Welcome to How I Got Radicalized, a series from GEN that tells the story of a cultural moment that made you drastically rethink how society works.
I remember being on autopilot as I went through my process of wiping my identity on Tor, an open-source browser dedicated to maintaining internet anonymity. I exited the browser, double-checking that everything related to it was closed and triple-checking before finally turning off my VPN. I then slammed my laptop shut and sunk back into my bed, exhausted.
It was a weird liminal time of night. If I went to bed right away, I would get at least three and a half hours of sleep before school. But if I couldn’t force myself to relax, it would be another day functioning on burnt espresso from the Starbucks on 49th Street in midtown Manhattan.
My bones felt tired. All I wanted was the sweet reprieve of unconsciousness, but every time I closed my eyes, all I could see were fucked-up images of dead Black people. Eric Garner, who had been killed a couple months prior, was tattooed to the backs of my eyelids.
I had just turned 16 and started my junior year of high school in New York. But unlike most teens, I was spiraling down an existential crisis at 3 a.m., questioning whether my role as an anonymous vigilante against online trolls every night was worth it.
What was I really doing?
That was the last night I logged onto 4chan, a toxic site fueled by anonymous image-based message boards, to troll the trolls.
If you had asked the average person what an online troll or 4chan user in 2012 looked like, you’d probably hear every possible stereotype of a disillusioned, single bro. They’d likely have a fedora, maybe even a neckbeard, and pasty skin covered by a graphic T-shirt that featured some gross “go make me a sandwich” joke. Most people would never suspect a 13-year-old Black girl with a pink Dell laptop.
Tumblr became my entryway into the dark recesses of the internet. I was a punk/emo kid who was highly stressed but somehow extremely bored with…