It’s Troll Week on Mashable. Join us as we explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of internet trolling.
Facebook meme groups are the lifeblood of modern college culture. For one school, a power struggle between a hacker and shitposters became a bonding experience for a whole student body.
If there’s anything that this generation of young people can do without fail, it’s shitposting. In an surprisingly nuanced entry on Urban Dictionary, a user defines shitpost as “any content on the internet whose humor derives from its surreal nature and/or its lack of clear context.” Differing from memes in that a meme’s humor “comes from its repeatability,” a shitpost’s humor stems from its tendency to ridicule a situation by making something out of nothing.
The art of shitposting is best exemplified in this bizarre saga of an Iraqi hacker bent on obtaining passports, a college meme group held hostage for incomprehensible demands, and the girl whose tenacity for trolling reclaimed it.
What does Addman want anyway?
Berklee College of Music in Boston is a small school whose social culture, like many smaller academic institutions, is strengthened by memes. Its seminal Facebook group, Overheard at Berklee, functioned as a town hall for students to poke fun at the administration, promote their work, and share the most ridiculous snippets of conversation they overheard on campus.
Brendan Cornish, a current Berklee student who provided the screenshots of the group’s shenanigans, calls Overheard a “huge part” of the school’s culture.
“It lets off-campus students like me feel like a part of the community, and it helps everyone develop a sense of Berklee identity,” he said over Facebook Messenger. “It’s fun to have a shared sense of humor in what feels like an in-group.”
But in March 2017, that all changed when one of the admins’ Facebook accounts was hacked.
Under the compromised account, the hacker was able to remove all of Overheard‘s admin and moderation team, and establish himself as the sole controller of the group. He quickly changed the group’s name to “The Iraq virus was here” in Arabic, according to Google Translate.
“Having difficulty telling if this was a move by the White House to make us live in fear or not,” one member posted in the group. “Sad reacts,” another member posted.
“People were confused because it’s mostly a meme page,” Berklee alum and active Overheard member Alejandro told me over a video chat. He asked to only be referred to by his first name. “And naturally most of the responses were just people A: Being confused, B: Making memes about it, which became considerably easier with the first thing that Addman said.”
In his first public statement in his new digital domain, he announced, “I.m hacker. And. Hacked the addman.”
From then on, Overheard members referred to him as “Addman” or in some cases, “The Addman.”
“Next thing you know, it’s just shitposts. Everywhere,” Alejandro said. “The entire group is flooded with memes. Flooded with memes about this mysterious hacker, flooded with people sending screenshots of them messaging him, and the hacker occasionally responding.”
As people tried to figure out what the fuck was going on in their group, they inundated Overheard with offers for free grams of weed, jokes about alerting WikiLeaks, and attempts at sending Addman mixtapes.
Then he revealed what he hacked the group for: “Photo passport.” In return for “passport English,” he promised to “give you drub.”
That, of course, sparked a fresh wave of shitposts about what he meant by “drub.” Some theorized that Addman had drastically misspelled “group,” while others joked that he was offering drugs.
Students began coming up with conspiracy theories about Addman; some believed that it was an elaborate hoax by another Berklee student who was ambitiously trying to pull off the ultimate shitpost.
Sure that Addman was just another Berklee kid, Alejandro messaged the hacker.
“I thought it was fucking hilarious, I added the guy, sent him messages on Facebook,” Alejandro said. “But I totally thought this was a fucking joke, and sent stuff to the guy. And then I went through the guy’s profile and it had been there for a while. It was a real Iraqi guy.”
How one girl tried to save it
Amid the chaos, Berklee student Emma — who we’ll refer to only by her first name — was concerned.
“I thought all of the memes that came out of it were funny,” she said over Facebook Messenger. “But when he started deleting the other admins and changed the name I got a little worried. Everyone was just making light of this ridiculous situation.”
She decided to take matters into her own hands, and messaged him: “Are you into kinky shit?”
“I figured nobody was going directly to the source of the memeage and I wanted to try my best to get the group back,” Emma said.
Addman replied with his best attempt at sexting, messaging Emma gems like “Let’s get your body up,” and “Send me your picture in the bathroom to raise my appetite.”
She replied with a photo of her foot haphazardly pointed in front of her shower. As Cornish writes in his Imgur album chronicling the wild chain of events, “it is still unclear if Addman’s appetites were raised.”
“I thought the whole thing was such a joke,” Emma said. “It was probably 1 a.m. and I was laying in bed being a troll, lol.”
Addman, however, was determined to get his passport. His demands were unclear; at one point, he posted, “Hi I want Facebook account creation date2005 … I will give you the group.”
His grasp on the English language also seemed to improve with every post. An hour after demanding a Facebook account from 2005, he posted, “Hello, I want personalized photo IDs and passports in exchange for that I will return to you to download personal IDs or passports in the comments.”
Who wouldn’t risk some lighthearted identity fraud for adminship to a Facebook meme group?
Undeterred by the threat of never getting Overheard back, Berklee students responded with an onslaught of shitposts. Running with the classic trope of ripping off young creatives, one member even offered to pay Addman in exposure.
“It’s almost surreal,” Alejandro said, still astonished that it all happened.
This whole situation is like a testament to shitposting itself. When presented with absurdism, why not respond with absurdism? If anything, the Overheard reaction to being hacked exemplifies the Millennial and Gen Z love for nihilistic humor — the world may be falling apart, but at least we can make jokes!
“This is just more new content,” Alejandro agreed. “And new content lets you explore old memes and ideas that you couldn’t before, so people are gonna jump on that immediately. It affected all of us because everyone’s in that group, and it was so ripe for the picking.”
“You saw all the regular Berklee joke subjects brought up, but adapted to the situation,” Cornish concurred. “No one missed a beat.”
Addman shuts it down
But Addman wasn’t as entertained. He archived the group eight days after triumphantly gaining control, perhaps after being the target of constant trolling. Berklee kids made another Overheard group, but according to Emma, it “wasn’t the same.”
“There were thousands of members in the in the original group,” she said. “Alumni, current students, and even some staff. We didn’t want to lose that as a community.”
Although many former members resigned themselves to the new Overheard group, Emma was determined to regain control. While filling in friends who were out of the loop it hit her: They had to “give one last shot of getting the old group back.” She redoubled on her efforts to message Addman, attempting to harangue him into making her an admin.
“He kept pushing for me to take off my clothes and send him pictures, but I wasn’t having it so kept being like, ‘Maybe after you do ME a favor and make me an admin with you,” she said.
One of the friends who resolved to win back the group with her made a collage of Addman’s best attempts at sexting. Gems include, “I have brought my head into my confusion,” and “I am now a young man in your blades.”
Emma played along — when he messaged her, “I want your body,” she replied with: “I need your body, as long as you got me, you don’t need nobody.”
Berklee vs. Berkeley
It seemed like Addman, like many people, confused Berklee for the larger, more well-known University of California, Berkeley. That mix up in itself is a meme within the Berklee community — at the beginning of every summer, incoming Berklee freshmen try to join the UC Berkeley Facebook group, Emma explained.
Knowing that Addman was clueless about what school he was hacking made it infinitely more funny. In the end, it wasn’t the sexting or the shower foot photo that got Addman to relinquish. Instead, Emma promised to add him to an actual UC Berkeley Facebook group.
“Music school breeds some trolls,” she said.
In September 2017, months after declaring Overheard Berklee his, Addman made Emma an admin. She unarchived the group, restoring balance to the school’s culture.
“Thanks four addind my love Emma,” Addman posted in UC Berkeley’s Class of 2019 group after she added him, passing him off to another college Facebook group to deal with.
Although Addman promptly unfriended everyone from Berklee and left Overheard, his reputation and impact on the school’s lore lives on.
“You could almost do a BC and AD split with before Addman and after,” Cornish reflected. “The whole thing kept me up until 4 a.m. that night, and whether this is pathetic or not, was one of my most fun Berklee memories.”
Who was Addman anyway?
There’s something beautiful about how cemented college social interactions are in meme culture; no matter how cliquey or divisive a class may be, an opportunity to make memes will bring them together in a way that administration-sponsored orientation events can’t. On a larger scale, it hints at just how sardonic this generation is. Who can resist a good shitpost, even in times of crisis?
More than a year after the incident, Overheard at Berklee and its spinoff group have been untouched by foreign hackers in search of passports. But one question still lingers: Who was trolling who? Was Addman the real puppet master in all of this, playing the Berklee kids like marionettes?
“I don’t know how in on the joke he was,” Alejandro wondered about Addman. “I don’t know if he was serious, or if he was doing this just to fuck with some dumb college students? I don’t know if he was just trying to have a laugh.”
Addman appears to be living his best life as well — in May, he changed his profile picture to a saturated selfie of him wearing a snazzy maroon vest. But he hasn’t stopped in quest for passports. When I messaged him for a comment on this story, he responded in typical Addman fashion.
“Do you want to group,” he asked. “I want to get a passport and return you svez group.”