The Antisocial Network: Memes to Mayhem Review (2024)

The Antisocial Network: Memes to Mayhem Review


What’s the Plot?

MEMES TO MAYHEM: THE ANTISOCIAL NETWORK is a documentary that chronicles how a collection of alienated men found solace online, creating 4Chan, where they shared jokes, memes, and videos that were funny to them but not taken kindly by many. The website eventually gave birth to QAnon – one of the largest conspiracy theories in American history and an idea which has done significant damage to the country’s mental health.


There’s been a growing strain of non-fiction films that I jokingly refer to as “Internet Bad” movies. The worst of these feel like shallow fearmongering, playing up the fears of older viewers like a modern-day Reefer Madness. Part of the problem with this subgenre is that too many filmmakers try to paint something as complex as the internet and technology in general with a very broad brush. Our technological revolution is way too complex for most feature films to begin to capture or even really comment on, especially as it’s shifting every day, so doc filmmakers end up not saying anything by trying to say too much. “The Antisocial Network: Memes to Mayhem” has some of this problem as it traces the impact of 4chan from Rickrolling to insurrection but it’s more engaging than a lot of this doc subgenre by virtue of directors Giorgio Angelini (“Owned: A Tale of Two Americas”) and Arthur Jones’ filmmaking acumen (Jones made one of the best movies about this stuff with Feels Good Man).

Like so many things online poisons these days, 4chan started innocently enough, a place for people with common interests to gather. One thing we learn in “The Antisocial Network,” however, is how this system essentially followed another down the rabbit hole toward toxicity 2chan had become a political nightmare in Japan. The early days are almost lovingly memorialized here, when people were obsessed with an online figure named “moot,” also known as Christopher Poole, who would become the Mark Zuckerberg of this organization. It’s fascinating to see the early in-person meetings, and to watch them splinter as more and more people wanted to make an offline impact through pranks that eventually became Anonymous and QAnon. There’s a cautionary tale in this kind of escalation through shitposting and trolling if they got away with one thing then it only led to wanting to do something bigger or crazier next time (some of the trolls even talk about that here).

For better or worse, “The Antisocial Network” seems reticent to point fingers, almost taking the stance that the kind of unchecked power that was held by 4chan was destined to corrupt and so we shouldn’t really blame any of the people caught in this spider web. It sometimes feels like a few people, including one being interviewed, are let off the hook in terms of personal responsibility in a way that can be frustrating. These folks still did make choices. And, while the truth is that much of the activity on 4chan may not have created the giant rifts in society in 2024, it sure didn’t help, amplifying garbage like PizzaGate into the actual national conversation. Yes, Anonymous brought attention to issues like privacy and income inequity, but the cavalcade of conspiracy theories and flat-out lying to get clicks have dumbed down the entire country because no one knows what’s true anymore in a world where so many people believe that Q is real.

At its best, this point is embedded in “The Antisocial Network,” pulling back the curtain on so much of the bullshit of the last decade and revealing it to be just a bunch of people who tugged at the strings of national anxiety for the lulz. The film can be a bit weighed down in terms of hyperactive editing, but that’s because it’s trying to tell bits and pieces of so many stories, cutting between interviews about the practical history of 4chan and attempting to convey its international impact at the same time. In an era in which Netflix usually turns everything into a multi-episode series to drag it out for the viewing hours, it’s almost funny that a true story that could have justified more time gets shoved into a feature-length box that makes some of it feel shallow.

With all of its unpacked tragedies, “The Antisocial Network” fits pretty snugly into the “Internet Bad” category of documentaries, but it’s better than most because of how deftly it chronicles how it broke that way in the first place.

Is It Any Good?

Few recent films have been more terrifying than this documentary about the creation of 4Chan and how it led to the birth of QAnon. Watching The Antisocial Network: Memes to Mayhem feels like watching a nightmare come to life. Directors Giorgio Angelini and Arthur Jones do a great job getting the story from the men who created 4Chan, all of whom share the idea that their creation was meant to encourage freedom of expression. But they don’t show much remorse or a sense of accountability for how their website became a cesspool for conspiracy theories that have caused great harm across the world.

Watching notorious internet trolls try to reason their way through their bullying using logic is chilling, especially when the filmmakers draw a line from 4Chan to the January 6th attacks on the Capitol and how American democracy has been fractured. Younger audience members might be fascinated by learning about an online past that seems prehistoric given the advancement of technology, but the film doesn’t offer a strong point of view, perpetuating the dangers that can come with unchecked “freedom,” as some might see the men featured here as heroes and others as their biggest fears come to life.

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