Learning With: ‘One Dead in Synagogue Shooting Near San Diego; Officials Call It Hate Crime’

Learning With: ‘One Dead in Synagogue Shooting Near San Diego; Officials Call It Hate Crime’

5. What other acts of hatred does the author of the manifesto claim to have committed?

Finally, tell us more about what you think:

The author of the related Opinion essay “Mass Shootings Have Become a Sickening Meme” refers to a message posted before the shootings by an 8chan user identifying himself by the same name as the suspect in the attack. The message is “strikingly similar to the 8chan post left by the man accused of shooting up a mosque in New Zealand before he killed 49 worshipers in March.” He continues:

As in New Zealand, the suspected Poway shooter appeared eager to win approval for his act of violence. In his post, the synagogue shooter cites the 8chan message board for indoctrinating him, urging others to take similar action. His manifesto not only refers to the online postings of the New Zealand shooting and of the man who killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, but seems almost cribbed from past white nationalist rants.

Do you think 8chan has a responsibility to police the content posted by its users? Why or why not? Do you think the 8chan community has any such similar responsibility? Explain.

The Opinion essay also states:

Both white nationalist violence and mass shootings have long histories in America, yet the copycat nature of the recent sprees feels different — specifically, in the way they hail a very niche, very targeted audience, attempting to delight fellow extremists. As much as they’re meant to terrorize, these attacks seem designed to embolden the most unstable members of their community. Though these men are lone gunmen, they’re not alone — like the New Zealand attack, the Poway shooter’s actions were cheered on by an online audience of anonymous trolls. One of the first responses to the 8chan post suspected to be from the gunman was a user imploring, “get a high score.”

Perhaps most disturbing is the subtle iteration of the shooters’ posts. As is common on online message boards, they vie for eyeballs by attempting to outdo previous posts, constantly pushing the line of acceptable behavior to new extremes.

That’s not to suggest that the 8chan or message board culture is solely to blame for such horrific acts of violence. The medium by which a shooter is radicalized is only one component of a long path to violence, and mass shootings and anti-Semitic violence have a long, dark legacy.

And yet, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore how online hatred and message board screeds are bleeding into the physical world — and how social platforms can act as an accelerant for terroristic behavior. The internet, it seems, has imprinted itself on modern hate crimes, giving its most unstable residents a theater for unspeakable acts — and an amplification system for an ideology of white supremacy that only recently was relegated to the shadows.

Do you think online communities have the power to “embolden” people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do, whether it’s committing murder or anything else? Explain.

What, if anything, should be done about online communities devoted to or frequented by users who harbor extremist beliefs?