Will an Apparent Plan To Link the Social Image Site 9Gag to the Colorado Dark Knight Shooting Backfire?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 20 2012 12:19 PM

Will an Apparent Plan To Link the Social Image Site 9Gag to the Colorado Dark Knight Shooting Backfire?

This morning, amid reports of the terrible shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado, a rumor began to spread: that the perpetrator may have posted his plans to—and been encouraged by users of—the social image site 9gag.

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

But there seems to be no evidence to support this theory. It’s probably just another shot in the ongoing war between 9gag and the infamous website 4chan, as Mashable and researcher Whitney Phillips point out. But 4chan may come to regret this.

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On a YouTube video showing the chaos outside the theater, for instance, dozens of the early comments (warning: page may take a while to load) place blame on 9gag, saying things like, “I am a normal 9gag user, I saw a post that was taking about the aurora theater then the kid was going to kill them and then himself, and 9gag cheered him on....” The comments peter out quickly, suggesting that lots of people invaded the page at once to leave similar messages, then got bored or decided their work was done.

Many of the users spreading the 9gag/shooting connection link to this image, which, in 9gag fashion, contains text overlaid on a photograph, saying, “Tomorrow I will kill everyone during the new Batman premiere in Colorado people will die for the glory of le 9gag army !!!” Not only does it contain the details of the plan, but it offers a motive: to celebrate 9gag. Hammering the point home: The screenshot suggests that it was uploaded by someone with the username 9gagftw (that’s “9gag for the win”). The screengrab suggests that the image was “appreciated” (the 9gag version of “liked”) more than 15,000 times, yet there seems to be no remnant of it online, besides that single screengrab.

As Adrian Chen notes on Gawker, there is a user by the name of 9gagftw, but his past posts don’t include the threatening image. (Some are, however, not safe for work.) Several of the rumors claim that the shooter’s 9gag handle was JamesHolmes154, JamesHolmes124, or some other version of JamesHolmes with three numbers. These posts seemingly surfaced after police announced that the suspect’s name is 24-year-old James Holmes, but the person who doctored the threat didn’t update it to change the handle.

According to ABC News, the suspect Holmes was previously enrolled at the University of Colorado Medical Center, but he dropped out last month.

If 4chan did indeed plot to take down 9gag by linking it to the shooting, the plan may backfire: 9gag’s popularity has been on the rise, as Liz Gannes wrote on AllThingsD in April, but it has remained something of a niche site, known mostly among adolescent users. Attaching 9gag’s name to a huge story will only bring it more traffic and likely attract new users.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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