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WTF is happening to America: Internet trolls troll on /pol/ for the LOLs

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In part two of “WTF is Happening to America,” we learned about LARPing, the Antifa and this new uprising on the right called the Proud Boys. The article suggested that a process of radicalization drove people to participate in the clashes happening on many college campuses over free speech. However, there is another element to this story. It begins on the internet.

A discussion board known as 4chan plays a huge role in these developing events. A discussion on 4chan known as /pol/, Politically Incorrect is one of the top threads on the site. According to the sticky post, a post that always appear in front of normal threads, the “board is for the discussion of news, world events, political issues, and other related topics.”

The post goes on to state that “the variety of threads allowed here are very flexible and we believe in freedom of speech, but we expect a high level of discourse befitting of the board. Attempts to disrupt the board will not be tolerated, nor will calls to disrupt other boards and sites.” However, this discourse, this debate, often turns into a form of conversation known as “trolling.”

Symbols known as “memes” have played a huge role in trolling. According to Saussure’s theory of semiotics, symbols are any code that contains ideas. And sometimes these symbols carry significant meaning. For example, Pepe the Frog. Pepe the Frog was originally a symbol meant to represent sadness, he was just the sad frog meme. However, this sad frog morphed into something else as 4Chan users appropriated the image and used it to agitate people by turning Pepe into a Nazi type figure.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Pepe was stolen by trolls who “delight in creating memes and imagery.” Donald Trump, Jr re-posted a meme with the Trump associates and Pepe on his Instagram feed with the note that a friend had sent him the picture. “Apparently I made the cut as one of the Deplorables😂😂😂 All kidding aside I am honored to be grouped with the hard working men and women of this great nation that have supported @realdonaldtrump,“ he said.

Another significant symbol that went viral via 4Chan is the “KEK” flag. According to Know Your Meme, the KEK flag originally was suggested for various imaginary geographic locations. Sometime during late 2015, a flag with the filename “kekistan.jpg” was posted on 4chan to the /int/, international board. A year later, a thread regarding buying an island in the Caribbean was submitted to /pol/, where several users felt that the island should be named “Kekistan.” Then, at a recent free speech rally which took place in Boston May 13, the Kekistan flag was carried by members of the alt-right while marching through the streets.

The connection between 4Chan and counter culture is strong. The connection between 4Chan and trolling is even stronger. But the connection between trolling and the election is not so funny, even though 4Chan users often say they “do it for the LULZ,” meaning they troll for the LOLs.

While many local fisherman think of trolling is as the way they might fish, on the internet it is the deliberate act of making offensive or provocative online posts with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response. Something 4chan is really good at, but they’re not the only ones.

According to British digital newspaper The Independent, owned by Russian oligarch (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. Alexander Lebedev (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site., Russia hired 1,000 internet trolls to post fake news online. In this scenario, Russians were “working out of a facility in Russia, in effect taking over a series of computers which are then called botnets, that can then generate news down to specific areas,” The Independent reported. The Russia fake news trolling was also covered in an intelligence report on Russian interference with the 2016 elections, according to the New York Times “Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking” article.

These responses can spill over onto the streets, possibly to the point of affecting our political system.

It may be fun to troll. It may gratify somehow, someway. Images have meanings, often appropriated. Sadly, those images and 4chan already have their place in Umpqua Community College’s history…