How Online Harassment Is Setting The Tone For The 2016 Election

The Establishment
The Establishment
Published in
11 min readMay 26, 2016

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The 2016 primary has been an exhausting affair.

This malaise has many sources: the extremism and childishness of the GOP lineup, the uninspiring vision of a general election matchup between Clinton and Trump, the seeming triumph of prejudice and the politics of wealth. But the connecting factor has been especially draining: the utter vileness of the candidates’ fans online. Through them, the toxicity once confined to debate stages and convention halls has seeped into our daily lives, via Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines. It’s like a tense family Thanksgiving dinner all day every day until November.

Elections have always been nasty, but ordinary people can now encounter that nastiness in an unprecedented number of ways. The ubiquity of social media, which remains an echo chamber of endless screaming, has made an already poisonous election inescapable.

But it’s not just ease of access that makes this election especially bad. It’s also the influence of an unusually toxic online culture, exemplified in targeted harassment campaigns like Gamergate and troll forums like 4chan. This year, that brand of online aggression, once the province of relatively esoteric online cliques, has become a campaign tool. From aggressive Sanders supporters (the so-called “Bernie Bros”), to the numerous 4chan and 8chan posters who’ve risen up to support Trump, to a pro-Clinton PAC reportedly tweeting at critics to “correct” them, online harassment has been stitched into the 2016 campaign like none before it.

And there’s reason to believe this is only a preview for what future campaigns may become.

Trump’s 4chan Trolls

Donald Trump’s supporters offer the most direct political corollary to 4chan and GamerGate culture. Many supporters are explicitly members of 4chan or 8chan, and vice versa. Others use familiar images and tactics, or echo GamerGate’s tendency to incite or condone real-life violence.

The “Le Happy Merchant” meme, an anti-Semitic image beloved of 4chan trolls and GamerGaters, has made many appearances on Trump’s behalf, attacking his ideological opponents as part of a Jewish conspiracy; versions attacking Bernie Sanders for his heritage are quite common as well. 8chan, a…

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The Establishment
The Establishment

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