Last week, trolls from 4chan executed a highly effective crowd-sourced intelligence operation, one that should serve as a case study in modern information warfare.

In what illustrates the power of a decentralized and flat operational hierarchy, internet trolls from the website 4chan targeted and shut down actor Shia Labeouf and his recent “He Will Not Divide Us” protest artwork through collaborative intelligence gathering.

In its original form, Labeouf had installed a 24-hour livestream camera outside a New York art museum on January 20th, where passersby were encouraged to stand and communicate messages of support for the protest. After it became the site of numerous disruptions and fights, it was moved to New Mexico, where it also only lasted a short while.

image courtesy of YouTube
LaBeouf at his original “He Will Not Divide Us” protest. Image courtesy of YouTube

Labeouf then altered the delivery of the protest by placing a simple white flag, bearing the message “He Will Not Divide Us,” in an anonymous location somewhere on planet Earth. The 24/7 video live-stream was only looking up at the flagpole, showing the flag and the sky behind it, day and night.

Inside of 36 hours, users from the internet forum 4chan located, removed, and replaced the protest flag with a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” red hat, and a t-shirt depicting Pepe the Frog.

As soon as the video stream had gone live the day prior, 4chan users began to analyze the video footage in an attempt to deduce its location. Through a collaborative, crowd-sourced effort, users began to piece together the location through several clues.

After LaBeouf was tagged on social media in Greenville, Tennessee, the search had a starting point: rural Tennessee.

Noticing several aircraft cross through the video frame behind the flag, flight patterns in the skies above Tennessee were analyzed to find a match. Once they had a general estimate, they realized the area in rural Tennessee was too large to search on the ground.