The Art of Trolling: Inside a 4chan Smear Campaign
Last night, the users of 4Chan.org's notorious /b/ message board declared war on the lead singer of an obscure electro-pop band. More than 12 hours later, they're still waging it. This is how the Internet's worst trolls work.
This week, 4Chan's /b/ board launched an Internet gang-up on an 11-year-old girl, Jessi Slaughter, who had been the target of dubious Internet rumors about an underage sex scandal. They posted her real name, phone number, address and social networking information and spearheaded a campaign of Internet and real-life harassment. They made her cry. /b/'s denizens have turned their ire now on 25 year-old Dahvie Vanity, the other half of that very likely made-up scandal. Vanity is the lead singer of the terrible electro-pop MySpace band Blood on the Dance Floor (Sample lyric:"I'll fuck you in the face/and leave a nice taste.") Now, /b/ has sworn to destroy him.
4chan's /b/ message board is ground zero for Internet mischief. Some of their most famous pranks include sending Justin Bieber to North Korea, flooding YouTube with porn and getting 4cha.org's founder, Christopher Poole, voted Time's most influential person.
/b/'s campaign against Dahvie Vanity—dubbed "Operation: The Consequences"—is a good case study in how these often impressive, sometimes awful feats are pulled off. I've been following the trolling operation since it began last night on /b/, watching as it moved from /b/ to chatrooms to the inbox of the Orlando Police Department. Here's how it's unfolded so far:
Sometime last night after 10pm, a /b/ user posted a proposition that the board's users troll the "pedophile" Dahvie Vanity. 4chan was still basking in its earlier harassment of Jessi Slaughter, so users quickly got on board—the thread exploded with suggestions and encouragement accompanied by unrelated pictures of boobs. One user compiled a dossier of Dahvie's personal information—name, date of birth, links to his social networking profiles and articles about him. Someone posted a link to a chatroom. When I entered it, about 44 users were chattering in all caps about how to take Vanity down. (If you typed in lowercase a flurry of users scolded: "CAPS OR GET BANNED.") This is where most of the detailed planning would occur, with users frequently posting to the main /b/ board for reinforcements.
The early plans thrown around were the most technically ambitious, involving hacking into Vanity's MySpace or email accounts. Since users had found Dahvie Vanity's real name, date of birth and home state, the only thing they needed to reset the password on one of his email accounts (which one was unclear) was the answer to his security question: Name of first pet. One person posted the question to Yahoo! Answers, hoping some deeply obsessed fangirl would know the name of Vanity's first cat. Another one impersonated a fan and emailed Dahvie himself: "i just got a new cat and i wanted to name it after a pet you've had because i love you." Then they posted the email:
None of these deception tactics worked. "What happened to the old 4chan where everyone was a hax0r," griped one user. "They're all Tumblr fags now," replied another.
So they decided to launch a more pedestrian attack on Vanity's Internet reputation by Googlebombing him. Googlebombing consists of artificially boosting the number of searches for a term so it shows up in Google Hot Trends. (The origin of the virulent Justin Bieber syphilis rumor.) The phrase in this case was "Dahvie Vanity raped Jessica [redacted]"—Jessica being Jessi Slaughter, 4chan's earlier victim. The bomb was primed with a post on /b/ telling users to type the phrase into Refreshthing, a website which can automatically Google a phrase once every five seconds.
Users also created scores of pages on the crowdsourcing service Yahoo! Answers, asking questions like "Did Dahvie Vanity actually rape a girl?" Hey, just asking!
This afternoon, talk in the chatroom turned to trolling Dahvie In Real Life. IRL trolling is reserved for only /b/'s most hated enemies, but throughout the night, users had decided unequivocally that Dahvie was a serial rapist and a pedophile. They wanted to get him arrested. A couple of users emailed the Orlando police department, pretending to be worried parents who had heard rumors of Vanity molesting underage children. They posted the email:
One user emailed Gurl, an online community for teen girls, telling them that they had been molested by Vanity. Another had the inspired the idea to email Westboro Baptist Church, I guess in the hopes that they'll protest outside his house or something.
And that's basically where things stand as of this posting. 4chan has been having site problems for the last few hours, so Operation: The Consequences is in a holding pattern, unable to summon the full force of 4chan's user base. But the chat room still has 22 users. And this is what they're talking about:
[14:38] anonymousey: damn internet, you scary :/
[14:38] anonymousey: i would never want to be on the reciving end of us
[14:38] anonymousey: i'll just say that much
[14:38] cyahnidde: lol same
[14:38] cyahnidde: we are like...some kind of internet hate machine
This is the chat room. Dare you to troll it.
Update: Chat room: Trolled. Shots: Fired.