The Daily Dot published an article headlined “4chan’s new troll campaign aims to make the hashtag a white supremacist symbol” last week and in turn fueled a disinformation campaign by right-wing trolls rather than stifle it. The 4chan campaign sought to dupe journalists and liberal activists into identifying the hashtag symbol as an icon of white supremacy. What’s more, the author of the article contributed to Infowars, a site that participates directly in disinformation campaigns like those found daily on 4chan, as recently as October 2018.
The Daily Dot’s May 26 article highlights a 4chan hoax campaign dubbed “bash the hash” by its originator, which is a play on an antifascist slogan, “bash the fash.” The effort sought to sucker unsuspecting people into believing that the hashtag had been woven into white supremacist ideologies. After sharing the disinformation, cycling through a single 4chan thread and a handful of low-engagement Twitter posts that seemed to be inspired by the original thread, the article finally ends with a perplexing recognition that it’s all a hoax: “While 4chan’s latest campaign is almost certain to be largely ineffective, the hoax highlights how the battle of ideas is fought in the digital era.”
The article produced what the digital effort explicitly sought: a headline that could be used to further discredit journalists covering the digital space that forums like 4chan inhabit. When journalists and liberal activists didn’t bite on the initial bait, 4chan users created images spoofing articles and broadcasts on news outlets they wished had picked up the story and posed as antifascist activists in spoof accounts to spread the concept with little success–until the Daily Dot article. Multiple threads seeking to launch disinformation spawn on 4chan every day, and few are worth covering, with the exception of disinformation that spreads into the mainstream. However, the “bash the hash” campaign had hardly achieved liftoff. The Daily Dot did not return Right Wing Watch’s request for comment on their choice to publish the article via email.
After The Daily Dot published its story, the article was predictably picked up by the far right and used to bludgeon the press. Pro-Trump digital spaces latched onto the Daily Dot article, toting it as proof that members of the press were gullible enough to fall for anything. Tim Pool, a YouTube-based personality and self-described journalist, published a YouTube video about the Daily Dot article–which had more than a quarter million views at the time of press–in which he claimed the media knowingly use 4chan hoaxes to perpetuate a false narrative that far-right activity is on the rise. (After Right Wing Watch contacted him, Pool added an update in the description acknowledging that the author had written for Infowars, which seemed to invalidate the video’s premise.)
Right-wing internet users on sites like 4chan and Reddit often wield poor examples of journalism about their communities in an attempt to discredit accurate and incriminating reporting on their digital corners. But it appears that the call to report this had come from inside the house.
The article’s author Mikael Thalen had a biography listed on Alex Jones’ Infowars outlet, an archived author page saved in Wayback Machine last November shows. The biography listed on Infowars contains a Keybase account still advertised by Thalen in his Twitter bio. Thalen did not return our request for comment via email.