Alienation, irony, autonomy, discourse.
June 27, 2012 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Anonymity as a culture, On 4chan and Internet masquerade.

And the accompanying case studies.
posted by latkes (36 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
It took me a moment to figure out how to progress to the content. In case anyone else is dumb like me and can't figure it out, there's a slider in the middle of the page that can be dragged to the right, or you can click on the plus sign to the far right.
posted by zarq at 8:11 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks zarq! Also you can use the right and left arrow keys.
posted by latkes at 8:13 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Triple Canopy...is...very easy to read on a computer screen."
—Sasha Frere-Jones, the New Yorker
posted by 200burritos at 8:16 AM on June 27, 2012


Prediction: Thread will mostly be about the site's layout.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 8:17 AM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


laconic, you can't predict things after they have already happened...

(assuming the current comments are representative of all future comments to the discussion)
posted by subversiveasset at 8:19 AM on June 27, 2012


laconic, that's because it's a non-intuitive layout.

More on topic though, I think this is an interesting post particularly given the whole theOatmeal uproar that's currently going on. As ARS notes, the lawyers wife decries the whole anonymous internet commenter and talks about how they aren't publicly coming forward, but instead dragging her and her husband through the mud behind the mask. Of course she then threatens to have them all sued because of it, but regardless of where you stand on the issue, it definitely does bring the whole question to the forefront.
posted by Carillon at 8:25 AM on June 27, 2012


Prediction: Thread will mostly be about the site's layout.
Yes, well...It is uniquely terrible and directly affects whether a visitor will stay to try and read it.

For instance...The text is live and adjustable in size. I had to enlarge it because it's a wee bit too tiny for comfort for my old eyes. Unfortunately, the scrollable frame doesn't enlarge with the text, so everything simply cuts off the bottom as it enlarges.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:27 AM on June 27, 2012


:D No worries.

I'm about halfway through the essay. It's fascinating, thanks very much for posting it. Love this topic.
What A-culture has done, inadvertently, is establish the largest virtual congregation of members of the local class intermixing freely with members of the national class and foreigners. Rural high school dropouts and Harvard PhD students interact often without knowing one another’s background, and the uniformity of the discourse further eradicates such distinctions.
This is so true. I've also noticed at times that people here tend to make assumptions about the demographic of Metafilter members. For example, they may assume we're all rich, white and college educated. So the uniformity of discourse also may carry with it an assumption on the part of those interacting that people are also uniform, and not necessarily as diverse as they actually are.
posted by zarq at 8:28 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The overlaps with metafilter culture are what interested me most too. For example, the idea that the group identity is more important than the individual identity.
posted by latkes at 8:32 AM on June 27, 2012


Carillon: " As ARS notes, the lawyers wife decries the whole anonymous internet commenter and talks about how they aren't publicly coming forward, but instead dragging her and her husband through the mud behind the mask. Of course she then threatens to have them all sued because of it, but regardless of where you stand on the issue, it definitely does bring the whole question to the forefront."

Even though the husband's actions seem really crazy (Let's sue the whole internet!) I find it hard not to sympathize with that argument. He's lost control and can't fight back. It's unfair. On the other hand, he *did* launch a lawsuit that seems simultaneously barely coherent, kinda frivolous and rather vengeful. Which also seems unfair. Perhaps it balances out.

latkes: " For example, the idea that the group identity is more important than the individual identity."

*nod* I tend to think that's part of what makes this place work. Mods and members who don't make preening ego displays.
posted by zarq at 8:40 AM on June 27, 2012


As ARS notes, the lawyers wife decries the whole anonymous internet commenter

The lawyer is representing "funkyjunk.com" which belongs to whom? He won't tell us. For all we know, he was the owner of the site all along (which would explain how personally he took the whole 'yo momma' thing from Matthew "Oatmeal" Inman). Who's hiding behind anonymity here???
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:50 AM on June 27, 2012


latkes:
"The overlaps with metafilter culture are what interested me most too."
According to the article, we're part of the a-culture since we have the first and least version of anonymity - persistent anonymity.
posted by charred husk at 8:51 AM on June 27, 2012


For example, the idea that the group identity is more important than the individual identity.

This might be a MeTa topic, but I don't really find this to be true. I mean, Metafilter has its own mores and systems and things, and the active moderation prevents insane displays of individuality/assholery, but I think the individual voices are pretty distinct. Maybe that's just me.

To talk about the article, I did like how the author compares the rather idyllic predictions of the TAZ with the reality of web anonymity. It's a little like the way that Libertarians (and many left Anarchists) imagine a stateless society compared with, for example, how the almost-no-central-state of Settlement-Era Iceland failed to address critical functioning of its larger national concerns (and ended up as a colony of first Norway and then Denmark). The Great Leap Forward may also be relevant, since production gains at small scales disappeared as the collectives became larger, allowing more and more increasingly anonymous people to slack off since their participation could not easily be monitored. I'm not arguing for a Google+ approach, since people clearly need to have separate online identities for all sorts of good reasons, but anonymous participation seems to lead directly to abuse.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:56 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


(I'm a TC editor & not sure if I should be self-linking here, but people might also be interested in the audio from an event connected to this piece where David Auerbach, the author of this piece, and Gabriella Coleman discussed Anonymous.)
posted by with hidden noise at 8:56 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


the group identity is more important than the individual identity

There is only the cabal.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:06 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


In case anyone else has the same thought that I did, Triple Canopy the online magazine does not appear to be affiliated with Triple Canopy the mercenary group.
posted by antonymous at 9:08 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why do these things have to appear when I have a busy workday?

The bit about self-documentation is interesting; I think Auerbach is right that it's definitive of "A-culture" but I actually think early 4chan (and similar) was more creative, had more "churn" to it, before things like the 4chan archive or ED existed.

Once archiving arrived, instead of playing a game with/for an audience people would also often post with the goal of having the current thread or OC permanently enshrined, which is a different dynamic. And archiving sites not only enshrined specific memes, they wrote down an explanation and guidelines for proper usage. This didn't mean creativity died out, but it did mean that the pretty complex shibboleths that gave a place like 4chan a distinctive culture suddenly lost a lot of their ambiguity. With that ambiguity lessened, there was less opportunity for frisson.

With individual threads and their images constantly dying, the goal of posting was much more to riff, respond, and subvert in a way that provoked immediate response and was rewarded with the continuation - and often disruption - of a thread. For something to be remembered and carried forward, it had to click with the audience in some clever way (or it was spammed over and over). When something that clicked was brought back up, it was brought up by someone who had saved it individually to their /b/ folder, rather than pulling it from ED or knowyourmeme. There were still repost reposts, call and response threads (candlejack, etc), but there was more opportunity for frisson.

Archiving also made ingroup-outgroup identification harder, especially when people started discovering 4chan by reading ED and etc., instead of getting linked from another board or forum. People started trying to prove their ingroup status by basically rules-lawyering memes. Sure, that went on before, but "lurk moar" pretty much changed to "read the documentation." Instead of getting into the churn of things naturally, you looked at the walkthrough.

Still, that auto-documentation is pretty cornerstone. TVTropes, Wookiepedia, OhInternet, FandomWank, even the mefi wiki.

Anyway, back to w
posted by postcommunism at 9:08 AM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


This might be a MeTa topic, but I don't really find this to be true. I mean, Metafilter has its own mores and systems and things, and the active moderation prevents insane displays of individuality/assholery, but I think the individual voices are pretty distinct. Maybe that's just me.

Maybe it's more accurate to say that people here regard the actions of the moderation team as the legitimate exercise of authority to enforce community norms rather than arbitrary and illegitimate censorship directed at individuals.

I might not be thrilled when I get a ticket for speeding, but I don't go off the rails and insist that I don't recognise the authority of the police or the need to control speeds on the public roads. Similarly, most of the time when I have a comment deleted part of me feels like I'm answering the police's question about how fast I was going - Really I already know what I did wrong.

Compare that so people on other sites who think of their individual contributions as precious pearls belonging to them rather than contributions to a collectively owned discussion.
posted by atrazine at 9:13 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was slightly surprised at the TVTropes non-sequitur. Or is TVTropes more tied to 4chan than I know because I never go to the forums?
posted by Hactar at 9:38 AM on June 27, 2012


And archiving sites not only enshrined specific memes, they wrote down an explanation and guidelines for proper usage. This didn't mean creativity died out, but it did mean that the pretty complex shibboleths that gave a place like 4chan a distinctive culture suddenly lost a lot of their ambiguity. With that ambiguity lessened, there was less opportunity for frisson.

Yeah, I very much agree. Half of why 4chan became way less interesting around 2007/2008-ish was because archiving (in Encyclopedia Dramatica, particularly) meant that a Final Product replaced an Ephemeral Process.

The last page or so of the article mentions the response to "rant of a 4chan hipster": where the speaker asserts that anonymity "also combines the power of every member into one force, which we've seen them use to great effect. I like the way you described them as self-exiled. That’s exactly what they wanted. By making it difficult and uncomfortable to become one of them, they keep their numbers low and they give value to membership."

But that's wrong; the archiving makes it super-easy to become "one of them" -- a meme is just a quick googlin' away, obviating the need to lurk obsessively for months in order to pick up fragments of the constantly-disappearing flux. So then threads would disappear into a dick-measuring authenticity-contest about who was a newfag or an EDfag, which reminds me a whole lot of punk rock, actually -- a space conceived as being outside status gradually shifted into a bunch of people unproveably asserting the realness of their status.

That quote also touches on the other thing that kinda turned me off of 4chan in early 2008 -- the coordination of its members into an active political force, with Project Chanology. The appropriation of the flux into a directed goal seemed sort of at odds with everything I loved about 4chan, which was that it seemed to be just adjacent to reality, but not quite touching it.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also having engaged with the content of the article I would also like to say that the layout is bad
posted by Greg Nog at 9:45 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm a TC editor ...

Can you add a link to the text or print version? I would like to read this, but I'm not a gonna as it is...

Unfortunately, the scrollable frame doesn't enlarge with the text, so everything simply cuts off the bottom as it enlarges.

I thought that was pretty ridiculous (Ctrl-+ enlarges the whole .. interface?), but try Ctrl-F. lolz.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:51 AM on June 27, 2012


(there's a print option if you click on the print icon.)
posted by with hidden noise at 10:18 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


One thing that gets missed a lot is that while Chanology was organized because of 4chan, it almost instantly became a very separate group. Most of the hardcore channers were done after a few months. In fact, there was a LARGE amount of drama involving the remaining channers attempting to control the creative control of the movement. For better or worse, they were found out and there was a teensy bit of outrage.

In short chanology =/= 4chan =/= anonymous
posted by Twain Device at 10:20 AM on June 27, 2012


Here it is on Readability (without the images, but they are mostly general and don't seem to specifically illustrate the content).
posted by taz at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


OMFG the interface. On the plus side, now we know what's concealed in the riddle, wrapped in the mystery, inside the enigma. A slideshow.
posted by jfuller at 10:51 AM on June 27, 2012


(there's a print option if you click on the print icon.)

Well of course I don't want to actually print it. That would be silly.

Readability works really well. As always. Duh.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:19 AM on June 27, 2012


I also have to say that the claim of "irony" was a little... off. I mean, it's almost ironic to spend any time pointing out that no one seems to really know what irony means anymore, but what the author is describing isn't anything like irony. It's a reliance on shared cultural references/in-jokes leavened with a cynical jokiness that seeming exists to a) be a print version of the adolescent "nothing matters" sort of cool and b) allow for a quick retreat any time you get called out for sexist/racist/homophobic/whatever comments (always assuming you don't think you have sufficient support to merely reassert your views).

I mean, maybe that's what the kids mean by irony these days, but can't we find a better word?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:28 AM on June 27, 2012


Is is possible that 4chan.com/b/ is a bot named Anonymous that uses some sort of kickass markov-chain bullshit generation code to populate most of the page?
posted by double block and bleed at 12:05 PM on June 27, 2012


Is is possible that 4chan.com/b/ is a bot named Anonymous that uses some sort of kickass markov-chain bullshit generation code to populate most of the page?

> implying /b/ is kickass
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:06 PM on June 27, 2012


Is is possible that 4chan.com/b/ is a bot named Anonymous that uses some sort of kickass markov-chain bullshit generation code to populate most of the page?

It'd be pretty hilarious to replace /b/ with something like that, such that each visitor to the page was seeing nothing but algorithmically-generated content in addition to whatever they posted themselves. Everyone trolling their own little software echo chamber, forever.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:04 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]




Yes, that was indeed in the linked article.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


....Well, then I posted it for the people who didn't read the linked article.

[ /end Peewee Herman "I Meant To Do That" mode]
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:36 PM on June 27, 2012


4chan.com/b/

Sure is summer in here.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:56 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think they're wrong about it being thematically traceable back to SA except in the sense of a counter-reaction

also I like the layout, but they might want page numbers if they don't think it'll encourage skimming
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:16 PM on June 27, 2012


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