Federal Investigators are looking into a suspicious post on 4chan that they believe may be connected to the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College on Thursday.
The message, written the night before the shooting, read “Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest.” It was posted on /r9k/ — a message board famous for its stories of social awkwardness and violent disdain for the lives of average people.
As of now, there is no further evidence to suggest that the person who wrote the post and the shooter are the same person.
To say that reading through 4chan on a typical day is unsettling would be an understatement. The responses to Wednesday’s post are no different.
One reader gave advice to the original poster, telling him to bring a knife as a weapon of last resort. Another said he should target an all-girls school.
Surprisingly enough, however, the /r9k/ board, otherwise known as ROBOT9001, was originally conceived as a way to increase the quality of messages on the wildly popular webcomic xkcd. It used a type of auto-moderation that prevented people from posting the same comment multiple times. The creator of xkcd, Randall Munroe, wrote on the webcomic’s blog that he envisioned a kind of “forced originality.”
“I was trying to decide what made a channel consistently enjoyable,” he wrote. “A common factor in my favorite hangouts seemed to be a focus on original and unpredictable content on each line. It didn’t necessarily need to be useful, just interesting. I started trying to think of ways to encourage this.”
4chan eventually moved the idea and software behind ROBOT9000 on to its site. They just added a one.
In reality, it was easy to fool ROBOT9000 and ROBOT9001 into thinking posts were original. You simply had to change the spelling of words, add gibberish at the end of a post or resize or edit photos slightly to get through the filter.
The result was a strange subculture that was forced to mutate over time.
Even after the auto-moderation function was disabled, some of the terminology, such as "normie" (normal person) and "Chad" (a smart, attractive and confident man), stuck. By then, the board was known for being a place where social recluses, or “robots,” they call themselves, revel in their isolation.
After Thursday’s shooting, 4chan members celebrated. According to Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Broderick, they were also trying to complicate the investigation.
— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) October 1, 2015
Shortly after the shooting, every post on 4chan had party hats. Many thought it was to celebrate the shooting, but it was actually because the site was celebrating its 12th year online.
— Jimmy Russells (@JimmyRussells5) October 1, 2015