The Dark Heart of the Internet by Stephanie Cohen


On the Internet, he's a god. In real life, he's an out-of-work 21-year-old, $20,000 in debt, living in his mom's Westchester apartment.Meet Christopher Poole, known to his online fans as "moot," the mind behind, one of the busiest - and strangest - discussion boards on the Web. Poster child, perhaps, of the Internet economy, where you can influence the lives of millions and still not cover the rent.'s users, and there are, on average, 5 million a month, engage in mindless, usually vile, nonstop banter that often percolates beyond the service itself with books, political kerfuffles and lawsuits.It's members have been responsible for such pranks as hacking into Sarah Palin's e-mail account, interrupting an Apple Computer conference with the note "Steve Jobs just died," and making over 6,000 threatening calls to church of Scientology offices.

And inside jokes started on the site's "Random" message board - by far the site's most active and grotesque - often become popular catchphrases and Internet memes.

"Rickrolling" was originally a joke; that is, posting a link with a false title ("sexy pictures of Uma!") that send an unsuspecting person to a video of the '80s singer Rick Astley. Astley rode the odd fame to a surprise appearance at the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Tay Zonday, a strange-voiced singer of a song called "Chocolate Rain," was made famous by as well; John Mayer eventually covered his tune.And the term LOLcat - misspelled captions posted on pictures of cats; trust us, it's funny - started on's "Caturday" posts. It spawned its own Web site,, as well as a book deal.

Yet Poole suffers in ignominy and poverty at his mother's home, unable to make money off the influential yet unwieldy chatroom."I feel like I keep making it to the cusp of something," Poole told the Washington Post. "Everybody gets really excited about the wealth that could" come out of it. But then . .