Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka—the creator of the era-defining Something Awful forums—died by suicide on November 9, Motherboard confirmed with the Lee’s Summit, Missouri police department.
When longtime Something Awful admin “fragmaster” posted on the site for the first time in years on November 10, it was to tell the community that its founder, Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka was dead. “I guess I should preface this by saying this isn’t a joke especially since I’m posting for like the first time in 10 years or something, but I got the bad news today directly from Rich’s family,” fragmaster said. He linked to a video eulogy where he shares his extended thoughts.
Prefacing the news with a disclaimer that it’s not a joke was necessary—faking his own death for laughs feels like the kind of thing Kyanka would have done. It typifies the gross and shocking humor associated with Something Awful.
Kyanka was a comedian and programmer who started the website Somethingawful.com in 1999. It began as a simple web forum and grew into a cultural phenomenon. To be on the internet in the 2000s was to swim in a sea of Something Awful’s influence. The image macro meme format, the creepy pasta story Slender Man, and Twitter’s dril all got their start on Something Awful. A lot of the basic grammar people use to communicate online originated in its forum posts.
But its influence was also terrible. Its members pioneered targeted harassment campaigns and formed communities that became too toxic even for Something Awful spun off into their own websites. 4chan began as an alternative image board after Lowtax banned hentai from the forum in 2003. Doxing forum Kiwi Farms got its start after leaving the Something Awful forums. If a lot of the basic language of the U.S. internet was influenced by the forums, so was the kind of affectless irony that starts with people pretending to be Nazis as a joke and ending up as actual Nazis.
Kyanka sold Something Awful to longtime admin Jeffrey of YOSPOS in 2020 following a domestic violence incident at his Missouri home. Kyanka had a history of domestic abuse, the specifics of which played out on the Something Awful forums. Years of Kyanka neglecting the site and disgust at his personal life eventually turned the community against him.
One of Kyanka’s ex-wives shared details related to his death on Something Awful. Motherboard confirmed some of them with the Lee’s Summit Missouri police department.
In a second post, she both clarified the nature of the abuse she experienced and eulogized Kyanka. “I know that all three of us spouses loved him very much when we first got together,” she said.
“He was a complex man and it’s devastating that there was so much potential there for a happier life if he tried to heal his demons and addictions successfully, and it ended like this.Most humans are all not good or all bad. I have behaved in ways in my life that I’m not proud of. I don’t know what I’m trying to say here really other than that grief is really fucking complicated and I wish he had tried harder to heal if not for himself then for his kids. I hated him in recent times, but I also at one time loved him deeply. My daughter is five, she will fare better than his other children who are in their teens and risk seeing people celebrating their fathers death.”
Kyanka’s life and the legacy of Something Awful are complicated and fraught.
“Ultimately Rich created a community where interesting things happened and people connected,” fragmaster said in his video eulogy. “It led to a gigantic number of positive things. Numerous marriages, friendships, children can be traced back to Something Awful goon meets, private messages….many lives were strangely improved by Rich and his creation.”
But many lives were also warped and destroyed. One of the most popular forum threads on the site was Groverhaus, the story about a sprawling and bizarre home construction project. Goons were so hungry for more information about the strange house that they doxxed the owner and harassed him and his family for the lolz. The targeted harassment campaigns of Kiwi Farms and 4chan were born and perfected on Something Awful before moving off site. The internet’s general interest in seeking justice via public shaming was fostered there.
Kyanka’s legacy is woven into the soul of the internet, for better and for worse. He hated the internet, the internet hated him back, and it’s not clear anyone has learned anything from what he helped unleash.
“I’m obviously not a visionary, but I predicted that the internet would be shitty back in 1999,” Kyanka told Motherboard in 2017. “Everybody was talking about how the internet was going to revolutionize everything and everything was going to be great, but nobody ever talked about how shitty the internet could also be.”
If you are struggling with a mental health issue in USA call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 . In Canada, visit suicideprevention.ca for more information on how to get help.
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