In the era of the so-called weaponized social media, internet trolls have taken form as a widely used political tool used by the influential parties in different parts of the world to push their agenda. Interestingly, observers are now pointing to the origin of these online armies being a group of neo-nationalists from Japan called the Netto uyoku.
With similar styles and operations to America’s “alt-right movement”, it is quite possible that these modern-era propagandists may have been shaped or at least inspired by Japan’s Net uyoku (literally the Japanese internet right-wingers).
The Netto uyoku movement reportedly first took shape in 2channel (2chan) during an economic crisis in Japan from the late 1990s to 2010s. It has evolved from an anonymous message board into a huge internet subculture which eventually birthed the Netto uyoku. In just a few years, an American version of the platform would emerge in the form of 4chan, but its influence certainly did not stop there.
In an interview with The Guardian, White nationalist Jared Taylor, who speaks fluent Japanese, even attributes his sense of racial purity and far-right politics as somehow being inspired by his two-year stay in Tohoku, Japan. “It’s an ethnostate and it’s deeply nationalist,” he said. “And they have resisted the pressure to admit refugees. I say: ‘God bless them!’”
Like the American far-right movement, Netto uyoku frequently post nationalistic and xenophobic articles on the Internet, the only difference is that they interact almost exclusively in their own cyber community. Similarly, though, they tend to express hostility towards immigrants from other countries, particularly on their part, against Zainichi Koreans.
Like the Philippine revisionists portraying its late dictator Marcos in a holier-than-thou light, the Netto uyoku are known for expressing their historically revisionist views. They always portray Japan in a positive light, to the point of defending Japan’s actions prior to and during World War II.
Furuya Tsunehira, a Japanese who has been studying the group, observes that although Netto uyoku is active online, they are hardly a political voice offline. Some of them may even have joined the group, solely out of boredom, as a former Netto uyoku confessed:
“I was lonely and had nothing to do at that time. So I spent a lot of time on the Internet. This was just as “matome” meme aggregator websites were just becoming popular in Japan. After reading websites that focused on discrimination, I felt great because I thought I had gained knowledge that they did not teach in school nor you could not get by watching TV.
“I felt I was someone important. When I saw those comments making fun of the Koreans or even worse, they did not bother me at all. Perhaps it was partly because I didn’t know anything about Korea and the Koreans. In any case, they were living in a different world from mine and frankly speaking it didn’t matter to me at all.”
The same may be said about white nationalist head Richard Spencer, who, according to Buzzfeed, spent most of his time “on message boards like Reddit posting about anime, video games, and comic books. He’s also tweeted about his love of Japan’s conservative government and even did a video in August, while on vacation in Japan, lashing out against Hillary Clinton.”
“I’ve always admired Japan and found it a fascinating place,” he was quoted as saying. “The aesthetics of the alt-right, I would say, could involve anime.”
Spencer even made the connection between anime and the far right by attributing how images work well on the internet. “That’s how you communicate,” he said. “That’s the kind of meme culture on Twitter and 4chan.”
Now, there’s even a far-right group who calls themselves as “anime right,” and anime girls photoshopped to be wearing “Make America Great Again” hats are flooding the internet.
On using meme as an effective recruitment tool:
“You want to, like, reach people whose minds haven’t ossified yet. And I think the alt-right is doing that in a crazy way, through meme culture,” he said. “In a sense that, like, a kid who’s 22 and just graduated from college and is working at Starbucks and he’s kind of pissed off and alienated and he doesn’t quite know why. You can reach him through a meme, whereas you’re not going to reach him through a book about traditionalism.”
The phenomenon is also currently seen in various parts of the world. While America has fake news mills, China similarly has the 50-centers, India has WhatsApp armies, Russia has troll farms, the Philippines has keyboard warriors, Israel has the Hasbara and even North Korea has its so-called Cyber Warfare Army.
These paid, or at times, volunteer, trolls are pumping out fake social media posts daily by the hundreds, flooding the internet with stories, memes and video content in attempts to revise histories, sway public opinion or even win elections.