Notorious for pranks, the online 4chan community delights in all kinds of antisocial trolling. Over the weekend, members of the site’s more misogynist affinity groups were outed running hundreds of fake profiles on Twitter in ‘Operation Lollipop.’ The objective of these accounts, which all portray women of color, is to trend controversial hashtags, thereby smearing feminists and social justice activists. #EndFathersDay, which got serious response from conservatives who wanted it to be real, seems to have been the last straw.
Despite the fact that #EndFathersDay was quickly established to be a hoax perpetrated by 4chan’s /pol/ board–first by feminists who were well aware that we don’t believe any such thing, and later by other channels–the trolls over at 4chan seem to think it worked out well and that they have successfully infiltrated the feminist community. Which, uh, they have not. Despite what you may have heard, every single “real feminist” pointed out by the media as supposedly eagerly going along with the #EndFathersDay tweets was in fact a fake account created by 4chan. The most cited “Oh my god! The real feminists are buying into this!” profile was one named “Phoebe Kwon,” quickly outed by David Futrelle of We Hunted the Mammoth as a fake account with a stock photo picture.
I have been reporting on what I call ‘the persona management problem’ as it applies to progressive activism in social media since 2012, so this story is not a surprise to me. Sock puppet accounts constantly spoil the #p2, #stoprush and #uniteblue hashtags with foul language, out and harass activists, and spread defamation of leaders. Wholly untrustworthy persons can creep into positions of influence without ever being vetted. It has sometimes been difficult to get other activists on Twitter to acknowledge these challenges.
Hopefully, this episode will provide a wake-up call for a movement that talks a lot about the power of social media to get its message out, but has so far refused to notice that its enemies can use the same tools to try and shut their message down. The victims of this hoax are fighting back with a ‘#YourSlipIsShowing’ hashtag (click here to see a list of sock puppet accounts they have identified), but until activists get serious about developing systems of early warning, identification and response to these kinds of threats, every new spoiling scheme will stimulate an ad hoc response from another group forced to reinvent this wheel.