9gag screenshot

What Is 9gag and why is it being blamed for the Colorado shooting?

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As people cast about for some explanation for the horrific shooting in Aurora, Colo., rumors have spread on Twitter and other social networks that the meme-swapping message board 9gag was somehow responsible, and that the 24-year-old suspect James Holmes had posted about his plan to shoot up a theater yesterday. They're almost certainly false.

Two screenshots have been making the rounds: One supposedly shows that yesterday a 9gag user named "9gagFTW" posted a meme-like image of a theater with text-overlay reading "TOMORROW I WILL KILL EVERYONE DURING THE NEW BATMAN PREMIERE IN COLORADO." Another supposedly shows another 9gag user celebrating after the shooting: "WE DID IT! WE GOT HIM TO ACTUALLY SHOOT IN THE THEATER!." The idea being that 9gag egged him on. (This story has been picked up by at least one local Colorado newspaper. AndNew York Times Jennifer Preston reporter is apparently chasing the story: In a now-deleted tweet to the official 9gag account she wrote "Please call me. Urgent.... Something you need to know."

But I am 99 percent certain this is fake. Because this is an old 4chan trick. Often after a notable shooting happens, 4chan users spread fake screenshots that show the perpetrator was a 4chan user and had posted of his plans beforehand on 4chan. It's sort of an instant online urban legend. 9gag is basically a 4chan knockoff, and they've apparently picked up the same stupid prank.

The user 9gagFTW does exist, but hasn't posted anything about a shooting and lists their location as Peru. It was almost certainly a prank played by him, or by someone trying to smear him. Meanwhile, on 4chan someone is pretending to be one of the shooters who got away, according to this screenshot that's being passed around.

Update: Internet troll scholar (yes, they exist) Whitney Phillips has written a blog post with more background on the 9gag connection. She explains that the prank was probably launched by 4chan users, who have a long-running operation to "frame 9gag for everything terrible on the internet."

Photo via Gawker