The Russian-owned image-sharing application is extremely popular with teen boys. It’s also full of far-right propaganda.
This week, an 18-year-old Ohio man was charged with threatening a federal officer. This came after law enforcement seized 15 rifles, 10 semiautomatic pistols, and 10,000 rounds of ammunition from his home. Justin Olsen came to the attention of authorities in the same way that several young white men who allegedly threatened to carry out mass shootings have — he posted about it online. The difference? Olsen’s main internet hangout wasn’t 8chan or Gab, but the meme-sharing website and app iFunny, where he posted under the name ArmyOfChrist, according to court documents.
Olsen’s iFunny account, it turns out, was just one node in a roiling hive of far-right activity. As of Wednesday, ArmyOfChrist was still online and had over 5,000 subscribers.
In the 200 posts on Olsen’s account, which were viewed by BuzzFeed News, he raged against feminists, progressives, the LGBTQ community, and religious and ethnic minorities, and repeatedly called for the establishment of a Christian ethnostate. Many of the memes he posted were fixated on the Crusades, fantasizing about a religious war between Christians and Muslims.
Olsen used his account to advertise a personal Discord channel, which had about 40 participants in it. It was in the Army Of Christ Discord that Olsen wrote, “In conclusion, shoot every federal agent on sight.”
Olsen’s server was active until Tuesday, after inquires from BuzzFeed News. Discord did not respond to requests for comment.
Since its creation in 2011, iFunny has been largely ignored by the mainstream internet. But the app, which is number 62 in the Entertainment category in Apple’s App Store and popular with teen boys — is owned by Russian developer Okrujnost and run by David Chef, known as Cheffy by the iFunny community. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Chef for comment.
iFunny, which is available online and as an app, is divided into sections featuring content curated by moderators, as well as a section to follow subscribed accounts.
Visiting the site reveals a heavily curated front page — your typical meme fare, screenshots of viral tweets, GIFs from Reddit, jokes about Minecraft — but digging below the surface, the picture darkens.
BuzzFeed News spoke to an iFunny user who requested anonymity and who mapped out the subterranean radicalized space.
“I’ve been using iFunny since it came out in 2011,” the anonymous user said. “These kind of things really picked up at the height of offensive conservative counterculture in 2016. I guess the ideas remained for a lot of the underground users, so as time went on they evolved to have a community that was similar to 8chan.”
The iFunny user provided BuzzFeed News with a list of larger radicalized accounts. The content shared there is on par with anything that was being posted on the now-offline 8chan. Following news of Olsen’s arrest this week, many of these accounts labeled themselves “satire” and shared memes about the FBI.
One account called RaceWar, which was on the list of radicalized accounts, has over 6,000 subscribers and has posted close to 20,000 times. Their posts alternate between mainstream memes and hardcore neo-Nazi propaganda. Another account on the list called Traditional_Nationalist, which has close to 20,000 subscribers, is full of white nationalist propaganda drawn from screenshots from 8chan. Zaoist, with around 9,000 subscribers, posts “trad Christian” content similar to what Olsen was sharing on his ArmyOfChrist account.
Like how 8chan’s users celebrate mass shooters, iFunny has its own radicalized icons. One user named Shaug is, according to the community, allegedly connected to a 2014 shooting threat at Land O’ Lakes High School in Florida. Another personality popular on iFunny is Samuel Woodward, an alleged member of the violent neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, who was known on the app as Saboteur. Woodward was accused of killing his gay former classmate last year. He’s currently facing up to life in prison without parole. Woodward’s username is still active on iFunny, though it’s unclear who posts under it. Memes put up this week show Shaug and Woodward interacting with Olsen’s account following his arrest.
A spokesperson for iFunny on Wednesday told BuzzFeed News that the company had not seen any increase in radicalized activity.
“Honestly, we see the opposite,” they said. “We believe in a segregation of duties — we will continue the process of banning of the content that violates guidelines/law and the Authorities will continue to control the potential criminals in a real life.”
Earlier this week, an iFunny spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that they presumed the criminal activity happening on the app was a normal amount.
“We assume that percent of the potential criminals among them has 100% correlation with the percent of the potential criminals among the whole society,” a spokesperson for the site told BuzzFeed News.
In the initial email to BuzzFeed News, the spokesperson also bragged about iFunny’s Comscore, sending a PDF of the 2017 U.S. Mobile App Report that ranked iFunny the top-indexed app in the 18–24 demographic.
“iFunny is the most influential mobile app among young adults in the US,” the spokesperson said.
The anonymous iFunny user whom BuzzFeed News spoke to claimed that the radicalization taking over the site had been building for several years. “I can’t really pinpoint the start of these accounts, but I’d assume they started posting ironic and edgy memes and slowly shared their ideologies,” he said. “They started radicalizing because it’s kind of an echo chamber in the app.”