The story of Ion Fury looks like another sad tale in gaming. Ion Fury (originally called Ion Maiden until an iconic band with a similar name took them to court) looked like it was going to be a smash hit among the retro FPS crowd. Then a notorious forum called ResetEra (famous for harassment campaigns against anything seen as politically incorrect) had a thread made about how the developers of the game were transphobes for not thinking that kids should have their sex chosen by their parents and whatnot. The review bombing campaign didn’t seem to be getting off to a good start at all, until 3d Realms bent the knee. The developers would be given mandatory diversity training, made to remove the word “gay” from a sprite, and $10,000 was going to be donated to a LGBT teen suicide hotline and advocacy group.
The reaction to this by actual buyers of the game was swift. The game was review bombed far more aggressively than ResetEra could manage. Ion Fury went from the topselling page on Steam to being outsold by Borderlands, adult-only games, and Call of Duty. The developers and publishers continued to handle this poorly, from denying that the game was being censored to even telling people on Twitter to pirate their game. By day 2 it became clear that the vocal mob weren’t the ones buying and supporting the game, it was the people pissed off about political censorship and politics in their video games.
But then a possible revelation came from left field on who was actually responsible for this. See, the theory was that a pissed off gamer was angry about a Steam blog post that had shown the main character as more sexualized than in Ion Fury and Bombshell. His complaints on the forums were deleted later on, so he had made a Steam review and later made posts on /v/ about this. When /v/ and the like didn’t give a shit, he decided to do something very clever. He would weaponize a website that actually was a personal army against the game to teach the developers and 3d Realms a lesson on not caving. Making a ResetEra account (a forum hard to sign up for) he joined and started making posts, including another campaign about an offensive outfit in a Crash Bandicoot racing game. He lurked their Discord server and found things that ResetEra wouldn’t like, and posted it to their forum. Not long afterwards ResetEra was helping destroy this developer along with “gamers” and “chuds”, without even realizing that one of those gamers was taking them for a ride. None of them even had a clue, as anyone who questioned this was banned from the forum.
Even with this knowledge, ResetEra still managed to look bad. It showed that they were mindlessly jumping in on outrage bandwagons so they could have a win against the incel gamer chuds, all while being none the wiser. Later on the developers backpedaled on the censorship (which was apparently because they found a better joke, but the PR team involved messed everything up), review scores went back to where they were, ResetEra went back to seething completely, and Steam jannies marked the reviews from that period as “off topic reviews”. Then ResetEra forgot about it because of new drama and that took the spotlight. Later the user involved claimed that they were in fact not trolling and that “I got better those posts were old”, but nobody on the internet has ever lied.
But this post isn’t about the tale of an indie boomer shooter or on if someone was trolling or not. See, this is more of a post about how this happened in the first place.
Infiltration: a popular tactic
The hardest part of this troll op (if it was legit) was the fact that this gamer managed to get into the ResetEra forums, a forum notorious for heavy handed moderation and strict sign up requirements. All users need to be vetted and use paid email accounts. Of course as political chat groups with crazy vetting requirements that got infiltrated anyway show, that’s a very lousy security measure.
Ever since the dawn of the internet identities online have been absolutely disposable. One can generate a new identity on a whim and nobody could have a clue. One common trolling tactic as of late has been the “fake accounts” tactic, where fake accounts will be made to push any agenda or to blend in. Just a few days ago over on /pol/ there was a thread asking for members to make accounts pretending to be Jewish. Due to this Twitter is loaded with fears of fake activists trying to either make them look bad or shitposting under their banner. Even when these accounts are outed they add to the fears that any one of their friends could be some secret plant intended to make them look bad or make them do their bidding. In a part of the internet where paranoia runs rampant about trolls taking advantage of the systems designed to stop them, these fears strike hard.
This isn’t solely done by 4channers, as there have been federal agents posting on imageboards or journalists manufacturing stories on imageboards in the past. Their end goal leans more towards propaganda purposes, but the tactic is the same in a way. One such incident was when a federal agent was outed posting on 8chan. Now this incident was interesting, as a search warrant was served regarding the thread of a failed mass shooter advertising his massacre attempt. See just one month before this, a mass shooter in New Zealand livestreamed his mosque shooting spree to Facebook and advertised the stream on 8chan. The video itself was recorded with a GoPro camera and made mass murder seem just like playing Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. To the government and media, this video was dangerous and had to be stopped at all costs. Attempts at censoring reuploads of this video were out of control, including arresting people for sharing the video and even YouTube breaking the newest upload sorting feature as people continued to reupload this. Yet despite this, the video was still being shared on BitTorrent and reuploads of the video were posted to both internet drama gossip sites and shock sites.
Just like Columbine and how it influenced a generation of school shooters, this livestream recording had already influenced many wannabe mass shooters. One such shooter in April 2019 tried to attack a synagogue and his copycat was a failure in most regards. For starters, he failed to properly set up his stream. He only managed to kill one person and wounded 3 people at some random synagogue and the shooting was effectively forgotten about by the media except as a statistic. What’s more memorable than this shooting was the fact that the FBI decided to investigate 8chan over this and issued a search warrant for 8chan. There’s just one problem: the FBI doesn’t quite understand “chan culture”, only really managing to process the fact that imageboards are anonymous. Yet despite this someone who is sloppy can easily reveal who they are on imageboards. In the screencaps in the warrant itself, poster 8f4812 gives his identity away as a FBI informant/poster. Then in the thread itself, he started trying to redirect the rage of these angry /pol/ users to the Russians instead while also encouraging more. With the fact that the government is emulating the movie Minority Report and arresting people for precrimes they bragged about on social media, this casts these posts in a new light. How many people are being baited online by others into being arrested? In one such case it was even a teenager arrested for being an edgelord online, making a joke that’s common among edgy teenagers growing up in a society where “Don’t come to school tomorrow” has become a meme and schools have lockdown drills.
Rolling your own identity and fitting in
While the FBI might have had the right idea, one area they critically failed at was not having knowledge of the community they had attempted to infiltrate. One of the unwritten rules of joining any website is that you need to fit in with the community. You need to know how these websites work, you need to understand the basic rules of any website, and you need to spend time on that website in order to understand their culture (or in other words “LURK MOAR”). Quite a few smaller communities live and die by this rule. Somebody from /pol/ who makes a Kiwi Farms account won’t be well liked on that site if they can’t fit in with the userbase and the same goes if a Kiwi Farms user makes an Encyclopedia Dramatica account. A website like 4chan or Kiwi Farms with multiple boards or subforums also isn’t going to be entirely monolithic with opinions. One board on 4chan might advocate for gassing trannies, another board will tell someone who identifies as transgender how to get HRT without even seeing a doctor. Some boards like /v/ or /g/ will be filled with fanboys arguing with each other.
Unlike 4chan, social media sites and message boards encourage building up an identity or persona. Using the same name across the internet is seen as a fatal opsec mistake, yet on forums and social media it can bring you clout. Using another account name doesn’t give you the same amount of clout, but it can also throw some people off from assuming it’s you, and this can come in handy when your reputation has been through the shredder. But as the ResetEra and 8chan examples showed, it can be done by those wanting to make a new identity to control the mob.
Making these easier is the fact that your identity itself is disposable these days. With the downfall of traditional communities, hobbies requiring a well-paying job to indulge in, and the fact an entire generation is directionless, most people live a superficial existence. Buy the latest video game, watch the latest Marvel film, listen to the music the radio is playing in a public place or your Honda Accord. Don’t ask questions, consume the latest product and get excited for the next product like a kid in the toy store. Even when people have trendy identities, everyone’s unique and special identity is shared across like 100 other people at the very least. It’s like when you go to a college town and everybody is a hipster wearing overpriced clothes imitating Goodwill clothes or is wearing a stretched out graphic tee with a brand name on it.
It’s so easy to make a fake identity that I’m going to present you with a metaphorical example, because it’s easier done than said.
How to be a trans girl online
For this example I’m going to choose a common archtype on social media these days, the angsty trans girl. There’s a reason I chose this identity. Right now on social media thanks to the prevailing culture, oppressed groups are given the most weight. They are seen as protected classes, incapable of wrong and protected from the trolls. The trans identity is actually easy to take on. By its very core, the transgender identity revolves around being the opposite sex and spending money on drugs and surgery to try to become the opposite sex. There’s also another benefit to it: you never need to show your face at all or even steal someone’s photo from a website. Instead you can just claim you’re dysphoric and that your parents/area won’t let you transition. This works out in your favor as you can avoid being banned from social media sites for impersonation. Stealing some random person’s photo and reversing it doesn’t work when you draw too much heat and someone recognizes your photo (they will) leading to your account being banned.
But if you wonder why someone would take on that identity, it’s simple really. On top of encouraging one to have a disposable identity, those in charge of institutions give oppressed or formerly oppressed groups benefits. Being a normal white male is considered the original sin. Becoming a trans girl is a loophole, you can enjoy all the benefits a female would on top of having more oppression points due to your chromosomes differing from who you identify as. That’s just the way society is these days, at least according to the powers that be. Furthermore as the case of Sarah Nyberg showed hiding out in that community is a great way to make up for all your sins. You can brag about banging one of your underage family members, then go around to say it was just a joke and you were being an edgelord and your pals will eat it up. No seriously, that works.
Anyhow this is so easy to do and you won’t even believe how easy it is. The first thing you need to do is come up with your trans girl name. Go look up some female names (usually trans girls pick Alice or Zoe for obvious reasons), pick the feminine version of your name, name yourself after a video game character, or go all out and name yourself something crazy that wouldn’t be out of place as a porn star name. Next, go grab some video game character art or find some anime chick screencap and use it as your icon. Using a character creator works too; if you really want to invest in it you can pay someone to draw your icon. Don’t steal someone’s fursona because they’ll report you for stealing it (but not before a giant meltdown). Create your own fursona or idealized drawing of what you think you look like in real life.
Now you need to have the correct left leaning political views. This is very important because stepping out of line can cause you to be thrown under the bus by your pals and branded a “bigot transphobe” (I’ll touch on this later, even if you’re trans you can still be branded a transphobe). Nothing causes a group to be more suspicious than one of their own stepping out of line, just look at the Uncle Tom slang term’s popularity.
That’s how easy it is to infiltrate some group online and that’s not even taking into account the “lurk moar” mindset that can allow one to do this easily. In real life (or the “meatspace” as some would call it), the risks are much higher for infiltration and you’ll always see informants blurred out in videos for a reason. But online if you cover your tracks you can be truly anonymous.
Why this worked
Once you infiltrate a group and crack the code of communicating within this group, the possibilities are endless. There are plenty of things one can do once they’ve infiltrated a community especially if they play the game right. The first thing one can do is to prod them while undercover while recording the result somehow. It’s a great way to expose a community or organization as you can catch members or leaders saying things in their own words or carrying out their own actions. People will act differently when they feel they’re “off the record”, yet this proves that their opsec model is flawed. A proper opsec model should ensure that everyone talking to them is a fed or infiltrator.
But let’s take a look at the political landscape online. In the west there haven’t been major hardships in decades. Sure there have been recessions here or there, but there hasn’t been a great big war where everyone’s risking their lives for a cause. There’s been panic over mass shootings but it’s still a nothing burger compared to terror attacks in the Middle East, acid attacks and violence in parts of Europe, and even the bad parts of town in USA or Detroit/Chicago. Hell, ever since 9/11 there hasn’t been a massive tragedy in the USA that has made people stop everything they’re doing and think. Everyone forgot the Vegas mass shooting and the vagueness surrounding it fueled conspiracy theories. Sandy Hook was used as a gun grab push, yet it only affected a handful of states and led to radio hosts on the left decrying that “if a ton of kids are killed and nothing happens, what would cause lawmakers to DO SOMETHING”. A protest in Charlottesville was milked in the media and used as a push for online censorship and mass doxing, yet outside of journalists, panicked Twitter warriors, and maybe free speech advocates nobody remembers it.
What does exist is a desire among people with too much time on their hands to do something. Yet these people also aren’t leaders but instead very loyal attack dogs. One of the things I’ll give the left credit for is that they have some of the most persistent, loyal attack dogs online. The right might have intelligent (or autistic depending on how you view it) imageboard posters who can find out where a flag is located based on star patterns and the ability to rile people up, but they also have a lot of people with jobs or other autistic timesink hobbies. Among normies who lean moderate-right, there’s also a willingness to let people they disagree with get a job or work with them (depending on how religious they are). The left on the other hand has attack dogs willing to destroy their own hobbies if they’re not politically pure enough. They’re incapable of enjoying things if they learn that the creator was canceled or did something problematic years ago, and just like the far-right they will panic about hidden problematic messages in their favorite media.
This is why the troll on ResetEra was effective, while the fed wasn’t. The fed had surface level knowledge of the group and knew some of the memes, but he then tried to blame a group that members of the far-right either didn’t give a fuck about or idolized (depending on the person) of posting on the forum. This was an effort of redirecting discussion towards a group he hated. The troll on ResetEra on the other hand knew what would catch among this group and he even stated he had more damaging things if ResetEra didn’t take the bait. He kept trying to post in the Ion Fury thread and when they didn’t catch onto it he made a thread about it himself which finally exploded. What he posted resonated with the group hard, here was an indie developer saying controversial things about the trans community and the trans community is very vitriolic when you step out of line. Just recently ContraPoints, a YouTuber who’s been a media darling for “de-radicalizing young white males” (and this is far from the only story saying this, just look here or here for more examples) with pushy talking points packaged in costumes was “canceled” for going against the mob rule. Their crime was attacking the “non-binary” group of transtrenders who have taken over trans related and political groups (both online and IRL). Here’s a more in depth writeup on that situation, which shows just how strong mob rule is in this situation.
With how one sided that group in particular can be, it means that going undercover is more likely to be effective. This incident highlighted one of the biggest fundamental flaws with that group, in particular the “listen and believe” mindset and their willingness to get involved with tearing someone’s career down. They were so willing to tear this person’s career down and anyone who questioned this was banned from the forum for “drive by trolling” among other reasons. Even though they forgot a few days later when some other drama distracted them, that forum had enough influence to try to ruin someone’s career because a troll coaxed them into it.
This is going to be happening more and more, yet only with trolls who have enough knowledge to actually influence a community. There are going to be quite a few failed trolling attempts happening in the future for sure. Still, this is a very fascinating thing to look at. People will always believe anyone who fits their worldview, especially mob members who don’t want to research anything.