When I was a wide-eyed 19 year-old sophomore at the University of Hull in 2009, I had a close friend and housemate whom we shall call ‘Harry.’ Despite the wide cultural gap between this privileged Nigerian international student and the ‘third culture’ child of middle-class Chinese-Norwegian parents who spoke in an American accent, we bonded over our mutual love for girls, videogames, Chinese cuisine, internet culture and anime. Especially anime.

The trouble with Harry was that while my interest in internet culture was more of the “get into arguments with strangers on Facebook comment sections” type, he had an obsession with this obscure website called 4Chan. Harry was always on 4Chan getting into fights, joining DDOS attack teams and generally doing this thing he called shitposting. I found 4Chan and its culture weird and a bit repulsive because of its distinct whiff of racism and distilled teenage insecurity, so on this one thing we never saw eye to eye.

Ten years since my introduction to ‘Chan culture’, it has made its most public statement yet, with news that an Australian white supremacist who carried out a terror attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, livestreamed the attack on Facebook and posted advance notice about it on 8Chan, a sister website to 4Chan. His last few words before murdering at least 49 people were

Remember lads, subscribe to PewDiePie.

“Vanilla Bigotry” or How to Groom Potential Terrorists

Felix Kjellberg, alias PewDiePie is not the name you would normally link to a terrorist attack or extremist behaviour of any kind because on the surface, he is pure vanilla. A university dropout turned YouTube sensation, Kjellberg makes millions of dollars annually in ad revenue from his heavily subscribed channel, which has hosted personalities like Elon Musk and Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland.

To understand what a mass murderer and this guy could possibly have in common, it would help to put a few things in perspective. First of all, Kjellberg’s 89 million+ YouTube subscribers are overwhelmingly young, male and white. Starting out as an English-speaking in-play videogame commentator, he has morphed into a bona fide leader of a young, attentive and fiercely loyal online community the size of Germany.

This kind of reach and influence makes him the perfect tool to reach the demographic of socially awkward, academically average, disaffected young males who are disproportionately represented in extremist activity all around the world. His platform is especially desirable to extremists because social and technological change over the past few decades has made it unfeasible to recruit young men by proselytizing on street corners like the National Front in the UK or the KKK in the U.S. once did.

Unvarnished bigotry is no longer socially acceptable, and the preponderance of information available on the internet means it is no longer possible to put certain information out without being challenged. Western far right extremists and recruiters have been forced to change tactics, switching from definite statements like “I hate Jews and Blacks,” to faux ironic references to “shitskins” and “small hats” among others.

When challenged, they immediately label such comments as “ironic” and “parody,” in what has become a recurring tactic of the insurgent far right across the western world. Personalities like PewDiePie are crucial to this incremental and insidious whitewashing and normalisation of what the world would otherwise recognise as dangerous behaviour.

Bite-Sized Cruelty: PewDiePie’s Success and LOL Culture

The word “terrorism” is generally conflated with huge, visually spectacular events like the September 11 attacks in New York or the Pan Am flight bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. In reality, the dictionary definition of terrorism, i.e the use of terror to achieve a political goal does not specify how large or noticeable an event has to be to be classified as a terror attack.

In line with the growth of PewDiePie and other YouTube shock jock merchants like KSI, Chan culture has spawned an entire range of violent subcultures which have gone almost completely unnoticed because they were online.

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