On Super Tuesday, BuzzFeed News experimented with Facebook’s relatively new Live (livestreaming video) feature. This meant letting our homepage editor Gavon Laessig get drunk and comment on the primary results as they came in for several hours. Weirdly, a lot of people tuned in.
Even weirder, they really seemed to like this demented public-access-on-Four-Loko version of CNN. So we started doing more Live videos: trying out a bunch different formats, from a closeup feed of someone’s hands popping bubblewrap during the GOP debates to celebrity interviews.
Facebook Live is relatively new ground, so we’re figuring it all out. But one thing that became clear very early on was that there was a very specific trolling happening in the comments: Our livestreams were being flooded with people all saying the exact same comment.
“m9 slamber city”
The BuzzFeed employees doing the livestreams were stumped. What the hell did “m9” mean and where was Slamber City? Why were people saying this on a livestream about politics? What was this new internet slang that no one at BuzzFeed had heard of? (We’re usually pretty up on that kind of stuff.) WTF????
It turns out it was nothing we could’ve expected. The trolls weren’t from 4chan or Reddit, aggro Bernie Bros or Trump Troopers mad at our politics coverage, nor even Russian spambots. They’re from a Facebook group for British car modification enthusiasts called Slamber City. In that group, “m9” is a purposeful typo of “m8”, which is itself slang for “mate” (kind of like “pwn” for “own”). « Slamber » is slang for cars with cambered wheels, a weird modification when you angle your tires like this for some godforsaken reason:
But why was a car modification group trolling BuzzFeed? Well, it turns out we weren’t the only ones. The Slamber City crew was doing it to plenty of other Live videos on Facebook. There’s even a YouTube compilation where various livestreamers are massively confused about what “m9” means:
A compilation of people confused about what « m9 » means:
Joe Watkins, a 25-year-old from northern England, and one of the admins of the Slamber City Facebook group, explained it to us. “M9'ing isn't trolling in my opinion, it's fruitful spamming,” he says.
The Slamber City group has almost 54,000 members — so there are an awful lot of people ready to m9 at a moment’s notice. “Like, everyone who likes modified cars knows Slamber,” says Mike Hopkins, one of the other admins from Blackpool, UK. Unsurprisingly for a group of people who mostly want to talk about car modifications (Hopkins’ particular interest is souping up early ‘90s Volkswagens) the coordinated effort doesn’t really have that much coordination. “Someone will share a livestream feed on Slamber, then people just go to them.” OK, m8.
The group sometimes compares itself to 4chan and, like 4chan, it’s not always quite so nice. It has the normalized racism and misogyny, revenge porn, and harassment that is typical of anonymous young male online socializing (Reddit, BodyBuilding.org’s “misc” board, 4chan, parts of Twitter). Slamber City's particular flavor of toxic masculinity is lad culture, which among other things, means calling each other the C-word a lot. Oddly, unlike those places, this all takes place under people’s real names and Facebook profiles, which suggests anonymity isn't the main enabler of being a jerk online.
A meme from the Slamber City Facebook group.
Hopkins acknowledges the problems, but says that the admins are vigilant about banning people who act out. They also have formed a tight-knit bond. He and his fellow admin Joe (there’s about 10 admins for the page) met on the group and formed a close friendship. “Me and Joe are best mates. I love the guy,” said Hopkins. He also excitedly told me that Watkins has the lowest “mk1 caddy” in the UK (apparently that’s some sort of modified VW Golf).
Unlike hardcore trolls who might flood comments with hateful racism, or harassment, the act of posting obscure, misspelled British slang for “friend” over and over is playful and kind of funny. It’s maybe confusing for the victim, but it’s not hurtful. M9'ing is a rare classic form of trolling: creating harmless mayhem just for the sake of mayhem and reaction, not for evil.
In fact, the Slamber Crew are such nice trolls that after spamming British radio DJ Majestic's livestream with “m9” comments, he reached out to Hopkins and other admins because he was charmed. He created a techno song in honor of Slamber City called “Takeover”. Majestic’s idea was to have proceeds from the iTunes sales of the song go to two charities: one for suicide prevention and another that supports domestic abuse victims. The single made it as high as No. 39 on the UK iTunes dance charts, and has sold over 900 copies according to Hopkins (that would net around $700 for charity).
So I guess…. Go buy the song on iTunes and support a good cause. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: Support your local trolls.