Since early last year politicians and the mainstream media have covered the “Russian Narrative” to explain everything from the rise of western nationalism to Hillary Clinton’s defeat on election night–the “Russian Narrative” being the theory that Russian hackers used bots and their technical abilities to influence American politics.
By hacking e-mails, rigging voting machines, and brigading websites, Russia tampered with our election. This led directly to Donald Trump becoming president. Similar accusations surfaced around Brexit, and now in the French election. Only days before the French were set to vote, a massive e-mail dump from presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign surface online. It echoes the situation with Hillary Clinton and John Podesta’s leaked e-mails.
This caused French authorities to order a media-blackout and threaten anyone in France tweeting about the leak, or any journalists reporting on it, with a reminder that such activity is illegal. Fingers immediately pointed to Russia as being responsible for the hack. The leak threatened the front-runner candidate through accusations of drug abuse and a secret offshore bank account being revealed in the e-mails. Of course, French media and citizens cannot report on or discuss the leak, only adding to the confusion and frustration surrounding it.
But was Russia responsible?
As incredible as it may sound, a fringe internet site originally designed for anonymous discussion of Japanese anime might be responsible for the political confusion. The documents from the Macron campaign leak were posted there first. The site is called 4Chan and it is an image board, similar to a social media site, where users can post topics and have discussions.
Unlike most social media, there are no profiles or pages linking users to their posts so all discussion is anonymous. This enables users to make outrageous claims without having their comments traced back to them–or, in the case of hacked documents, allows users to post such items without fear of being tracked down. The atmosphere on 4Chan is thus one that promotes mischief–and 4Chan has pulled off some pretty impressive pranks.
They discovered the secret location of Shia LaBeouf’s “He Will Not Divide Us” flag and Amy Schumer blames them for the poor rating on her Netflix special.
4Chan is not well understood by people who don’t use it, and probably not very well by people who do. 4Chan hit notoriety in the media when it was incorrectly identified as a single person, “the hacker known as 4Chan.” This was during a celebrity nude photo leak that was posted on 4Chan by a hacker, but the news anchor misidentified the name of the website as the hacker’s name.
This story also illustrates how many of 4Chan’s antics can be mean-spirited. The New York Times pointed out in their story about the Macron campaign leak how racist, anti-semitic, and far-right discussions can be found on the site. What is seen as unacceptable in the mainstream is simply posted; thus is the condition of anonymity.
The New York Times article points out how these far-right trolls–most of them, America based–got a hold of the leaked documents from Macron’s campaign and then engaged in a coordinated Tweet-storm that resulted in #MacronLeaks trending on Twitter, meaning that more people–just regular Twitter users, not people from 4Chan–saw the Tweets and began reading about the leaked e-mails.
Analysts called this “increasingly coordinated digital efforts by far-right activists.” The origin of the hacked e-mails is unknown. Because of the anonymity of the site, it could have been a Russian. But The New York Times explains how public perception was influenced by anonymous internet users–most of them, American.
[Featured Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]