When writers older than thirty speak of “nihilism” I reach for their hash pipe, but Jesse Singal’s New York article on chan culture tries to explain to New York readers how a culture of perpetual snark functions:
The outrage-mongers are motivated in part by the broader, deeply nihilistic ethos of chan culture. Channers, as a group, and long before the Chanterculture emerged in its present form, have always been in it for the lulz, for the satisfaction that comes from fucking with people in general, and more specifically from riling people up into states of outrage by being, well, outrageous. Naturally, anonymous online weirdos hoping to spark outrage and one-up each other’s attempts to do so frequently dabble in, if not embrace, racist and anti-Semitic imagery and language, regardless of what’s going on in the broader culture wars. It’s not an accident that 4chan’s harassment campaigns have, according to the researcher Whitney Phillips, disproportionately targeted women and people of color.
But the point is that there’s more — or less — going on here than “just” racism and misogyny. Underlying chan culture is a fundamental hostility to earnestness and offense that plays out in how its members interact with each other and with outsiders. To wit: If you, a channer, post a meme in which Homer and Lisa Simpson are concentration camp guards about to execute Jewish prisoners, and I respond by pointing out that that’s fucked up, I’m the chump for getting upset. Nothing really matters to the average channer, at least not online. Feeling like stuff matters, in fact, is one of the original sins of “normies,” the people who use the internet but don’t really understand what it’s for (chaos and lulz) the way channers do. Normies, unlike channers — or the identity channers like to embrace — have normal lives and jobs and girlfriends and so on. They’re the boring mainstream. Normies don’t get it, and that’s why they’re so easily upset all the time. Triggering normies is a fundamental good in the chanverse.
I suppose the Gamergate controversy shares traits with these people: young men using pseudonyms and garish kinds of bullying. The nature of the internet encourages this level of atomized behavior.