US federal law enforcement officials are analysing a suspicious thread posted on controversial anonymous imageboard website 4chan that they believe is linked to the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on 1 October.
Gunman Chris Harper-Mercer, 26, killed 10 people and injured seven before he was fatally wounded by the police during an exchange of gunfire.
And while President Obama and other lawmakers will face a renewed debate over gun control laws, another key aspect of this tragic case should be explored – did the comments of internet trolls on 4chan encourage and spur Harper-Mercer into committing this grievous crime?
'Don't go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest'
At 12.19am ET (5.19am BST) on 1 October, an anonymous user posted a graphic showing a cartoon frog holding a pistol and the following ominous message on 4chan (archived here):
When asked by the other posters for more information, the same user replied: "Will post again in am, 10 min countdown. Won't say more to much to prepare."
Although the user did not give any more details or explain exactly why people living in Northwest America (where Oregon is located) shouldn't go to school, within 14 minutes another user had posted a grim message giving the original poster advice on how to conduct a school shooting.
An anonymous user responded to this post, writing simply: "Thanks. Keep me in your prayers."
Since 4chan is by its nature a website where anyone in the world can post and say anything they like, it's not yet known whether the original poster in this thread was indeed Harper-Mercer, or whether the thread was a coincidence or posted by someone who knew of the shooter's plans.
Numerous users egged the original poster on
After the post at 12.33am, there is no indication that the original poster was still responding to the thread, however numerous anonymous users began popping up on the thread, posting their messages of support to the user and encouraging them.
Some users didn't believe that the original poster would go through with the shooting, some told him not to do it, but overwhelmingly, many users seemed to think it was time for a "Beta Uprising" and that he or she should "stir the pot".
What is the Beta Uprising?
Many of the posters kept mentioning the phrase "Beta Uprising", with some users asking whether they could join in, while others said they were happy to stay at home and watch it on the news.
According to a thread on Reddit, the term Beta Uprising refers to people who see themselves as being socially awkward, unattractive, shy, not popular with mainstream society or deviant in some way (the "Betas") rising up and "rebelling against the society that they believe makes their lives difficult because they're ostracised or don't have success with women by shooting random people, usually people more attractive and popular than them".
The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 may have started the trend off, but it is common for 4chan users to joke about shooting up public places:
"Over the years 4chan has, inadvertently, attracted some people who suffer from actual mental illness and are not playing a character or trying to get a laugh. This odd play has continued, in perpetuity, since 2004 and has sparked some very brilliant (nearly all memes and social websites owe their funny content to 4chan) creations and very dark occurrences. 4chan users have encouraged, joked about, and even enacted very disturbing atrocities over the years," wrote Reddit user GGGh0st.
"This has caused a running joke to be coined, the "beta uprising", wherein the betas would rise up and shoot up public places to cast down the "normies" (functioning members of society) and chads and stacies (attractive, well adjusted socialites).
"Contrary to what Jezebel, Reddit, Fox news, and other fringe far-right, far-left news sources would have you believe, this has nothing to do with politics. There is no underlying misogyny, political zeal, religious or atheist drive. There is no grand, overarching theme or logical goal. This is pure, unadulterated chaos."
Why do so many young people become internet trolls?
Zoe Quinn is a female game developer who was one of the very first targets of the Gamergate cyberbullying campaign against people advocating for better treatment of women in video games that rocked the internet in August 2014.
Recently in an interview with The Verge, she explained that she had once been a nerdy, awkward teenager who didn't have any friends, and she now recognised she had once been as misguided and chaotic as some of the posters we're seeing on 4chan.
Quinn said that like many other users, she insulted other people online as a way of bonding, and that many of these users feel like they are heroes for speaking out, almost "like some kind of crappy internet Batman", and that it was difficult to break out of this type of behaviour when it was enforced by her friends online.
At the XOXO Festival in Portland, Quinn and several other speakers called on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to do more to prevent harassment.