But of course what we call the alt-right today could never have had any connection to the mainstream and to a new generation of young people if it only came in the form of lengthy treatises on obscure blogs. It was the image- and humor-based culture of the irreverent meme factory of 4chan and later 8chan that gave the alt-right its youthful energy, with its transgression and hacker tactics. The Guy Fawkes mask used in the protests in was a reference to Anonymous, which took its name, leaderless anticelebrity ethic and networked style from the chaotic anonymous style of 4chan.
V for Vendetta, which the Guy Fawkes mask is taken from, and the 'dark age of comic books' influenced the aesthetic sensibilities of this broad online culture. While commentators praised the rejection of the right-left divide among a new wave of Internet-centric protest in the early s, the political rootlessness of this networked, leaderless Internet-centric politics now seems a little less worthy of uncritical celebration. Anonymous activities have over the years leaned incoherently to the libertarian left and right, and everything in between, singling out everyone from Justin Bieber fans to feminists, fascists, cybersecurity specialists, and engaged in the kind of pervert-exposing vigilantism that blue-collar tabloid readers have long been mocked for.
Along the way left-leaning 'moral fags' who had gravitated towards AnonOps IRCs suffered from a degree of state spying and repression during the height of Anonymous's public profile from around to This absence of the more libertarian left-leaning element within chan culture created a vacuum in the image boards that the rightist side of the culture was able to fill with their expert style of anti-PC shock humor memes.
Poole's main influence for the style of the site was inspired by a Something Awful subforum known as the Anime Death Tentacle Rape Whorehouse. It was set up in October and by , it grew to around million page views a month. New users were called newfags and older users oldfags. It became a massively influential and creative forum known for pranks, memes and images that 'cannot be unseen'. The culture of the site was not only deeply and shockingly misogynist, but also self-deprecating in its own self-mockery of nerdish 'beta' male identity.
Cultural touchstones included war-based video games and films like Fight Club and The Matrix. There was no registration or login required, so posts were typically all under the username 'Anonymous'.
This culture of anonymity fostered an environment where the users went to air their darkest thoughts. Weird pornography, in-jokes, nerdish argot, gory images, suicidal, murderous and incestuous thoughts, racism and misogyny were characteristic of the environment created by this strange virtual experiment, but it was mostly funny memes.
Poole has called 4chan a 'meme factory' and it undoubtedly created countless memes that made their way into mainstream Internet-culture.
The most famous early examples of these were probably LOL-cats, a cat-picture based style of image macro, and rickrolling, the use of a link to seemingly serious content that sends its user to a video of Rick Astley singing Never Gonna Give You Up. They got hold of her name and address, harassed her and encouraged her to commit suicide after she made a silly video of herself speaking in gangsta-rap style. Her situation was, unsurprisingly, not improved by her father posting a video in defence of his upset daughter, in which he threatened to call the 'cyberpolice' — in their emotionally underdeveloped way, lack of Internet-culture knowledge is always license on 4chan for any level of cruelty.
They also acted collectively on less sinister pranks like Operation Birthday Boy, when an elderly man posted an online ad saying: 'people wanted for birthday party'. Touched by the lonely old man's appeal, they found his name, address and phone number, and sent him hundreds of birthday cards, orders of cake and strippers.
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A common reference on the alt-right 'kek' started on 4chan and translated to 'lol' in comment boards on the multiplayer videogame World of Warcraft, while Pepe the Frog, originating in Matt Furie's Web comic Boy's Club, epitomizes online in-joke meme humor. Kek is also an ancient Egyptian deity represented as a frog-headed man while 'the Church of Kek' and 'praise Kek' refer to their ironic religion. One of the things that linked the often nihilistic and ironic chan culture to a wider culture of the alt-right orbit was their opposition to political correctness, feminism, multiculturalism, etc.
In the US, one of the early cases of orchestrated attacks against such encroaching women was aimed at Kathy Sierra, a tech blogger and journalist. Sierra had been the keynote speaker at South by Southwest Interactive and her books were top sellers.
The backlash against her was sparked when she supported a call to moderate reader comments, which at the time was seen as undermining the libertarian hacker ethic of absolute Internet freedom, although it has since become standard. Commenters on her blog began harassing and threatening her en mass, making the now routine rape and death threats received by women like Sierra. Personal details about her family and home address were posted online and hateful responses included photoshopped images of her with a noose beside her head, a shooting target pointed at her face and a creepy image of her being gagged with women's underwear.
The personalized backlash against her was so extreme that she felt she had to close down her blog and withdraw from speaking engagements.
When she explained on her blog why she had to step back from public life, writing that she was terrified that her stalkers might go through with their threats, it sparked a whole new wave of geek hatred against her. Andrew Auernheimer aka weev , a now well-known hacker and troll, seems to have been heavily involved in the attacks against Sierra, spreading false information online about her being a battered wife and a former prostitute. In , weev claimed to have hacked into Amazon's system and reclassified books about homosexuality as porn. Once a part of the Occupy movement, he now regularly posts anti-Semitic and anti-gay rants on YouTube, has a swastika tattoo on his chest and was also the self-appointed president of a trolling initiative called the Gay Nigger Association of America.
This was dedicated to opposing popular blogging and other mainstream activities, thought to be destroying authentic Internet-culture. Sierra has commented on how things have progressed: 'What happened to me pales in comparison to what's happening to women online today I thought things would get better.
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