Last Thursday, Fernando Sabag André Montiel allegedly attempted to assassinate the vice president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The gun did not fire, Fernández was whisked away safely, and Montiel was arrested. When images of Montiel circulated, users of one Argentine online forum claimed to recognize him as a fellow user, and immediately tried to disassociate themselves from the would-be assassin.
The forum, Rouzed, was an Argentine digital community where anonymous posters mix banal conversations about hair care and memes with threads full of racist comments and sexual harassment. The site’s higher-ups took the forum offline shortly after the attack on the vice president, doing so voluntarily after seeing the forum’s members accuse each other of complicity in the attack, along with talk of “hiding evidence” linking Rouzed to Montiel. The administrators opted to close down the site when comments like “the shooter was a rouzero” began to gather traction.
By Saturday, September 3, the site’s creators had set up a new forum called “Boxed.” That same day, an anonymously administered Telegram account introduced members to a new site, declaring on a group chat dubbed “Rouzed in exile” that Boxed was Rouzed’s heir. “The idea is to reunite everyone in the same spot. I’m not going to let ‘the R’ die,” said the moderator. Rest of World reached out to the administrators of Boxed to ask why Rouzed had been closed down and whether the new site would address the issues of hate speech on their forums, but received no answer at the time of publication.
The anonymous, public, and unmoderated structure of Rouzed created a “breeding ground for radicalization,” Niv Sardi, an open-source activist and developer who has extensively studied social media and political violence, told Rest of World. “It is common to think that ‘those people’ [extremists] exist in dark, exclusive, inaccessible places, but, in truth, their ideas can be found anywhere. The fact that extremism is a cult doesn’t mean that it is closed off from the public. The danger is precisely that it is very easy to find.”
Rouzed’s status as a hub for extremists makes it a part of a global trend of relatively unmoderated, public, and anonymized chat sites. One of the most famous, 4chan, also has a troubled history of mixing banal content with hate speech. Just recently, a shooter in Buffalo, New York, was allegedly identified as being a frequent poster on the site.
Before Rouzed moderators closed down the forum, users quickly began to recirculate posts they said were from Montiel, including purported images of himself bearing Nazi tattoos on his arms, which they said enabled them to recognize him as Fernández’s attacker.
“In case of an investigation by any federal entity or similar, I do not have any involvement with this group or with the people in it, I do not know how I am here, probably added by a third party, I do not support any actions by members of this group,” said one user on the Rouzed forum, posting the message in Spanish, English, French, Japanese, and Portuguese.
Sardi, who has studied sites like 4chan, said that the fact that Rouzed was such an easily accessible and functionally unmoderated site also led to its downfall. The breadth of subject matter on the site made its community much more “diverse,” he said, from what one would expect from a far-right monolith. Postings purportedly by Montiel indicate an ideology on the site’s fringes, so when other users found themselves participating in the same forum as the would-be shooter, many feared being identified with his philosophy as well.
However, just as there were users who disagreed with Montiel, many likely feared that they’d been “left without a hangout spot because of a normie,” as one user commented on Boxed.
Faced with the perpetuation of Rouzed as Boxed, Ezequiel Ipar, a researcher at CONICET and professor of sociological theory at the University of Buenos Aires, told Rest of World that the fundamental problem was not an individual, like Montiel, or a website, like Rouzed, but rather, a systemic issue. One in which digital spaces such as Boxed can easily make accessible hate speech in a “cheap, fast and simple” way. To truly confront extremism, Ipar advocated “online education, so that when people are faced with a message of hate, they are not left simply with the shock from its violence, but instead, empowered to take back those platforms.”