The Internet platform 4chan is considered a reservoir for right-wing and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. A number of terrorists, such as the Buffalo attacker, also became radicalized here. Despite this, 4chan does little to combat racist content.
After the racially motivated attack in Buffalo, USA, the investigative authorities are working on the murder cases. On Saturday, an 18-year-old opened fire in a supermarket in a neighborhood mostly populated by African Americans. Ten people were killed and three others injured. Eleven victims were black. Although the assassin streamed his actions on the Twitch video platform, he radicalized himself in the forums of another portal: 4chan. Both services are now again under criticism.
The police confirmed that the authorities assume a racist motive for the attacker. This can be traced back to a 180-page manifesto by the perpetrator on the 4chan internet platform. Large parts of the text, which is filled with anti-Semitic and racist conspiracy theories, are based on the lines of other extremists. These too had published their fantasies in far-right forums on 4chan. The US Department of Justice is currently considering whether to classify him as a hate crime in addition to the murder charges.
In the manifesto, the assassin referred to the so-called “Great Replacement” theory. According to this conspiracy theory, a population exchange should take place through an open migration policy and high birth rates among African Americans.
Not only on 4chan, the theory is becoming more and more popular. The right-wing conservative mainstream has also embraced the conspiracy theory narrative. Both the neo-Nazi organization Patriot Front and Fox News host Tucker Carlson have repeatedly referred to the idea. Even Republican candidate for senatorship in Ohio, JD Vance, has repeatedly raised the theory of a large exchange.
Platforms have great influence on US politics
The 4chan platform has become an influential force in US politics. Among other things, she helped the conspiracy theory movement Qanon to become known around the world. The storming of the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters on January 6, 2021 was also organized here.
4chan was founded in 2003 and claims to have more than 22 million users a month. About half of them are said to reside in the United States. The platform consists of forums that are unmoderated and can be used anonymously. Various topics such as video games, memes and anime, but also right-wing extremist and racist theories are discussed here. While other tech companies like Twitter and Facebook are at least trying to uphold their own terms and conditions, almost anything is possible with 4chan. Although the platform officially condemns right-wing content, terrorists and racist assassins are repeatedly celebrated here as heroes.
Buffalo Assassin used 4chan regularly
Just a month ago, a 23-year-old Washington D.C. the video recordings of his actions on 4chan and posted messages and updates in an appropriate forum until his suicide. According to the family of the Buffalo assassin, the 18-year-old is said to have radicalized himself on the site during the first lockdowns of the corona pandemic.
This is confirmed by the perpetrator’s chat history, which is available to the “Guardian”. There the assassin states that he was active on 4chan several times a day. Only in its forums, especially those dealing with fascist and nationalist ideologies, would he have received true news.
His manifesto was largely adopted from that of another assassin: Branton T. He shot 51 mosque visitors in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. According to US government information, T. was also a regular user of 4chan and its counterpart “8chan”. His manifesto was again largely copied from Anders Brevik. The assassin murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011 for racist and anti-immigrant motives.
Social networks are under criticism
After the Buffalo assassination, the racist killings on 4chan were rarely condemned. Instead, many users shared tips on which pages the original recordings could actually be found, copied and uploaded again. While only around 20 viewers watched the murders in the Twitch stream, it can be assumed that innumerable copies of the video are now circulating on the Internet. The live stream of the racist murders in Christchurch is an indication. According to Facebook, the company had to delete about 1.5 million copies of the stream in the first 24 hours after this act.
How many copies of the recordings from Buffalo are circulating on the Internet is not yet known. According to a New York Times report, a copy on the Streamable website had over three million views before it was removed. The streaming platform Twitch announced a few days ago that the stream had been stopped two minutes after the violence began.
The racist killings in Buffalo have reignited a debate in the US about the responsibility of social networks for their content. 4chan in particular has been shown to have contributed to the radicalization of young men several times in the past. The racist attacks of recent months and years tragically suggest how easily racist assassins and terrorists can emerge from these forums. The portal’s lax handling of its content and the reactions to the Buffalo murders leave little hope for improvement.
Sources: Guardian, New York Times, CNN, Tagesschau