Type of site
|Launched||November 10, 2011|
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/pol/, short for "politically incorrect", is a political discussion board on 4chan. The board has been noted for its racist, white supremacist, antisemitic, misogynistic, and transphobic content.
The board serves partly as a "containment" area on 4chan: a place to divert trolls and extremists. /pol/ has been successful in spreading fake news into the mainstream media. A number of /pol/ boards exist or have existed on other imageboards than 4chan, such as on 8chan.
Much of the content on /pol/ relies heavily on memes to further spread ideas. One of the most popular memes found on the board during the period surrounding the 2016 US presidential election was that of Pepe the Frog, which has been deemed a white supremacist symbol by some media outlets due to it being shown in uniforms, places, and people associated with Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan, and antisemitism. Many have questioned the sincerity of users on /pol/ as possible trolls.
While 4chan's /pol/ board is the most popular board under the "/pol/" name, versions on other websites have existed. These include Kohlchan, 8chan (later 8kun), 16chan, Shitchan, and Endchan, with some less popular "/pol/" themed boards accessible through the Tor network on sites such as 9chan and Neinchan.
Prior to the creation of /pol/, there were two boards intended for discussing news that had been added and removed from the site. The first of these was /n/, which was added on 8 April 2006. Thus, it replaced /n/'s previous topic of animals and nature. (The topic of animals and nature itself was moved to the /an/ board). /n/'s topic was changed to transportation on 19 February 2008, without moving the news topic to another board, effectively removing it.
Another news board, /new/, was later added on 25 January 2010. It was deleted a year later on 17 January 2011 because, according to 4chan's creator and ex-administrator Christopher Poole, it had "devolved into /stormfront/". This was comparing /new/ to Stormfront, which is the oldest and largest Holocaust-denialist white supremacist site. According to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, /pol/ was created by "4chan's founder [...] to siphon off and contain the overtly xenophobic and racist comments and memes from other wings of 4chan." This has led to /pol/ acquiring the nickname of a "containment board", because its purpose is to keep far-right and generally political content off of 4chan's other boards.
After the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting, /pol/ began attempting to circulate on social media claims that comedian Sam Hyde was the perpetrator of a mass shooting event or terrorist attack. They repeated this after several other mass shootings, in attempts to troll mainstream news outlets into reporting Hyde as the attacker. According to BBC News, CNN mistakenly included Hyde's image on their coverage of the Umpqua shooting. After the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, a Google search for a different man's name returned a /pol/ thread in the "top stories" section falsely identifying him as the shooter. A spokesperson for Google said that the thread had appeared because search queries and news about the man were rare, allowing for the thread to appear in results, but that the thread did not appear in broader searches about the Las Vegas shooting.
Users of /pol/ engaged in coordinated attacks on LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner's HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US, a 2017 performance art project made to protest Donald Trump's presidency. Users also organised the It's OK to be white poster campaign the same year.
In 2017, users of /pol/ co-ordinated a campaign to convince mainstream news organisations that the OK gesture was a white power symbol, later the OK gesture became used unironically by white supremacists.
In 2019, 4chan and 8chan were temporarily blocked by Australian internet service providers for containing videos of the Christchurch mosque shootings. Before the shootings, the shooter posted on 8chan's /pol/ board.
In late February and early March 2021, users on /pol/ boosted a social media trend called "Super Straight", which they claimed was a new sexuality describing heterosexuals who would never have a relationship or sex with transgender people. The trend began with later-deleted TikTok video by a user who said he had created the term because he was tired of being called transphobic. The Daily Dot described the phenomenon as a "reframing [of] their harassment of transgender people". The trend spread to other platforms as well, including Twitter and TikTok, and 4chan users were eager to "red pill" those in the Generation Z age group, create division among LGBTQ communities, and use the language of LGBTQ rights to troll leftists. The harassment campaign has used Nazi symbols in their symbolism, including the logo of Hitler's Schutzstaffel, which also used the acronym "SS". Colours associated with "Super Straight" are black and orange.
Reception and influence
/pol/ has been characterised as predominantly racist and sexist, with many of its posts taking explicitly alt-right and neo-Nazi points of view. In particular, the board is infamous for the prevalence of antisemitic threads and memes. The Southern Poverty Law Center regards /pol/'s rhetorical style as widely emulated by white supremacist websites such as The Daily Stormer; the Stormer's editor, Andrew Anglin, concurred. Many /pol/ users favoured Donald Trump during his 2016 United States presidential campaign. Upon his election, a /pol/ moderator embedded a pro-Trump video at the top of all of the board's pages.
As a potential honeypot
Many have speculated whether the website is kept online as a honeypot for far-right groups, or to monitor extremists. In 2015, an Australian Department of Defence graduate used /pol/ to share classified information, only to be caught by another former Department of Defence worker browsing the site. Within /pol/, suspected agents of various intelligence communities are called "Glowniggers", a reference to the computer programmer Terry A. Davis who said "The CIA Niggers glow in the dark, you can see them if you're driving, you just run them over, that's what you do." Because of this, suspicious posts are deemed to be "glowing" and "glowposting" is a common phrase on the forum.
Alleged moderator racism
In 2020, several past and current moderators spoke to Vice Media's Motherboard about what they perceived as racist intent behind /pol/ and 4chan as a whole. They described how the manager of 4chan's volunteer "janitors", a moderator known as RapeApe, wishes to generate right-wing discussion on /pol/ and has dissuaded janitors from banning users for racism. Additionally, they noted how janitors were often fired whenever they held left-wing opinions. Hiroyuki Nishimura was described as letting RapeApe have full control of the site. Neither Nishimura nor RapeApe responded to Vice Media's requests for comment, but RapeApe did, however, provide a video of two naked men dancing.
According to a 2017 longitudinal study, using a dataset of over 8 million posts, /pol/ is a diverse ecosystem with users well-distributed around the world. The percentage of posts containing hate speech ranges from 4.15% (e.g., in Indonesia, Arab countries) to 30% (e.g., China, Bahamas, Cyprus). Elevated use of hate speech is seen in Western European countries (e.g., Italy, Spain, Greece, and France). A separate 2017 quantitative analysis found that /pol/ was an important influencer of news content on Twitter, with the board contributing 3% of mainstream news links and 1.96% of alternative news links on Twitter (as a fraction of all links co-appearing on Twitter, Reddit, and 4chan). The researchers concluded that "'fringe' communities often succeed in spreading alternative news to mainstream social networks."
A study with data collected from April 2020 to June 2020 and published in Perspectives on Terrorism in February 2021 analyzed the popularity and content present on different /pol/ boards. To analyze board content, they examined which word sets were most common per board. They found that schisms were characteristic of this subculture, with splinter communities being less popular and more extreme on average. For example, discussion on 8kun's /pol/ board contained more racial content than did 4chan's much more popular /pol/ board, which hosted racist content as well. Neinchan, hosted on the Tor network, was indicated as having among the most extreme /pol/ boards, albeit with low traffic. The researchers indicated that academic work examining this subculture of far-right imageboards was lacking.
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