[B]efore Mr. Sayoc’s accounts were taken down [by Facebook and Twitter], The New York Times archived their contents. And a closer study of his online activity reveals the evolution of a political identity built on a foundation of false news and misinformation, and steeped in the insular culture of the right-wing media. For years, these platforms captured Mr. Sayoc’s attention with a steady flow of outrage and hyperpartisan clickbait and gave him a public venue to declare his allegiance to Mr. Trump and his antipathy for the president’s enemies.
On social media, none of this behavior is particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, to many of his followers, Mr. Sayoc may have appeared to be just one of many partisan keyboard warriors working through their rage.
“There are tons of people like this,” said Shannon McGregor, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah who studies social media. “He took these memes to their most violent extreme, but this is a pretty big world on social media.”
The genesis of Mr. Sayoc’s partisan awakening may never be known, but hints of it first appeared on his Facebook feed in early 2016, as the primary season for the presidential election was starting.
That February, he posted a link to a conspiracy theory video on YouTube titled, “Is Barack Obama THE ANTICHRIST — 100% PROOF Is There!” Days later, he posted a second YouTube video, “Satan Sent Obama to Destroy America,” and a clip featuring Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, which was called, “MUST HEAR: Sean Exposes Illegal Immigrant Crime Stats.” He posted several anti-Obama videos multiple times on his feed, interspersed with stories about personal finance and his favorite soccer players.
By the summer, Mr. Sayoc’s social media activity was all politics, all the time. [Continue reading…]