In the hours between the shooting spree at Umpqua Community College and the moment news networks were able to name Chris Harper Mercer as the alleged gunman, crowds on social media clamored for a name to fill the informational void. 4chan gave them two, both of whom turned out to be alive, and neither of whom has been named by authorities in connection with the tragedy. For a couple of hours, though, mobs on Twitter and Facebook believed these were the guys, and openly speculated about what drove them to do it.
The confusion started with a couple of troubling posts on /r9k/, a.k.a. ROBOT9001. It’s the 4chan messageboard where dudes who identify as “beta” males lament that they’ve been dealt an unfair hand by a world where women have all the power and only “alpha” bad boys and assholes ever win.
Posters on the board are locked in an ongoing debate about who can be one of them— a “robot.” Can white guys be robots, despite their privilege? Can black guys? Women love them! It goes on and on. Only one rule really seems to be agreed upon: “If you have no friends and no gf you are a robot.”
The natural nemesis of a robot is his polar opposite, the “normie”: a socially adept “normal” guy who, although he is boring, has no trouble attracting women. He easily navigates the same society that robots experience as fucked-up and unfair. Robots look upon normies with a mixture of envy and hatred, and they can be hostile to anyone displaying normie characteristics on the board.
That’s the context for this screengrab, which you may have seen attributed to Chris Harper Mercer (although the FBI has confirmed they’re investigating it, no official source has linked it to Mercer directly):
“Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest. happening thread will be posted tomorrow morning,” the anonymous poster wrote the night before the UCC shooting.
“Is beta uprising finally going down?” someone else responded, referring to the robots’ shared fantasy of a violent retaliation against the normies, in the vein of California mass shooter Elliot Rodger. It now seems that a “beta uprising” wasn’t part of the shooter’s motivation, but in the hours after the shooting, the media took it and ran with it.
Tabloids like the U.K.’s Mirror even cited a separate /r9k/ thread that wished everyone “an enjoyable Elliot Rodger day” and threatened, “Personally I will mark this day’s celebration of our Hero’s deeds by announcing that I have an elaborate plan...Needless to say; it shall be glorious. The horrible kind of normies will pay for their misdeeds, and the world will be bettered.”
The Mirror didn’t mention that the thread was from May of this year, on the first anniversary of Rodger’s shooting spree. There was nothing in particular to tie it to this week’s tragedy.
But, with the 4chan meme spreading on social media and getting mentions on national news reports, it appears trolls on /r9k/ took the opportunity to frame some of the board’s best-known posters for the shooting, just for the lulz. Or top keks, or whatever they’re calling fun these days.
Although 4chan is mostly anonymous, some prominent users drop that anonymity in favor of tripcodes that identify their posts. One well-known “tripfag” is Toby “Eggman” Reynolds, who became a meme because of his funny-looking head, and started making YouTube videos for his robot audience. He was basically in on the joke, and even posted more photos of himself to feed his fans.
“Eggman appreciation threads” were not unusual:
But, as Eggman explained in a video posted in August, he got sick of the fame at one point, and dropped his tripcode. Unfortunately, that only led to a bunch of trolls pretending to be him. He reckoned at the time that he’d had “about all that I can take of r9k. I’ve had enough of that fuckin’ board.”
In general, Eggman’s videos are about his life: his loneliness, his struggle to find a job after dropping out of college, and his views about women vis. robots and normies. The most recent one, posted Wednesday, announced he was in Seattle and asked if anyone wanted to meet up.
This is important because it potentially explains why the “don’t go to school if you’re in the northwest” post was made Wednesday in the first place: threats like that aren’t exactly unique in an environment where people casually discuss the “beta uprising” and approvingly mark Elliott Rodger Day, but they’re typically just trolling with no intention behind them. Knowing that Eggman was in Seattle that day made it easy to troll him.
And when a real shooting went down, that made it easier still. There were plenty of jokes on 4chan about Eggman finally losing it and being behind the attack at UCC, and amateur investigators picked up on them and took them at least semi-seriously.
This post, from Liberty News (whatever that is), was running rampant on social media Thursday:
“Anonymous 4chan users who earlier exposed a forum discussion where they say the Oregon campus shooter allegedly warned what he planned to do are now saying they know who he is. The group is spreading the user’s name and image on social media.
They allege his name is Toby Reynolds and associate him with the picture above. The user used screen name “eggman” in the forum.
While none of this is confirmed by government officials at this time, CNN and Fox News are referring to the discussion we posted screenshots of and suggesting it very well could be the real deal.”
As we now know, it was not the real deal. But it spread far enough and fast enough that people on Facebook and Twitter were discussing Reynolds’ supposed motivations and comparing him to Elliot Rodger. He eventually had to contact NBC to confirm that he was alive and not the shooter:
The so called "Egg Man" or person who 4chan and other listed as the Oregon shooter is NOT him. He is alive and has communicated to NBC.— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) October 1, 2015
The Liberty News post has since been updated to remove Eggman’s photo, but the headline (“BREAKING: Is this the Oregon shooter? 4chan forum says his name is Toby Reynolds”) remains the same, and these are the top Google results for Reynolds’ name as of Friday afternoon:
Hours before a suspect was officially named, right-wing conspiracy theorists had already decided the perpetrator of the Umpqua shooting was a Muslim. The release of his name was being delayed, they speculated, so that Muslim King-President Hussein Obummer would have time to wipe all of the Muslim shooter’s social media profiles and disguise his ties to radical Islam.
Obummer got the local Police don't Release the name or FBI will handle this now Cover Up time?Would not be good Bcoz the shooter it a Muslim— Mc DeLLaware-inc™ (@McDeLLaware) October 2, 2015
My guess: shooter is a Muslim and pc Oregon won't release name to protect Muslims. If the killer was a white Christian, we'd know who he is.— Barbara4422 (@Barbara4422) October 2, 2015
The only reason authorities would withhold the name of the shooter is if Obama instructed them to do so bc shooter was muslim.— Mike C. (@MJCFlorida77) October 2, 2015
@oreillyfactor my theory is that the shooter was a Muslim that's why they aren't releasing his name as of yet... Just my thought— Leonard Bukowski (@Lenny7118) October 2, 2015
Look, we can safely assume the #shooter was muslim. His name is being hidden by obama and the liberal mayor kate brown.— Rizzard Core (@rizzardcore) October 1, 2015
This outcry for a perp with a Muslim-sounding name ended up screwing over another infamous 4chan poster, Plork, whose real name is apparently Shiv Sharma.
According to some anons, Plork sometimes posted on /r9k/ espousing the unpopular position that “white guys can’t be robots”—which most robots seem to reject as too “Tumblr,” or too “social justice warrior.” Plork has been getting trolled on 4chan’s videogames and business boards since at least March, when an anonymous poster doxed his name, phone number, and full address. His photo has been all over the board, and he’s been the subject of a few memes, mostly having to do with the Metal Gear series of games.
Here’s a joke about Plork hanging out with Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima:
Plork also tends to get photoshopped to look like Solid Snake. You get the idea. It’s mostly harmless, laid-back trolling.
On Thursday, though, anons began trolling him by repeatedly starting threads in /r9k/ with his photo and “SHOOTER IDENTIFIED AS SHIV SHARMA.”
Those threads made their way to Twitter—either through those same anons or through outsiders whose eyes were on /r9k/ because of the alleged shooting threat and the Eggman rumors—and created an explosive reaction with the conservatives on the hunt for a Muslim-sounding person to blame.
Never mind that “Shiv Sharma” is a common Indian name that’s more likely to be Hindu than Muslim. Also never mind that guessing someone’s religion based on their name alone is a pernicious form of jumping to conclusions. In the judgment of the court of Extremist Twitter, Plork was a suspect.
Shiv Sharma is his name from what I've read & he's Muslim. We'll see, if true, how WH spins it. https://t.co/1FSNREhsu2— Candio (@MissCandio) October 1, 2015
@SenatorRonbo Seeing a lot of this name..... Shiv Sharma, a Muslim that singled out Christians.— Infidel Mike (@glockster23) October 2, 2015
Unfortunately, not even the release of Chris Harper Mercer’s name has fully cleared Sharma.
Oregon's Shooter. Name: Chris Harper. (AKA) Shiv Sharma. A Muslim. (aka means also known as) Did Obama order police to not release name? DC.— Donald Carter (@OneBigAssMistak) October 2, 2015
Oh, for fuck’s sake. The photo of him that was spreading on Twitter even had the tiny birthday hat that 4chan automatically added to all posts during its 12th anniversary Thursday.
On /r9k/, the SHOOTER NAMED AS SHIV SHARMA threads were declared a success.
“That’s probably the best trolling someone can accomplish...” one robot wrote, “memeify your friend as a mass shooter.”
I contacted Plork Thursday night via the phone number and email address that 4chan had leaked back in March, and he confirmed that he’d been the victim of a hoax.
“just some butthurt faggots who i blocked raging out,” he told me over Gchat, “hoping that someone will dox them for me.”
He hadn’t been contacted by any authorities, he said, and wasn’t particularly worried.
“like i said... some faggots who i blocked are just having another case of autism.”
When I asked him about the rumors spreading on Twitter, he seemed to be unaware of them. He asked for a link, so I sent him the search results for his name.
Before I even had time to ask for his reaction, he’d signed off.