Post-Truth Protest: How 4chan Cooked Up the Pizzagate Bullshit

Marc Tuters, Emilija Jokubauskaité, Daniel Bach

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

On 4 December 2016, a man entered a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor armed with an AR-15 assault rifle in an attempt to save the victims of an alleged satanic pedophilia ring run by prominent members of the Democratic Party. While the story had already been discredited (LaCapria), at the time of the incident, nearly half of Trump voters were found to give a measure of credence to the same rumors that had apparently inspired the gunman (Frankovic). Was we will discuss here, the bizarre conspiracy theory known as "Pizzagate" had in fact originated a month earlier on 4chan/pol/, a message forum whose very raison d’être is to protest against “political correctness” of the liberal establishment, and which had recently become a hub for “loose coordination” amongst members the insurgent US ‘alt-right’ movement (Hawley 48). Over a period of 25 hours beginning on 3 November 2016, contributors to the /pol/ forum combed through a cache of private e-mails belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, obtained by Russian hackers (Franceschi-Bicchierai) and leaked by Julian Assange (Wikileaks). In this short time period contributors to the forum thus constructed the basic elements of a narrative that would be amplified by a newly formed “right-wing media network”, in which the “repetition, variation, and circulation” of “repeated falsehoods” may be understood as an “important driver towards a ‘post-truth’ world” (Benkler et al). Heavily promoted by a new class of right-wing pundits on Twitter (Wendling), the case of Pizzagate prompts us to reconsider the presumed progressive valence of social media protest (Zuckerman).

While there is literature, both popular and academic, on earlier protest movements associated with 4chan (Stryker; Olson; Coleman; Phillips), there is still a relative paucity of empirical research into the newer forms of alt-right collective action that have emerged from 4chan. And while there have been journalistic exposés tracing the dissemination of the Pizzagate rumors across social media as well as deconstructing its bizarre narrative (Fisher et al.; Aisch; Robb), as of yet there has been no rigorous analysis of the provenance of this particular story. This article thus provides an empirical study of how the Pizzagate conspiracy theory developed out of a particular set of collective action techniques that were in turn shaped by the material affordances of 4chan’s most active message board, the notorious and highly offensive /pol/.
Translated title of the contributionPostfaktuel Protest: Hvordan 4chan kom op med Pizzagate
Original languageEnglish
JournalM/C Journal
Volume21
Issue number3
ISSN1441-2616
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2018

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