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The joke isn’t funny anymore

On Nov. 11, 2018, a certain class senator, best known for his dual obsession with “transparency” and midi keyboards, presented to the polite and uncomfortable applause of fellow coders at Codestellation his newest pet project: Branchan.org. Marketed to MyDeis Facebook pages by accounts sporting My Little Pony profile pictures as an uncensored, free speech oriented alternative to the toxic Facebook page, Brandeis Confessions, Branchan is a Brandeis-themed reskinning of the notorious image sharing site, 4chan.

In the early 2000s, 4chan was known as the edgiest ironic internet forum where all the knee-slapping-est memes, which would shockingly (who would’ve thought the ‘free speech haven’ that birthed ‘pedobear’ could ever) evolve into a bastion for the alt-right. And since about 2014, it has remained a place for hate speech, sexism, racism, homophobia and all sorts of bigotry to run rampant. Many argue that such action is only relegated to specific boards or sections of 4chan, but regardless of how untrue that is, 4chan has the reputation of offensive, prejudiced and (redundantly) libertarian, and attracts users who fit those bills.

Everyone knows 4chan is a bad place you should stay away from, unless you want to be called any number of slurs or be exposed to unwanted hentai. But the more in-tune with technology and internet culture one is, the better understanding they have of what 4chan actually is, and what content exists in its pages. So when a picture of the Klu Klux Klan appears on Branchan with a caption describing the wish to burn down a dorm room, it is in no way unexpected if you remember 4chan as more than the hacker CBS news was so afraid of a few years ago. That post is not a fluke either; Branchan already exhibits the typical hatred for the left and minorities and trans people and women and etc. that its older brother is known for. Not only are these posts unacceptable, but the entire site’s existence is.

Yes, Branchan has moderators, and yes, they are trying their darndest to keep unbridled hate of their users to a minimum, but the question is raised: who are these moderators, and what were they thinking? Surely, they would have considered 4chan’s reputation and the type of people a college themed spin-off would attract, even in the ‘liberal bastion’ of Brandeis University. There’s plenty of websites to emulate out there, why make a Brandeis 4chan? Why not Reddit? Facebook? Instagram? The case can be made that 4chan was chosen for its mission of anonymity. Then why not the username based anonymous reddit? Or if 4chan is truly the only best model, then why make your retooling perfectly resemble the website it’s based on if that website is so well known for being a terrible place?

The creators of Branchan had to have known what they were doing. Either they purposely made a home for the nazis and bigots of Brandeis campus, or they meant to be edgy without considering the consequences of their actions. By the creation and publicizing of Branchan, the alt-right has been built an on-campus hide away.

We must, as a community, delve deeper into the issue raised by Branchan and its user base. An issue that many are aware of but few, especially within our administration, seem to acknowledge: Brandeis’ underground alt-right has taken up residence in the safe anonymity of this new website.

They exist, now as publicly as ever; though they existed long before Branchan brought them to the forefront. They’ve been around in the rogue racist Brandeis Confessions posts, in the occasional email Liebowitz frantically sends out about a swastika scribbled onto a bathroom stall. Whether they are ‘ironic’ edge-lords or actual fascists doesn’t matter; the former group’s complicity gives the latter power. But here they are, in our ‘social justice oriented’ institution, making their voices heard with increasing audacity. As if the administration’s sketchy track record wasn’t giving the school enough of an identity crisis.

Maybe the creator of Branchan really did believe such scum wouldn’t flock to their site. Maybe they were just as ignorant as many people here seem to be about the underbelly of bigotry that exists even here. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s there.

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