The anonymous comment that warned students in the northwest U.S. to stay away from school hours before a shooter killed nine people in Oregon last week may not have been a warning about the crime after all. The comment, left on the notorious social media forum 4chan, appears to have been taken out of context before the international media reported the supposed link.
The FBI is still investigating the killings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, and has warned schools in and around Philadelphia about another possible threat Monday.
Federal investigators told the New York Times last week they were examining a 4chan conversation in which one user wrote “Don't go to school tomorrow if you are in the Northwest.” The website is a sprawling chat forum frequented by hackers, pranksters and pornographers that's served as the birthplace for everything from the Anonymous hacking collective to the celebrity nude photo scandal that occurred last year. Many of the site's denizens simply aim to out-shock other users, to the point that Elliot Rodger, a California mass shooter, is a frequent conversation topic.
The confusion in this case began on a forum called ROBOT9001, where 4chan users congregate to debate whether “robots” (forum users) or “normies” (socially normal, non-4chan users with romantic partners) have an edge in society. Robots idolize (or at least pretend to idolize) Rodger, who killed six people and finally himself near Santa Barbara in May 2014, because of their perception that he took revenge (or launched a “beta uprising”) against the normies. One popular figure on ROBOT9001, known as Eggman, flouted the normally anonymous nature of 4chan in order to post a series of videos documenting his loneliness, inability to find a job and, perhaps more than anything, his frustration with 4chan.
A lengthy Gawker post provided all of this context after the shooting. The key point: Threats and jokes about mass murder aren't that unusual in a world where a “beta uprising” is something to aspire to (seriously or not). On Wednesday, a day before the Roseburg killings, Eggman posted a video saying he would be visiting the Seattle area in the coming days, and asked if any other 4chan users would be interested in spending time together. That could explain the “Don't go to school tomorrow if you are in the Northwest” post.
When the shooting did occur at Umpqua Community College in southwestern Oregon Thursday, 4chan exploded with speculation that the Eggman truly was behind the shooting, as users had predicted. That was quickly debunked by NBC News, after the actual shooter, Christopher Harper-Mercer, was killed in an exchange with police.
The so called "Egg Man" or person who 4chan and other listed as the Oregon shooter is NOT him. He is alive and has communicated to NBC.
— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) October 1, 2015
Another ROBOT9001 post circulated by the Daily Mirror, and then other sites, wished readers “a happy Elliot Rodger day,” though those reports failed to mention the message was originally posted in May.
The robots made headlines again Sunday, when the Philadelphia Daily News reported that law enforcement officials issued a warning to Pennsylvania campuses after another threat was posted on ROBOT9001.
“On October 5, 2015, at 1:00 p.m. CT, a fellow robot will take up arms against a university near Philadelphia,” the post stated. “His cries will be heard, his victims will cower in fear, and the strength of the Union will decay a little more.”