Less than 20 minutes before a mass shooting in El Paso that left 20 people dead and dozens more wounded, the alleged gunman appears to have published a manifesto on 8chan, the notorious internet forum. If verified, it will be the third such document to accompany a mass shooting since March.
Previously, manifestos were published by the alleged Christchurch shooter, who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in March, and the gunman who opened fire and killed one person at a synagogue in Poway, California, in April. They, too, used 8chan to deliver their epistles of hate. Both times, and now again with El Paso, extremism researchers have pleaded the same case: Don’t amplify the message.
It’s a surprisingly difficult ask. Being able to ascribe a motive lends some semblance of order to a senseless act of violence, especially in a weekend that saw further mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and Chicago, Illinois. And 8chan’s role in hosting the Christchurch, Poway, and El Paso manifestos makes it deserving of scrutiny, as does the apparent “gamification” of shootings the message board foments, as independent investigative outlet Bellingcat has so lucidly laid out. Yet the more oxygen these manifestos get, the wider their messages spread. And no one understands that better than the alleged shooters themselves.
“Those manifestos are specifically designed to be objects of media manipulation,” says Whitney Phillips, who researches troll culture and online extremism at Syracuse University. “They’re written and publicized in a way to