDOPHILES.
But it’s not just “pizzagate”. I would argue that a significant number (not all) of Donald Trump voters have been radicalized by the Internet and are steeped in this culture. Which brings us to the other current major hub of “Internet culture”, Reddit (there have been others, but most of them have aged out of relevance and even 4chan’s best days are probably behind it).
You’ve probably heard of Reddit. It’s a much larger, much more mainstream website. It is perhaps most famous for its “AMAs”, as in “I AM A …., ask me anything”. These are sort of group interviews, in which an interesting person answers questions from the user base. Even President Obama did an AMA on reddit. Reddit uses a much more traditional pseudonym system, so you can still be anonymous, but you also form an anonymous identity and it is possible for other users to see what posts you have made unless you make multiple accounts. Reddit has forums dedicated to everything you can imagine. Books, movies, metalworking, even “shower beer” (where you take pictures of yourself drinking beer in the shower. Seriously, that’s the whole community). I personally learned the best techniques for managing my own hair through reddit’s curly hair forum.
Reddit also has several flavors of community dedicated to the idea that women are inferior to men and should not have the right to turn them down sexually for any reason. It, at one point, had a whole NETWORK of white-supremacist communities (these were notorious for popping back up after they were banned, but most of them are really banned now and instead that void is currently filled by the community of Trump supporters). It had a forum dedicated to “jailbait” and a forum dedicated to “creepshots” (pictures taken of strangers, always women, at compromising angles without their consent). There was a rather infamous forum dedicated to the idea that all of the world’s ills are caused by fat people (I really cannot overstate how obsessive this particular community was in its hatred). These communities took a very long time to be banned, and some of them are still active. Reddit’s moderation rules are relatively stricter than 4chan’s, but it is still generally beholden to the idea of “free speech”, and its administrators are notorious for being far too slow to take action against toxic forums even when those forums are in clear violation of what rules do exist.
Which is the single worst community on reddit? There are obviously many contenders, but a strong candidate is the conspiracy forum, which did most of the work disseminating and amplifying the “pizzagate” story. While the “pizza” slang originated on 4chan and the connection was obviously made by 4chan users, it is entirely possible that the shooter never went on 4chan at all and only learned of the conspiracy on reddit. The users of the conspiracy forum are also notable for continuously organizing campaigns to harass the survivors of Sandy Hook and the parents of the children who died there, as they believed the Sandy Hook shooting to be a false flag operation.
This is radicalization. The rhetoric prevalent on 4chan and reddit has been tied to several recent shootings other than this one. What these communities excel at above all else is organizing a witch hunts.
It’s clear that most users of reddit and many users of 4chan use it casually and may in fact be perfectly normal people. But there are those who spend all their free time on reddit and 4chan. There are those who have an awful lot of free time because they are lazy, depressed, physically or mentally ill, friendless, unemployable. People who already have a reason to be angry with the world get on reddit and find a community that tells them that all their problems are caused by women and immigrants, not themselves, not factors that are too nebulous to focus their rage at or change. That allows them to transfer their hatred from themselves onto the “crisis actors” who “staged” the Sandy Hook shooting. And what if an idea that fits their worldview but is obviously untrue gets introduced into the community? The community can be as insular as it wants to be, it does not have to allow dissenting voices that might contradict this obvious untruth. The only thing the other users on the board will do is amplify and escalate the rhetoric, and no one wants to be the first guy who starts dissenting, even if it’s something that would have seemed completely outlandish when they first stepped in the echo chamber. Nor is the untruth immediately contradicted by contact with the real world, because many of the core users have limited contact with the real world anyway due to being lazy, depressed, physically or mentally ill, friendless, unemployable. Thus, there is a genuine, widespread fear on reddit and 4chan that the progressive agenda is a front for a scheme to make it so that white women have adulterous relationships with men of color and bear their children, and their white boyfriends and husbands are then forced to provide for these babies that are not theirs, too paralyzed by social justice concerns to object, the end goal being to “breed out” the “white race”. This is what they legitimately fear will happen, and this scenario is usually what is meant by “white genocide”. If you’ve ever seen anyone call anyone else a “cuck” (short for “cuckold”), this is what they are referring to; a white man who shows compassion for women and people of color is the most contemptible thing they can think of, because he is being duped into allowing his girlfriend to cheat on him.
As you may have noticed, no one on the left actually wants this to happen. No one has ever actually discussed implementing this. This is no one’s “plan”, and if they had any contact with reality they would realize how ridiculous and unfounded this fear is. But they spend so much time with the community that it is their new reality. They get more positive feedback there than they get anywhere else. By the time anyone in the real world does talk to them, it starts to seem fake. It’s no longer “why should I believe some guy on the Internet, who knows how trustworthy they are” when people on the Internet are your friends and family. It’s now “why should I believe people in real life, who knows how trustworthy they are?” If you’ve ever talked to a Trump supporter and found that it’s like talking to a brick wall, this is probably why. They are dismissing you the same way you would dismiss some rando on the Internet trying to convince you of some crazy conspiracy theory using bullshit sources, because the Internet is now their “real life”.
But racism and misogyny and cuckolding anxieties have always existed. Conspiracy theories long predate the Internet. It’s not even unique to the Internet; as in the documentary “The Brainwashing of My Dad”, where older people (retirees, often lonely and widowed and thus with a lot of time on their hands) are radicalized by things like talk radio instead. The Internet just makes it easier. The Internet makes it easier to find people, whether that’s people who are fans of the same obscure thing you are, people who are willing to tell you that your anorexia is a good idea rather than intervening, or people who hold maligned views such as that 9/11 was an inside job. With enough people working together on these conspiracies, the community will usually succeed in cobbling something halfway convincing together that may succeed in fooling the naive: a video “showing” how the planes were just holograms, pointing out the “inconsistencies” in the “story”, and you might be taken in if you’re not ready with a rebuttal.
There are several ways to begin the suckering-in process. There’s the well-known concept of the “Gish Gallop”, which works something like this: image a listicle that goes “100 reasons why water is not actually wet”. Every single one of these 100 items is total bullshit, but in order to refute the article, you don’t just need a rebuttal, you need 100 rebuttals at once, and rebutting bullshit is a lot harder than just spewing it. But if you can’t rebut every single item, it looks to an outsider like the water-wet-deniers have well-prepared evidence and you’re the one who doesn’t have an argument.
Then there’s the “big lie” principle. I’ll use an example from my own life to illustrate it. In the beginning of the movie Braveheart, it says that the antagonist, Edward Longshanks, was a pagan. Longshanks was of course an English king in the 13th century. I already knew before watching that Braveheart was considered to be very historically inaccurate, but I was so taken aback by the idea that the medieval King of England was a pagan that for a second there I thought it might have been true and I looked it up. Because it was just so ridiculous, why would even Mel Gibson ever make something like that up? Obviously, everyone would know it was bullshit if it was made up, so maybe it was true. It turned out that it was made up and Longshanks was, of course, a Christian. But it was such an outrageous lie that I believed it, while I might have more easily disbelieved a subtler or more plausible lie. Pizzagate is also ridiculous, so ridiculous that why would anyone ever lie about it?
These tactics have always been around. The internet has given rise to a new tactic. I mentioned before that dishonesty is baked into Internet Culture. If you reveal anything about yourself, you may find that you’ve given the horde just enough information to track you down in real life without meaning to, and you open yourself up to the risk of being harassed in real life. Honesty is vulnerability, therefore honesty is weakness. Duplicity is prized.
The users of 4chan in particular invest heavily in the notion of “deep down inside”. Users of the more notorious boards on 4chan liked to refer to themselves as “hardened motherfuckers” (as if a teenaged white boy who feels good about himself reading ten continuous pages of ethnic slurs is some kind of warrior), and when they did, the context was usually this: “we’re hardened motherfuckers, but even we…” 4chan users liked to mock what they call (sigh) “moralfags” (I’m sorry), and yet most of their prominent harassment campaigns took a moral dimension: those who vandalized the memorial facebook page of a teenager who committed suicide, for example, would claim that they were “trolling”, yet they also claimed that they objected to “glorifying suicide”. Their collective persona, they like to think, is of an asshole with a secret heart of gold. Which raises the question: why hide your heart of gold in the first place? Several reasons: first, they think if they make fewer moral pronouncements, the moral pronouncements they do make will be taken more seriously, and they get the power to carefully portion out basic respect to those who have “earned it” rather than giving it out to everybody on the basis of shared humanity. Secondly, like everyone who meticulously constructs artificial layers of depth for themselves, they do it because they want you to be impressed (on the leftist side, this takes the form of juxtaposing academic Marxist-Leninist terminology with stupid shit like Sailor Moon because they like the shock they imagine you feel at discovering how “smart” they are). Thirdly, and most importantly, being a good person is difficult, it takes investment, and you have to open yourself up to the possibility of failure, that you’ll try to be a good person and fail, and you’ll have to feel guilty and ashamed. The “asshole with a heart of gold” setup, if successful, allows you to have it both ways: all the fun and ease and lack of a filter that comes with being an asshole, but all the plaudits that come with being a good person. It’s perfect if you’re a total coward, because then you don’t have to be brave enough to try to be a good person and you don’t have to be brave enough to deal with the consequences of being an asshole, either. What a win-win!
On the politically incorrect board, as you might well imagine, it’s not about being an “asshole”, it’s about being a racist. Internet Culture types are often amused because they think that we are simply unaware that they are the “furthest thing from racist” and that all the racism they spew is just a big joke.
Personally, I don’t believe in “deep down inside”. You are what you do and say. Why should I give you credit for a generosity of spirit and egalitarian attitude if it only exists in your thoughts? It’s not like I can read your mind. What difference does it make to me? And besides, if you are not racist, then what is it that compels you to do such an uncanny impression of one?
Ah, but it’s just “trolling”! It’s a joke! No, it’s not. Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you this. Just because you make your point with a stupid meme does not make it a joke. If you really believe in “deep down inside”, then ask yourself this: are my true opinions the opposite of this “joke” that I’m making? It’s not a joke if it’s how you really feel. Express your opinions in a joking way, sure, but don’t pretend like they’re not really your opinions, because nobody is fooled. A lot of Trump supporters seem to think it’s a grand old joke that they supported him, but if it’s a joke, does that mean they actually voted for someone else on election day? No. And the ballot box doesn’t care if you think you’re joking or not.
It’s not a “social experiment”, either. Nothing is ever a “social experiment”. Anyone who tells you that they are conducting a “social experiment” and they aren’t a social sciences academic who intends to write up their findings as a paper and submit it to peer review is a liar.
I remember once, in the 6th grade, my class was split up into teams and we were assigned a debate on some irrelevant topic. Before the debate started, we all agreed that the assignment was bullshit and we were all going to not actually care. Then the debate started and every single one of us, started getting heated, suddenly invested in the debate. So let’s allow that it was intended as a joke, or it started as one. It’s not a joke anymore. It’s hard not to take arguments seriously when they’re coming out of your very own mouth. And if you visit the politically incorrect board, there is very little effort to pretend that it’s a joke anymore. They are all serious, and humorless, and the most miserable people on the planet.
The notion of “deep down inside” once soothed 4channers by convincing them that their activities on 4chan would not inhibit their ability to function in real life. But now real life doesn’t matter anymore. The former most notorious forum, dedicated to “bullshit”, maintained the “asshole with a heart of gold” distinction to allow this comforting fiction. The current most notorious forum does nothing of the sort. It is dedicated to unreservedly hating “normies” and society and themselves. And maybe they’re right. General Flynn and his son believe in pizzagate. Breitbart has a direct line to the president-elect. Trump personally thanked Alex Jones for all his hard work.
Do not think that this means that they’re going to be honest with you now. Duplicity is still paramount, and honesty and caring are still weakness. If you can trick someone honest into believing that you care about the same things they care about, now you’ve really won the game. Consider alt-right twitter trolls who claim to be against “political correctness” because they are so utterly dedicated to the idea of free speech and opposed to censorship. They’re so dedicated to the idea of free speech that they make excuses when one of their number purposely sent a flashing video to epileptic reporter Kurt Eichenwald as retribution for writing a negative article about Trump. Consider people like Milo Yiannopoulos, who said he was just very concerned about the possible racism in the portrayal of Leslie Jones’s character in the new Ghostbusters movie, and then later encouraged his mob to flood her Twitter with racist abuse and post revenge porn of her on her website (for which he was finally banned from Twitter). Do not listen to them when they try to tell you what this is “really” about, or how they “really” feel. They’re lying to you. They might be honest with you if they think you’re one of them, but only as honest as they’ll be with themselves.
So what can we do about it? Honestly, I’m not sure. I can’t be the only person who’s noticed that there seems to be very little effort to stop people from being radicalized. No matter whose side you’re on, ISIS or Neo-Nazis or whoever, no one seems to care. There is no widely-spread “how to stop people from being radicalized” article anywhere.
I used the Internet most in my early teens. Different sites were at the center of this culture back then, but it was the same mentality. I found these places funny, but also rather mean. Some of the things I would read would give me a pang of shame. But I kept reading because I had the notion in my head that these pangs of shame were a sign of weakness, and if I was really mature it wouldn’t bother me. I was addicted to using these sites but they didn’t make me happy. Whenever I was finally able to stop using these sites, it was always a massive relief.
If you find yourself spending a lot of time on the Internet and you have this same feeling, pay attention to that feeling. As hard as it may be, try to wean yourself off the Internet. Spend time on other parts of the Internet, watching cartoons or taking shower beer selfies, ones that don’t give you that feeling. Be suspicious if you find yourself enjoying getting your dander up.
If you see a friend or family member who seems different after spending so much time on the Internet, reach out to them before it’s too late. Focus on the fact that they’re being lost to the world, that they’ve changed. Help take them somewhere else. Reacclimate them to the real world.
The community on reddit devoted to hating fat people was widely known as a scourge. They would harass people in real life and they’d go onto other communities about things completely irrelevant, and start a fight about fat people. It was impossible to avoid because these people seemed to dedicate their whole lives to how much they hated fat people. I couldn’t imagine caring so much about anything; I care less about the intactness of my own eyeballs than these people cared about hating fat people (this, incidentally, would have made me “fat on the inside” according to the user base). Everyone knew how annoying it was, but the prevailing wisdom was that, if the forum was banned, all its users would scatter elsewhere, not having a hub to congregate in. So it stayed up. But one day the harassment got too serious to ignore because they started harassing employees of reddit’s image-uploading service. The CEO at the time, Ellen Pao, basically had no choice but to ban them, even though she personally was generally against banning these subreddits on principle. The user base, incensed at being “censored”, threw the mother of all shitfits, which included jaw-dropping amounts of racist and sexist abuse of the CEO, threats to form their own reddit clone where there wouldn’t be so much censorship and reddit would be so lost without them that we’d all be begging for them to come back (naturally, that community is currently a ghost town), etc. etc. They warned us we’d be sorry. But then the dust settled, and they had nowhere to stoke the fires of their own obsessive hatred of fat people. And the constant annoyance of an innocuous conversation turning into a fight about who’s fat, that was gone. Without their echo chamber to keep the fires of rage going, they were gone. It’s a mistake to assume that everyone who is radicalized was always secretly radicalized deep down inside and the Internet just “brought it out”. It’s a mistake to assume once someone is radicalized, they’re going to stay like that. That’s just another justification for letting these echo chambers exist. I believe we can fix it, but we have to be willing to try, and we have to understand.