In the hours after the horrific mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, people desperately searched the internet for any sign of a motive or meaning behind the attack. Early Friday, a number of unverified social-media posts surfaced, along with a bizarre manifesto posted to 8chan, rich with irony and references to memes.
Together, the posts suggest that every aspect of the shootings was designed to gain maximum attention online, in part by baiting the media. The shooter live-streamed the attack itself on Facebook, and the video was quickly shared across YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. Before committing the act, he shouted, “Remember, lads, subscribe to PewDiePie,” a reference to Felix Kjellberg, who runs YouTube’s most subscribed-to channel. The phrase itself is a meme started by PewDiePie’s fans, and its goal is to be reprinted.
Kjellberg, who has previously found himself embroiled in controversy over alleged anti-Semitism, disavowed the shooting on Twitter Friday morning. “Just heard news of the devastating reports from New Zealand Christchurch. I feel absolutely sickened having my name uttered by this person. My heart and thoughts go out to the victims, families and everyone affected by this tragedy,” he wrote. By forcing Kjellberg to acknowledge the attack, the shooter succeeded in further spreading the word about the crime to Kjellberg’s tens of millions of followers.
"Subscribe to PewDiePie" is a meme that encompasses a misled belief that it's a fight for the disenfranchised; those constantly being pushed down. It's David vs Goliath. It's used on boards like 8chan as a rallying cry. It doesn't belong to PDP anymore — but we need to examine it— julia 🤔 alexander (@loudmouthjulia) March 15, 2019
Significant portions of the manifesto appear to be an elaborate troll, written to prey on the mainstream media’s worst tendencies. As the journalist Robert Evans noted, “This manifesto is a trap … laid for journalists searching for the meaning behind this horrific crime. There is truth in there, and valuable clues to the shooter’s radicalization, but it is buried beneath a great deal of, for lack of a better word, ‘shitposting.’”