The Power and Appeal of 4Chan
August 30, 2012 at 9:49 pm #26044
Backstory: A few different sponsors, particularly this new thing Chegg.com (they plant a tree for every textbook you rent from them or something), started a contest for colleges to compete for getting Taylor Swift to perform an VH1 Storytellers concert on their campus. A friend at my current university was campaigning hard on Facebook to get it at our school, but then she discovered this image: http://i.imgur.com/vauLz.png
The text she had with it was, “I hate 4Chan.”
I have never been on 4Chan and do not in any way intend to do so, but some digging led me to confirm it: The site started a troll campaign to get the Horace Mann School for the Deaf to win the contest. Now, I’m not sure if that’s the wining score yet, but I do know my university, a Big 10 (and in an area that LOVES Taylor Swift), is only in the lower 1000s as of today. I’m not too thrilled with the fact that 4Chan is targeting a school for people with a disability in one of it’s awful prank campaigns.
Now, this isn’t to say I don’t think the students at Horace Mann may take it lightly and play along, and hey, maybe Taylor doing sign language the whole time could start a new trend in inclusion for persons with disabilities. But. I’m still reeling and a little pissed at 4Chan for this. It’s one thing if the kids at the school do it themselves, but it’s another for them to be part of a troll campaign that never asked their permission. And call me crazy, but I highly, highly doubt 4Chan wants to increase inclusion in the arts for persons with disabilities. They picked Horace Mann School for the Deaf to be assholes.
What disturbs me about 4Chan is how close to executing some of its troll campaigns it gets- if not actually succeeding in them. It has been the platform for a lot of terrible stuff: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4chan#Internet_attacks
I’m probably asking a REALLY obvious question, but what’s the appeal of 4Chan? Things like this are more complex than just, “They do it for the lulz.”
And no, I’m not saying the site should be shut down or the people on it should be tracked down or something. No, this, at least, isn’t criminal. But that doesn’t make it okay, and I wonder why the people doing this think it is, in fact, okay.August 31, 2012 at 9:03 am #26045
Okay, I found an article with some various comments about this specific thing. Quoth the principal/headmaster:
I could be upset about that, I could get stuck in that anger, but that’s not where we should be in this world. My thing is, we understand what your intent was — shame on you — because you have not been educated. But now we will educate you.
I like that a lot. It’s sort of like they’re trolling the trolls. Because yeah, as I said above and they say here, everybody knows why they started it. I’m glad that, should Taylor Swift actually go there, it’ll be resolved in a way that’s positive for the kids at that school and the larger population of persons that have disabilities. It doesn’t make how it began okay, but at least it’ll end on a high note (pun intended).
And I’m prolly the only one that cares about this, but meh.August 31, 2012 at 9:19 am #26046
Crap, I wasn’t done!
So this development makes me ponder, is that the way to deal with trolls in general? By this, I mean taking whatever the troll does/says/etc. and doing what I wouldn’t even call an inversion. Taking the Thing and making it a new one. I think there’s something more complex in a change like the one by the school. Because again, I doubt the 4chan people (or at least the ones that picked up the mantle of the troll campaign) were thinking about how many areas of identity, personhood, autonomy, power, etc. they were getting at when choosing the Horace Mann School of the Deaf. My guess is their deepest thought was, “Lol, they’re deaf, and she sings.”
The socio-political implications of one group targeting another for acts of cultural violence* are their own category. When you add into the mix that the latter has a specific disability, it becomes murkier. And then the reaction of the headmaster (and ostensibly the school as a whole), and you have a whole new set of analyses and conclusions. Ultimately, this becomes the aggressee turning on the aggresso0r and kicking their ass. And is this the way marginalized groups need to act?
*As I said above, I realize this isn’t, technically, a crime. However, if hate crimes could include stuff like this, where a group gets targeted by another in this way because of an aspect of their personhood, I wonder how many more times the 4chan community would get in trouble with the law.September 2, 2012 at 11:17 am #26049
In the 4chan community “raids” or ballot-stuffing are typically looked down upon, and are only participated in by a vocal minority of the users. The appeal of 4chan is it’s anonymity. Even if a person is using a screen-name on a typical online forum they still develop a personality and status based on some meaningless number (like total posts) and develop an ego around their status as a longtime user of a board or website (like reddit). Conversations on 4chan are free to develop without any sort of expected social order. It is possible to have a form of identification on an imageboard, a tripcode, that is unique to that specific user. These users are also typically looked down upon or slandered against, and, frankly, are almost always only using a trip for more effective trolling of a particular board.
“4chan gives a voice to the person inside us who we suppress everywhere that we care about our status in the eyes of others, which would be a valuable thing even if those suppressed voices were 100% evil” -Anonymous
Also, as shallow as it is, there is one more layer to the Taylor Swift ballot stuffing. It is to say, “Taylor Swift is a terrible musician, where can we send her that will possibly hurt her feelings?”
As for the legal trouble the 4chan community would suffer due to a hypothetical situation where “cultural violence” is an actual crime: It couldn’t possibly get into any more legal trouble than it already does, considering the multitude of 4chan related child pornography arrests.September 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm #26050
So if the ballot-stuffer people are looked down upon by 4chan, why aren’t they driven out? I didn’t realize they were a minority within the entire community itself. Although if what’s considered a minority on the site is capable of trolling contests so successfully, it’s a rather telling indicator of just how many people are a part of the overarching Thing that is 4chan. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that, because…
…Is 4chan, thus, the outlet for people’s suppressed sociopathic tendencies or urges? It’s one thing to have a place to do things that aren’t necessarily socially acceptable or that you wouldn’t do in “polite company” or something, but if it goes beyond to action that affects others negatively, we’re moving out of the realm of just voice and opinion and thought, and out of the realm of actions that are harmless. Speech and action aren’t the same thing- hacking someone’s email account, fabricating stock reports, those are actions, and the negative effects on others make them at least questionable. And while I’d never suppress free speech (or again, going against the grain in a non-intrusive fashion), I don’t like this idea that by hiding behind an internet screenname, these participants feel like they’re allowed to be mean and hurtful to people in the real world and outside their forums. I guess even the trolling of the Pit Bull concert, for example, irritates me because while no, nobody in particular was harmed by it, there could have (and probably were) people that genuinely wanted to have him come to their town that missed out because 4chan-ers wanted to have a laugh- so, in a way, it was at the expense of those people that didn’t win.
What’s your opinion on it? Do you use 4chan at all? If so, are there any experiences you’ve had that you think could give some insight?
Also, I don’t quite understand your last part about “cultural violence.” Are you saying you think the child pornography crimes would overshadow/take priority over cultural violence, or that even if cultural violence was made illegal, the degree of trouble 4chan would encounter would still be less than that with child pornography? Sorry, I just want to be clear on my understanding of your opinion on the matter.
I think it’s pretty obvious I’m not a fan of this 4chan thing, but I’ve never been able to talk to someone that could give me anything more than “it’s funny” or something like the quote you gave in response. And I find there has got to be more going on, otherwise it wouldn’t be this popular. This isn’t to say I think you’re wrong- I think you’re very much right. But that there is also other stuff happening, too.
And for the record, I’m not attacking you- you have a better understanding of this Thing, so I’m trying to figure it out for myself by talking to/at you- since you’re the lucky sod that answered. ;pSeptember 2, 2012 at 3:51 pm #26051
Ballot Stuffers: 4Chan :: Tea Partiers: Conservatives
Yes? No?September 3, 2012 at 11:40 am #26052
What if the number of people amused by Pitbull being sent to Alaska far exceeds the number of people who would’ve seen him at a larger concert?
I certainly wouldn’t've learned about the concert if it weren’t for this event. It’s a quirky, somewhat amusing thing that happened, and so at some level it’s brought me a little bit of utility. Can you say with any certainty that Pitbull being sent to Alaska doesn’t bring more utility to the general populace than his hypothetical more populous performance would have? (awkward construction)
Why do we have to view the Horace Chan incident in a negative light? Without a statement from an individual or institutional perpetrator or progenitor, can’t we view it in the best possible light? A further question would be: can you use an ironic action to sincerely remark upon the role of the differently-abled in our society without it being at the expense of the differently-abled?
I disagree with the analogy. I can’t speak for them, but I see the ballot stuffers as individuals who want to point out the odd grips that both popular-votes and digital-data-gathering have on our world. If people are making meatspace decisions based on electronic input, maybe they need to prepare/be aware of what they are doing? The opportunity to simultaneously exert some control over *something*, make a long-term positive statement, stage a short-term spectacle, and tell an (innocent or not) ironic joke seems hard to turn down.
I know I bring a lot of privilege to the table that might blind me from seeing who is actually being hurt here… but I’d like to see the body (before I agree with damning potential art.)September 3, 2012 at 12:25 pm #26053
Well I think you’re forgetting the original intent- these may quickly get turned into, “It’ll be awesome for them!” after word gets out and they start getting backlash (so, essentially, ret-conning it), but they start out as pranks. They want to demonstrate their power (the “control over *something*” of which you speak), and they do so at the expense of others. There may not be an intent to harm, per se, but their laughs and fun and demonstrations of control all come at the expense of others- so what I’m saying is that even if they’re enjoying themselves, it doesn’t make it okay, because that amusement originates from a place of at best, negligence in not thinking of the potential externalities of said actions. It’s my personal morals and ethics, though, I’m not saying it’s a Universal Truth- I just take issue with not taking into account the negative effects of one’s actions, and I don’t think a joke is valuable if it’s only funny because someone else is being hurt. It’s cool if you disagree, but I think our focuses are on different points: I’m upset by what started the prank(s), not the very end result (i.e. any concert and publicity). And my being unhappy with the origins doesn’t preclude me being happy about the end. Remember, I think it’s awesome that the headmaster issued his statement, and again, I bet Taylor could put on a really great show for them. For starters, not every student there is unable to hear; second, the deaf “listen” to music all the time through vibration and acoustics- there are actually drum students at HM right now, and while they had to cut their music program a while ago, I read they’d consider using the grant money from winning the contest to start it again; and third, there are myriad ways of making it a stunning experience, even for kids that are 100% deaf, by targeting the other senses- it has been done before.
I’d say the Pit Bull concert being enjoyed by the people there is of a similar nature as a potential Taylor Swift one at HM, in that what started out as a negative was turned into a positive. Still, that doesn’t make the origin okay. I’m not arguing that it wasn’t eventually a good, but that it started out as a bad. That may be semantical, but it’s the basis of what I’m saying, so it needs to be understood. And my feelings about people online being “amused” by it are the same for it as for the Taylor Swift thing.
Your comment about an ironic joke: I think what you’re saying is that I’m trying to “speak for” persons with disabilities, am I correct? If that’s the case, then yes, I am, to a degree- but I wouldn’t say it’s entirely at their expense. 1) That’s how normative academic arguments work, and that’s, essentially what this is. 2) That’s how advocacy often works, too, and I’m a disability advocate. (I think we touched on this before over the “Derpy pony” thing a while back, actually.) 3) I have a lot of personal ties to disability, via family, work, and experience, so I identify as a part of the community- I may not have a disability myself, but in terms of representation and identity, I am a part of the overarching group concerned about disability. Representation inherently involves at least a marginal loss in personal autonomy, but substantive representation is better than none because there is no descriptive representative present- so in the absence of a person with a disability, their interests are still considered. This is getting into the political representation and discursive democratic theory stuff, and I don’t want to get too high-browed. But, suffice to say, I understand your argument, and there are lots of people in academia basically making it- but they’re at odds with just as many people that fall more into my category. So again, this is probably something about which we won’t agree. It’s another matter of preference and focus.
You mention art at the end. Are you defining pranks as a form of art? That’s an interesting notion, and I’d like to hear more about it…September 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm #26054
I guess one of the things I’m getting at is, well, is the original intent that bad of a thing? We can agree that the Pitbull, Taylor Swift, and their respective audiences may try and make the best of the situation, and that positive creative opportunities can be the result. But why are we unhappy with the origins? I can see how a corresponding press statement of “We rigged this contest because Taylor Swift sucks so much that only deaf people should get to hear her” would be insensitive at best and insulting to the deaf community. But if the people who hacked the voting don’t say that directly, from where do we derive that message?
Are we assuming that pranking a poll, since it involves cheating a system and inflicting an artificial/unintended result, is a “bad” thing to do? Are we making the further assumption that to take such an action is to be done in bad faith?
Would it change things if 4chan had a history of reminding the public about the plights of the disabled?
(As an aside, I think disability advocacy is a serious thing, and I have a lot of respect for what you’re doing. The question I was asking in the middle of my last post was more or less akin to “Are all blind jokes bad? Are all blind jokes at the expense of the blind? Are all blind jokes bad because they are at the expense of the blind?”)
When you say “They picked Horace Mann School for the Deaf to be assholes.” and the HM headmaster says “My thing is, we understand what your intent was — shame on you — because you have not been educated”, I don’t want to tell you you’re wrong. Both of you are in positions where you’re much more able (than me) to judge uncivil or insulting action. But could you elucidate what about the action is negligent? Or, I guess, what externalities am I overlooking that make their original intent malicious?
(as a further aside, it’s really hard to post on the forums right now – the Submit button is hidden behind the whitespace on the right, using multiple browsers and computers. Any ideas?)September 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm #26055
First, in re: posts: I’ve had this problem for like two months, at least, and yeah, on myriad browsers and computers. Ever since the fancy text editing pox entered the picture. I posted something about it on the forum about the site itself, but it hasn’t been answered yet. Maybe another poke at the Powers That Be is a good idea, if I’m not the only one having this issue.
I’ll restate I haven’t been to 4Chan, but look at some of the comments on this HuffPost piece. I have a feeling those are more the original intent- they say that exact argument you presented as hypothetical; and if it’s coming from non4Chan, I suspect it’s most definitely being said on 4Chan (or is a vocalization on a different forum of the original message). This is probably where you can help me, if you have experience with 4Chan, though- I’m under the impression the stuff coming out of /b/ is, essentially, massive trolling projects. And trolling is always about “getting lolz” by bringing someone else down. Now, if I’m incorrect, then perhaps a further discussion of their original idea is necessary. My assumption is based on my prior knowledge of 4Chan and the reputation it has built. But as was said above by DifficultToStand, the ballot stuffers are a “small and vocal minority”- and that’s why I made my analogy, actually, because the Tea Party is a small and vocal minority that ends up serving as a stand-in for all Conservatives; likewise, for me and the World At Large, this small and vocal minority of pranksters from 4Chan is a stand-in for 4Chan as a Thing. Which could mean it’s a misrepresentation of 4Chan Itself, as the Tea Party is a misrepresentation of conservatives at large.
By negiligence, what I mean is, not taking into consideration the fact that their lolz are at the expense of others and have the potential to, at best, irk others. And to bring back some previous language about crime and legality, ignoring potential externalities is considered criminal negligence if said externalities cause harm to others, like a landlord not doing anything about and not informing tenants of black mold. By “externalities,” I’m talking about it in terms of “the unexpected outcomes of a given course of action,” as defined by the policy textbook I taught out of, heh. So what I mean is, the stuff that happens apart from the original purpose. They aren’t always bad, though, hence the qualifier of “negative” to note that. To the “amusement,” therefore, is the purpose of the action and the end goal; the potential externalities? Well, negative ones are the objectification and dehumanization of persons with disabilities (as they are being treated as a means to an end, i.e. objects being used so that the pranksters can be amused); the visceral comments about Taylor; the reinforcement of the idea that persons with hearing disabilities are incapable of enjoying music. Positive, though, are the publicity Taylor and HM are getting; the fact that HM could get a $10000 grant; the attention to the rights and personhood of persons with disabilities this is giving the national press (albeit if it’s not really being expressed in those terms, it’s an underlying theme- but perhaps I’m just seeing it because that’s sort of my job, heh); the fun those kids could have if they get the concert; and yes, even the amusement the pranksters would get either way (since if she does do it, their votes won, but if she doesn’t, she’d look really bad, thus reinforcing their hatred of her).
It would be different if 4Chan had a history of advocating for persons with disabilities, because the original intent would have been different. It would have started as a campaign for inclusion, not a campaign for lols. It would have been about advocacy for persons with disabilities, not the amuse ment of people at their computers. I’d be all for it, were that the case; but, alas, that’s not it, as far as I can tell.
In terms of my advocacy, I come from a position that isn’t shared by all disability advocates, and that is sometimes admittedly somewhat hypocritical- so please don’t take this as, again, Universal Truth. I think a blind joke can be funny, but it must be done right- which is hard to do. And it’s easier for it to be acceptible if coming from a blind person, or at least a person with a disability, since they’re joking about themselves, and part of being “normal” is being able to joke about one’s situation. Yeah, it sort of falls into the “blacks can make jokes about blacks, but whites can’t make jokes about blacks,” category, which is slightly hypocritical. But it has to do with power relations and Foucault and ugh… But basically, sometimes self-depricating humor can be a tool for breaking bonds of oppression when used by those that are being oppressed; when used by the oppressors, they’re reinforcers of said oppression, not tools for liberation. That’s why I usually don’t like racist, sexist, classist, etc. jokes coming from rich white dudes- not always, though. I mean, George Carlin was hilarious, and Bill Maher still is. ;) Anyhoo, point: I think it depends on how the joke is being told, the context in which it’s being told, who is doing the telling, and even the content of the joke itself. If it’s done right, it can be great. But when it’s bad, it’s baaaaad.
Also, not even every blind joke by a blind person is helpful, either (to continue with the example you gave, but apply it broadly to any marginalized group). Stereotypes can actually be perpetuated by the jokes if not done properly, because all they’d do is reinforce and legitimize said stereotype.
It’s not about persons with disabilities, but this little gem from a few years ago really hits what I’m getting at. This guy is actually a rather academic advocate for anti-discrimination and black liberation and such, but he frames it by giving lectures on and writing about fighting stereotypes and proving them wrong.
That’s the trouble with good irony and satire- it’s hard to get right. Some people have a knack for it, to be sure, but a lot of the “flubs” or whatever in the media are examples of people trying and failing. The thing is, we all act insensitively a lot and don’t realize it. The question then becomes of awareness and a willingness to try to correct our behaviors.
I’m going to stop before I soap-box more than I already have. Ahem…September 3, 2012 at 4:40 pm #26056
To try and explain the idea of art:
All that aside, I find it difficult to condemn this sort of action. It comes from a weird, weird place in my heart and in our culture, which I personally trace to two ideas.
The first is one I think best put by Joey Comeau: “be the trouble you want to see in the world”. Taken seriously at some level, it’s a way of expressing a rebellion against social norms and orders that feels enlightening and liberating. A little juvenile, admittedly, but there’s got to be a reason it’s resonant nonetheless.
The second is more out of Borges’ “Lottery of Babylon”, more innate, and something I find more difficult to explain. It’s a view that chaos, on the microcosmic level, is somewhere between an ethical good and a moral necessity. Following instincts (either natural or irrational) that lead to eddies and changes in the flow of human events becomes a boon.
Both of these ideas I think reflect an unease with the world we’ve come to live in, especially in reference to its artificiality, something my subconscious wants to term as the “disconsolate disquiet of the modern age”. In a world where there are no reasons and the causes are largely hidden, to act in a sublimely disruptive way that deviates from the expected can feel like a divine mission. The goal then becomes not the “lulz” or any first-level amusement from the action or its spawned reactions, but a higher calling. What we want to happen is to establish events so that something happens which is significant to another, unknown individual, creating a sort of poetic irony in their life/point-of-view/timeline/personal-story. This added randomness then serves as an unreported source of inspiration. The original actor never sees the fruit, but s/he doesn’t have to.
Is it weird? Yes. Is it possible to form a moral code where such behavior would be abhorrent or shameful? Surely. But for now these actions when done finely enough and en masse produce an effect I find indistinguishable from art.
So our topic today is a bigger, public, more communal answer to that impulse. But maybe within the incredibly-more-vast landscape of social interaction, this is a small enough cog as to be worth its grit.
(By “there are no reasons”, I mean that everything happens due to a [past]cause, but that nothing happens for a [future]reason. Past things lead to present things, but there’s no master plan or plan-master keeping everything in place. This disillusionment is harrowing for some.)
This is all confusing as hell when you try and type it concisely, so let me know if I can better explain any part (or how it applies here).September 3, 2012 at 8:21 pm #26057
I actually think I pretty much get what you’re saying. And I agree that on the microcosm level, one should test boundaries and such- I detest stagnation and revel in progress. Up to that point, it’s a rather beautiful philosophy, really. It promotes a Platonic/Aurelian/Millean lust for improvement and growth. That’s awesome, and I live my individual life by that, and I try to affect the world around me positively in the hopes of driving it in an upward direction, too.
However, my issue with that calling, that kind of art, is that in order to answer it or create it, sacrifices must be made. And the danger of the chaotic element is that those sacrifices are not made by the person answering the calling or making that art. We live in a global, social world. No woman is an island and all that kinda jazz. So if the call to action moves too far away from the individual in a bad direction, others get caught up in the storm and suffer. Further marginalizing persons that are already on the bottom rungs of socio-polotico-economic-whatever-autonomy/power/etc. in the name of that calling or art, for me at least, isn’t worth it. So while I’m a fan of progress, I’m not a fan of chaos on the societal level.
If, however, that philosophy could be applied to breaking down current power structures and liberating marginalized people from the oppression they experience every day, and (this is key) without further oppressing someone else in exchange, I’d be totally on board. And it would need to be the intended effect, not a residual outcome.
BAD METAPHOR TIME: I’d rather avoid a situation where in order to free the prisoner, I’d cut off their hands and toss the guard a gold coin. I’d much rather find a lockpick and get the guard really drunk, or sneak up on the guard and pull their pants down as I snatch the key.
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