4chan struck again this week when something was stolen from Shia LaBeouf’s He Will Not Divide Us art installation by members of the infamous message board.
To be specific, the flag with the words “He Will Not Divide Us” was stolen from a hidden location in Tennesee and replaced with, of all things, a “Make America Great Again” hat and a pro-Trump T-shirt.
The stolen flag incident marks just another conflict in what has come to be known as the “Great Meme War,” an altercation between the forces of messaging board 4chan and pretty much anyone they dislike. Shia LaBeouf’s He Will Not Divide Us art installation has been a focal point of the war since the actor started the project.
The goal of the He Will Not Divide Us art installation originally featured a wall with the phrase “He Will Not Divide Us” printed on it and live-streamed 24/7 so members of the movement could visit the site and chime in with their support. The site was initially located outside of the Museum of the Moving Image in New York but later was moved after trolls began harassing the location. Even after moving across the country to New Mexico, the He Will Not Divide Us project was forced to shut down once again due to issues with 4chan members trolling the site.
LaBeouf finally chose to move the installation to an undisclosed location (at the time), changing the work into a flag streamed live. However, just a couple days after the move, 4chan users struck once again, and the flag was stolen.
So how did 4chan find and steal the He Will Not Divide Us flag?
It turns out, Shia made one mistake in setting up the camera on the soon-to-be-stolen flag. It was such a simple thing that normal people would never have noticed, but the 4chan trolls sprung into action when they realized the camera was aimed in part at the sky.
According to various users on 4chan, members of the board used jet contrails, flight paths, and astronomy to determine the general location of the He Will Not Divide Us flag installation. After narrowing down the location to somewhere in Tennesee, 4chan sleuths drove around the area honking their horns to see if the sound would show up on the live stream.
And as it turns out, they were successful almost immediately, as 4chan found the flag site less than a couple days after it went live. The trolls replaced the stolen flag with the hat and T-shirt mentioned earlier.
Besides the obvious issues with theft and harassment, 4chan’s actions in this incident are merely a part of what has become known to many who study the impact of social media in society as the “Great Meme War.”
So what is the “Great Meme War?”
The explanation is complicated, requiring both definitions and a bit of historical digging.
According to Merriam-Webster, a meme is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” and as defined by Richard Dawkins, “Memes (discrete units of knowledge, gossip, jokes and so on) are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes.”
4chan is a messaging board originally started back in 2003 to be a discussion platform for anime (Japanese animation). Using a Japanese style messaging board system, 4chan became immensely popular, evolving constantly throughout the following years until it became known as one of the darker corners of the normal Internet, excluding the Deep Web.
One of the first instances of 4chan actually participating in a real-world event was when they protested the removal of a Scientology video featuring Tom Cruise.
Racism, homophobia, alt-right, and neo-Nazi concepts and posts are common on the board, but the true nature of 4chan is the home of memes. While the concept of memes has been around since the 1970s, it took years for the idea to become a mainstream reality. 4chan is responsible for the rise of memes as an influential medium in social media.
The famous and, oddly enough, harmless LOLcats memes originated from 4chan. Politico reports that 4chan users were responsible for popularizing the concept of the “Trump Train,” a slogan the political campaign and its mainstream supporters eventually adopted for their own.
Moving back to the “Great Meme War,” the description is apt due to the influence 4chan memes (both images and text) had during and after the election. 4chan is responsible for the infamous Pizzagate fake news scandal, and as a result, the rise in popularity of the phrase “fake news” frequently used by the Trump administration.
Pizzagate nearly had deadly consequences when an individual, not realizing the source of the meme, used an assault rifle to attack what he believed was a child sex ring operated out of a D.C. area pizza place.
The stolen flag from the He Will Not Divide Us installation is far from the first incident where 4chan members attacked the real world. 4chan originating memes were constant throughout the election cycle, and more importantly, 4chan users were behind much of the harassment of non-Trump supporters.
Fake Twitter, Reddit, and other social media accounts bombarded the world with pro-Trump and anti-Hillary rhetoric, at times forcing major news outlets to cover stories originating from 4chan.
Pepe the Frog is a fairly well-known meme associated almost entirely with 4chan. Pepe is the mascot of the site, and after being doctored up by 4chan users with various far-right and Nazi paraphernalia, and was eventually labeled a symbol of hate by the Anti-Defamation League in September of 2016.
The stolen He Will Not Divide Us flag is only part of the latest moves 4chan and its associates have started. 4chan users are setting up shop in political maneuvers far more world-changing than people could suspect.
After what they believe was a resounding success in influencing the American election for Trump, some of the more activist 4channers are working to influence elections in France and Germany for populist candidates with agendas similar to Trump.
Do you think 4chan influences on the Election?— 4chan (@4chan) November 1, 2016
In the case of the upcoming French election in April, the 4chan group behind the efforts to influence the election in favor of the Le Penn candidate is highly organized with numerous attack aspects in place. Everything from meme generators to contact with locals who understand the specifics of meme usage in the targeted country are grouped together with a partial purpose of ensuring non-locals can effectively engage the audience from a believable standpoint.
Fake accounts are encouraged (often called sock-puppet) to better reach a plethora of different social media accounts and avenues. The fake accounts allow a handful of people to appear to be dozens or more personas interacting in favor of the supported candidate.
The stolen flag from He Will Not Divide Us is only one of the targets in the art world 4chan has aimed for. The recent addition of a statue of a young girl standing in front of the famous Charging Bull installation on Wall Street has become the latest art victim of 4chan. So far, photos of the girl’s statue have been posted on 4chan wearing a MAGA hat, and according to Heat Street, “other users suggested making the little girl wear a burkha, permanently attaching a MAGA hat to her head, or attaching a strap-on dildo around her waist.”
So what are your thoughts on the stolen flag from He Will Not Divide Us? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!