Republican nominee Donald Trump has curried favor among nationalists, white supremacists and anti-Semites, despite Trump's efforts to seem unappreciative of the support. But Trump's most vehement following might come from a far-right movement called the "alt-right," a shapeless vessel of extreme conservatism that boils over on message boards known for bigotry.
Two boards you may know are 4chan and 8chan — image-based bulletin boards where anonymous users can post whatever they'd like. Of course, free-reign anonymity also means an open forum for hate speech beyond general trolling, giving birth to anti-Semitic campaign fodder like the white supremacist-created Star of David Hillary Clinton meme that Trump tweeted in July. But 8chan users are doing more than just supplying Trump followers with unending hate memes. As of this writing, 8ch.net is listed in Trump's top referring sites, along with unsubscribe.trump2016.com and rnctracking.gop.
According to referral data from SimilarWeb, 8chan was the ninth-highest traffic-driver between February and July, accounting for about 2.3% of all traffic sent to Trump's campaign site. It landed right behind traffic from conservative news site breitbart.com, whose executive chairman now heads Trump's presidential campaign.
However, though the actual traffic number is small (Vice reported it was only about 74,000 desktop visits for that six-month period), traffic from the site has grown exponentially: Between the months of June and July, traffic from 8chan rose 581.3%, according to SimilarWeb. But even then, it's hard to tell why the traffic came from 8chan in the first place.
"They talk about different things on 8chan, so it's hard to know what this means or what it's significance is," Mark Pitcavage, Senior Research Fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, told Mic. "One would expect traffic coming to Trump's website from sites like 8chan or 4chan or Reddit because people like to talk about Trump there. Some of those could definitely be racists, but we don't know where the referrals are coming from. You have to make speculative leaps I'm not willing to make."
It's hard to say whether the data is reliable, even though it's heartening to see that one of the main traffic drivers was unsubscribe.trump2016.com. But there's a clear parallel here: When a candidate builds his campaign on espousing racist and bigoted rhetoric, it's only a matter of time before he's championed by racists and bigots. This is just the numerical proof.
"Most of the people I look at are hardcore extremists, not racist idiots that make up a lot of 8channers and 4channers," Pitcavage said. "But there is overlap. There are far more internet trolls than hardcore extremists who go out and kill people. But [trolls] can still have nasty effects. ... Cyber hate is a real thing and people need to know it's going on."