Back in 2017, the small East Bay town of Albany was roiled by the discovery of a wildly racist "finsta" account that posted memes as well as doctored photos of students of color at Albany High School. The aftermath was violent, lengthy, and litigious, and now the New York Times Magazine has done a deep dive on the scandal.

Oakland-based writer Dashka Slater previously covered the story of Sasha Fleischman for the Times — the agender teen whose skirt was set on fire on an Oakland city bus in 2013, leading to hate-crime charges for the teen who did it — later turning the story into the book, The 57 Bus. And after finishing that book she says she was drawn to the Albany Instagram-account story that unfolded in March 2017.

"As I began to investigate, I found that same sense of disturbed attraction, where I thought both: 'I don’t want to spend any time at all on this very disturbing, upsetting story' and 'I want to know everything about this, and I want to understand all the issues that are kind of lurking beneath the surface about race and gender and justice and social media and shame and accountability,'" Slater says, in an interview this week with the Times.

The resulting piece in the New York Times Magazine is a great read, going into detail about the many complexities of the scandal and its aftermath — both for the targeted girls whose photos appeared on the racist finsta, and for some of the 13 Albany High students who followed the account, some of whom faced harsh consequences from the district and castigation from their peers, even though some insist they either barely saw or remembered the account's posts.

The account was created by one student, a Korean American boy named Charles in the Times piece — because all the students involved were minors at the time of the scandal, they are all referred to by middle names, initials, or nicknames for the piece. Charles insists that he did not have racist feelings toward Black students at the school, but the account came out of an edgy online culture in which highly offensive, often racist memes were the stock in trade — the edgier, the more wrong something seemed, the funnier it was perceived to be in certain circles of Reddit and other forums, and teen boys like Charles followed this lead.

"I guess the humor just got darker and darker as I explored more of the internet," Charles says, speaking to Slater for the piece.

Ultimately, Charles and another student who liked many posts on the account and made racist comments of his own were both expelled from Albany High. But 11 students who had followed the account, some of whom liked a few posts, were suspended for five days and then had to return to school in the spring of 2017, going to class side by side with those considered targets of the account's hate. The school scheduled a mediation session that went south very quickly — in large part because the main perpetrator, Charles, was not there to face the victims — and that day turned into a massive, school-wide protest and near riot.

Parents of the 11 account followers came to the school and became targets of the protesters' wrath themselves, and ultimately a couple of the students were assaulted and injured before they could get off the school grounds.

Eventually, four of those students sued the school district on First Amendment grounds, with the court siding with them, and all 11 ended up being compensated by the district. Several of them even won cash settlements from the school district totaling $80,000. One of the targets, identified as A. in the story, won a smaller cash settlement in a discrimination suit against Charles.

Charles had his own First Amendment suit against the district which ended up being appealed all the way to the Supreme Court — but the court this spring declined to take the case.

The story has a number of lessons for students, teachers, and communities about how quickly online bullying or racism can explode like a powder keg into real-life anger and violence. And it's also a disturbing look at how the virus of online racism and neo-Nazism can infect young minds in the form of "edgy" humor.

"One of the things that have happened [in the last several years] is that white nationalist groups have become emboldened, and they are very good at using social media to radicalize, indoctrinate and attract young people, particularly boys, particularly white and Asian boys," says Slater, speaking to the Times. "And so I don’t see this, unfortunately, stopping this week or next week."