Tortoise Soup

A wordy kind of blog

Anonymous Narcissists

who is 4chanPrior to a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the site 4chan. Since, the leaking of the graphic images of a number of celebrities, 4chan has become a standard pop-up in my cultural development when investigating the Internet, and this investigation has unravelled that where there is an online controversy 4chan is often somehow involved. I am not sure if this means that it takes a naked Jennifer Lawrence for me to notice such a significant online community or my digital footprint is just stepping deeper into the darker corners of the Internet? 4chan.org is a website which has been recently under scrutiny due to the leaked images, it is an example of a site that eschews attribution and promotes consequence-less anonymity. It allows contributions from users with no registration process, which has led to a user base operating anonymously to disseminate content, which has been found problematic.

Sites like 4chan are what Davison (2012) calls, ‘unrestricted’, and have a key focus around removal of authorship. Contrastingly, popular online platforms (such as Facebook, Google…etc.) continue a historical priority of attribution and authorship, concepts which are central to the ‘restricted web’. According to Davison, a removal of attribution allows for a more exploratory collaboration; but the anonymity attached to it also aligns itself to negative online behaviour, such as trolling. For Mandiberg (2012) the collaboration element of the unrestricted web allows users to create a personal media, that they are not just ‘“eyeballs” that can be owned’, but are rather charging their own creative desire. This agency combined with anonymity creates an uneasy coexistence within new media convergence.

4chan has also been described as ‘Pandora’s Box of the Internet’, where the ability of anonymity allows for gruesome and offensive content that can lead to offline mayhem (most notoriously via the /b/ forum, as explained in Mashable video above). With events such as the leaking of Jennifer Lawrence’s private images, hacking of Trayvon Martin’s email account, #CuttingForBieber twitter hoax (and more in this list); it’s easy to see the problems with 4chan, its anonymity and consequence-less attitude that fosters negative flak. However, with some morally awful actions, 4chan has also bestowed opportunities for moral gratification, such as the catching of animal abusers. 4chan’s founder, Christopher Poole, defends the anonymity aspect of this site as it fosters creativity and this can be seen through 4chan’s significant contribution to the Internet meme culture and online entertainment, such as: LOLcats (and Caturday); vocal talents of Tay Zonday; and Rickrolling.

Davison defines Internet memes as:

“a piece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission”

And that is the intent of the primarily visual culture on 4chan. It is a joke, it is intended to entertain. The site’s FAQs encourage positive contribution rather than ‘shitposting’, its aim is to create a humorous environment. For example in this screen grab below from a section of a transcript between Poole and a prosecuting lawyer, where the unique behaviour of 4chan users is discussed, we see that it needs to be made clear that certain online trends derived from 4chan are intended as a joke.

rickroll

In this instance the cultural meme discussed also developed to become a form of social commentary, such as the public’s rickrolling of MTV Europe and the Anonymous movement first making headlines as it rickrolled the Church of Scientology.

The Anonymous vigilante (hacktivist) group that is now an internet institution in its own right was fostered out of 4chan’s message boards, where everyone who doesn’t choose to be identified is ‘anonymous’; and a large majority choose to be ‘anonymous’ (the nature of this anonymous culture that revels in their anonymity makes it difficult to get any concrete statistics around usage). This idea of everyone being unanimously anonymous starkly contrasts with the rising culture around selfies and digital narcissism. These contrasting ideas of online anonymity versus vanity, is explored by Palmer (2012) in his discussion on social space and our voluntary self-surveillance through the smart phone, which is intertwined with social anxieties around privacy. On one hand, we’re documenting and publishing our ‘performative self-representation’ and turning voyeurism into an entertainment form, but we’re also demanding the right to be forgotten and to be left digitally anonymous. In relation to 4chan this duality comes together under the idea of being an Anon — a publicly neutral identity. By posting anonymously you are not hiding, you are rather identifying yourself publicly as an Anon (this concept is best explained in this Tumblr post, “Faceless Together“).

For Davison, the key success of Internet memes and its cultural commentary (entertainment) is presented via the removal of attribution and authorship, which he calls the ‘nonattribution meme’. It is the ‘uncivilised’ wilderness of the Internet, the unrestricted web platforms, such as 4chan, which unmask cultural commentary that question human behaviour, nature and identity. And the divergence of this questioning has led to another institution – Anonymous – and the dynamic nature of the Internet will generate further. What do you think could spawn next?

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Masters of the Internet Purring Away

Cat - Official Mascot of the Internet

It’s finally here. I’ve joked on a number of occasions that I will find a reason to blog about the ‘Internet Cat’ and its magnitude in online (and offline) popular culture, and today marks a great reason to do so. Today is the inaugural Australian International Cat Film Furstival held in Sydney hosted by RSPCA NSW in conjunction with the Walker Art Centre, where the original concept originates from (a glorious concept for a self-professed cat video lurker like myself). In August 2012, the Walker Art Centre (Mineapolis, USA) developed the idea of hosting an Internet Cat Video Festival, primarily as a bit of a joke, but also as a social experiment. The result was 10,000 people gathered together to watch videos of cats.

the internet is catsThe notion of people coming together and paying to watch a compilation of videos that they can watch for free at home is intriguing and powerful at best. Take Aigrain’s (2005) idea of positive intellectual rights, the idea that such positive rights will enable a new synergy that rewards creators in the public space, that the extraordinary benefits from a greater plurality of creators will reward creation and innovation. Aigrain suggests moving away from the restrictive path of locking away intellectual rights as social damage. It’s a full circle, an ouroborus of ideas: free user-generated content ⇒ uploaded onto a free platform ⇒ viewed for free = exploitation of intellectual rights and an entitlement of free intellectual property? Incorrect. According to Aigrain, we are witnessing a positive progression for intellectual rights, whereby from this open space of innovation and creation (of free videos) a new innovative idea developed of the Internet Cat Video Festival, which brings back copyright-based remuneration that rewards the creators. Traditional views of intellectual property and ownership are shifting away from modems of control and restriction and are opening into new innovations and notions of remuneration and creation.

Advertisers have also caught onto the viewer’s active engagement with the Internet cat and developed Catvertising in 2011/2. Although originally a parody, a number of companies have taken this approach, some examples including:

  • The Shelter Project, making juxtaposition between the human’s sand box and the cat’s litter box;
  • Skittles Touch: Cat, part of their Lick the Rainbow campaign; and,
  • My personal favourite is Purina’s ‘A Cat’s Guide to Taking Care of your Human’, which is a type of advertorial developed by BuzzFeed — an internet news media company that challenges the traditional model of print and broadcast journalism.

Buzzfeed itself has used the phenomena of Internet cats throughout its business model: from editorial decisions of having them as a natural source of internet media alongside longform news pieces; internal meeting rooms named after Internet cats; a Cat Internet microsite for cats; and Cat Power, a measurement of your Community ranking in Buzzfeed. Hayes, Singer & Ceppos (2007) explored how the way that information will be sourced and determined will shift to be more consumer-driver rather than the traditional agenda-setting news organisations. There is a “shifting of roles” to a more “social response-ability” of openness and social disclosure, a ‘humanizing of the news’, which BuzzFeed and its unconventional style explore with its fierce focus on digital sharing and engagement amongst users and staff.

According to CBS news, 15 per cent of all internet traffic is connected to cats. There is a universal joy and unity in the Internet Cat. From this sensation of numerous cat videos, there are also the cat celebrities: Henri (le Chat Noir), the existentialist cat; Grumpy Cat, the world’s grumpiest cat; Maru, a Japanese cat who slides into boxes; Lil Bub, the ‘perma-kitten’; and the fictional Nyan Cat. And many more were showcased at the Furstival that showed several short Vine-style videos and longer-style videos of cat(s) and their addictive idiosyncratic behaviour. The question of ‘Why we love Internet Cats so much?’ has been asked widely across the Internet, and a quick Google search comes with a plethora of content asking this very question.

There are theories around: the cats’ cuteness; non-cuteness; their aloof personalities; honest behaviour; emotive expressions; ease of personification; we are in awe of their audacity; a continuity of historical adoration dating back to Ancient Egypt; their exaggerated resemblance to our offspring; and a theory around their ‘unselfconsciousness‘ by Dr O’Meara. The Walker Art Centre and Coffee House Press have also endeavoured to answer this question with their Kickstarter project that has gathered a number of writers to explore concepts around the Internet Cat in an anthology that will be published in September 2015. Perhaps then we will be closer to understanding this Master of the Internet.

Where do you think our love for the Internet feline comes from?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Internet Needs Parody

Meaningless Spaces

Today, I want to draft a proposition that questions:

Meatspace: the physical world as opposed to virtual

When did we start needing to define different versions of reality? Is it going to be code vs. meat next?

As a former vegetarian I see a lot of problems with defining us this way. Additionally, if the physical world is where meat is, then what about Chris Hadfield in space? What happens when meatspace (Chris) goes to space and goes onto virtual space to post his Space Oddity rendition? TOO MUCH SPACE.

Okay humerous rant over. I recently encountered this new word ‘meatspace’ and was quite baffled by its etymology, as this word has been used as far back as 2000 in Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi novel Cryptonomicon, with “meatspace coordinates”. Meatspace, is the ‘real’ world, and this world is highly engaged with the virtual. Take for example crowdsourcing, where meatspace coordinates are irrelevant, you only need IP addresses and can connect with numerous amount of people to achieve a common purpose. Wilson, Saunders and Bruns (2008) discuss the growth of online space to incorporate a ‘networked environment’ and ‘collaborative relationships’ which all happen within virtual space. Because of this active participation by users, there is a changing landscape of cultural production that, according to Wilson et al. needs to be recognised going forward, especially user-generated content.

change

In meatspace, people and things have always moved, but now new media moves with them, and the ability to be engaged whilst mobile has forced mediums to move with them. There is a new media dynamics in virtual space as meatspace becomes integrated into always being switched on, even ‘on the go’. Goggin (2013) argues that mobiles posses their own dynamics and have become their own medium and have affected the online space to become ‘richer and recursive’. With mobility, users are connecting their meatspace emotion, energy, creativity, professions and capital into the online space, in real time. We are continuously ‘switched on’ and need to be responsive in real time, either to the latest video with friends on social media, or in checking emails for work, or in updating yourself with current events. There are numerous apps and services willing to make this overwhelming stream of information more convenient and bite-size, but the information keeps growing and the need to keep up increases. New acronyms such as FONK (fear of not knowing) and FOMO (fear of missing out) have developed to explain our need to be continuously switched on in real time, but these are more used by marketers to target consumers and engage with them in relation to their digital social fears.

Take this spoken word film that is anti-social media and encourages people to find a balance away from the screen, and tune into meatspace:

It highlights an important point that the next generation has been born into this ‘switched on’ space, and are digital natives by birth. Stark (2012) talks about how this can cause mental health issues amongst young people with this amount of pressure to be engaged with an abundance of information has ripple concerns. For Baudrillard, we have entered an age of hyper-reality, where virtual space is a simulation of meatspace, which has formed the ‘hyper-real’ and each simulation is a combination of signs and signifiers that get us further away from reality, which loses all meaning, as all simulations become meaningless. As we get further into a hyper-connected world, information becomes rendered meaningless.

So if now we have a separate term to differentiate between the ‘real world’ and the virtual world, then information and reality is becoming meaningless online and offline. Where we have meatspace vs codespace competing for influence on each other, that it’s not certain which is a simulation of what, then are we back out with Chris Hadfield in space, not knowing which space is which anymore?

How To Go Online Hunting – Part II

Part I of this post discussed Jenna Marbles’ YouTube channel and its comments, which led to understanding the term ‘troll’ as akin to online hunting. It ended with the afterthought of:

…if the content that the troll publishes is problematic and potentially defamatory, who is truly responsible for it: the commentator (i.e. Full Natty Brah); the channel owner (Jenna Marbles); or, the platform owner (YouTube/Google)?

As the owner of her video, if Jenna Marbles uploads a video that is found to be defamatory, then she is the owner and would be liable, much the same way that the owner of a Tweet that is defamatory: see Mickle v Farley (2013), where Farley had been ordered to pay for damages for defamatory tweets and Facebook posts in NSW. In Greg Jericho’s article he outlines that comments left on news organisations’ websites are essentially their responsibility. Affiliated to this is Clarke v Nationwide News (2012), where it was found that a party is liable as a publisher for comments on their Facebook page. So in this sense Jenna Marbles is responsible for her channel. But this becomes murky, as her channel is hosted on a third-party platform.

Is this platform also responsible for any defamatory or vilifying content published? In other words, can YouTube be sued for what Full Natty Brah publishes, can Twitter be held accountable for its users’ tweets? I struggled to find examples involving YouTube in legal cases in Australia, so I’ve looked to Facebook and Twitter in this post (however Google’s Brazil chief was arrested in September 2012 for refusing to remove two videos on YouTube that allegedly defamed an election candidate), if anyone does know of any more examples, do let me know in the comments section.

Suing TwitterIn 2012, Joshua Meggitt was defamed on Twitter, and the owner of the tweet paid for damages privately. After which, Meggitt set out to sue Twitter itself, but this has not reached court (see: Bernard Keane’s quirky list of “Who sued Twitter? The list so far”). Peter Black sets out in his article that under current Australian law Twitter and Facebook could be held liable for posts made by their users. So if the owner of the Facebook page can be held liable and Facebook itself can be held liable, could we assume in the same vein that the owner of the YouTube channel and YouTube itself can be held liable?

YouTube’s Terms of Service (ToS) states: “YouTube reserves the right to remove Content without prior notice”. The Community Guidelines outline the type of behaviour that YouTube does not tolerate, which would lead to being banned from the site. With this type of control of your content, surely this presents a form of awareness and responsibility for this content published on their platform? YouTube attempts to absolve itself of this responsibility in section 5 and 6 of the ToS, but a ToS is not always legally binding.

This area of jurisprudence is in its early stages and it will be interesting to see how it develops in the following decade. Currently, it seems that if a troll leaves a defamatory or vilifying comment, all parties (the commentator, channel owner and platform) are possibly liable. If everyone is possibly liable, then everyone has the responsibility to moderate and regulate. Slaying the Troll - Bit Social MediaJericho’s article proposes the New York Times model of facing “online toxicity” by encouraging better comments and good commentary through clear incentives and moderation policy, as well as being active in shaping the discussion. But is this form of imposed self-censorship problematic? Are we giving these platforms the power to then construct our rhetoric? Are we falling for the moral panic of the troll?

Using Jason Wilson’s article, I would suggest that perhaps trolls are being turned into modern-day “folk devils”, who are defined as “presenting an existential threat to social order”. Wilson goes on to say that these folk devils cause moral panic which generates “consent among the governed to extend state power”. I would go even further and propose that this is part of the “’mean world’ syndrome” discussed by Lievrouw, whereby the Internet is proposed as a site of serious risk to individuals and the established order, which justifies the expansion of surveillance and government power over the individual. This Orwellian style powerplay is an area of concern for the future in developing a global online public sphere that is free to debate all ideas versus protecting the vulnerable from vilifying or defamatory content.

Only time can tell how these ideas will unfold with the ever-changing Internet. In the meantime, I’d love to read what everyone thinks about trying to moderate or control online hunting?

How To Go Online Hunting – Part I

I was having breakfast this morning and decided to watch some short YouTube videos. Harmless, right? Now by trying to avoid the television, by limiting myself to some short clips, I ended up doing essentially the same thing. This is a slippery slope with YouTube, you go to watch one video and then the all-knowing side bar recommends other videos. Before you know it, four hours have passed. Whether it be DIY style videos, music video clips, or adorable animals, this morning YouTube seduced me with Jenna Marbles’ whimsical vlog on life.

The first time I was introduced to Marbles was through a shared Facebook link a few years ago to a video called “How to trick people into thinking that you’re good looking”. But today I went past just watching a short shared video and instead I sat and watched her channel much like regular television (although with less advertisements). And whilst watching this, I broke the golden rule of the Internet, and scrolled down to the comments (see: Greg Jericho’s “Never Read the Comments”), and read some of the extensive battles between viewers.

What’s interesting in the comments above is how the first is something unnecessarily offensive against Marbles, either her appearance or her content, and then there’s a stream of “fights between commenters on who is the more incompetent person” (Jericho) which veers away from the initial comment. Marbles herself does not engage with this commentary but she doesn’t seem to moderate it either. Most of these comments are potentially defamatory, and this style of online communication has most recently been categorised as trolling.

Now, I’m going to go off into a linguistic spin-off into what exactly is a troll? If we take the morpheme ‘troll-’, then we see quite an interesting evolution. Mark Forsyth, on his blog Inky Fool, explains that:

The verb troller first appears in Medieval French. It meant going out hunting without having any specific animal in mind. 

From then on the OED provides more than 20 definitions of ‘troll-’: to walk in the streets in search of a sexual encounter as a homosexual; to move around; to turn over in one’s mind; to move the tongue incessantly (of speech); and, the list goes on. Our Scandinavian understanding of the mythical, mindless, giant only became adopted into English (from Norse) in the mid-19th century.

Ancient troll funny junk

But what about Internet trolls? Troll in modern computer language came around in the 1990s as posts that deliberately try to provoke an angry response (see Jason Wilson’s “Same as it ever was”). Our 21st century understanding has evolved into anybody that publishes abusive or offensive commentary online. And that’s very broad. To some, Jenna Marbles’ videos are offensive, as they ridicule a plethora of personalities and tastes in the name of comedy and entertainment. For example, “How To Dance Like A White Girl” can be deemed as sexist and racist and Marbles even includes a small disclaimer at the start: “I’m making fun of me as much as I’m making fun of you”, which acknowledges that some people may find this offensive. Does this make Marbles a troll or a comedian? And then there’s the barrage of comments about the video being racist, as well as offensive claims targeted at Marbles — such as Marbles is “dumbing down America” — followed with a barrage of fights between commentators.

Are the initial offensive commentators being trolls or sharing their opinion in a public forum? Are the responders to these comments trolls or active participants in a democratic discussion, simply using unpleasant jargon? Is offense in the eye of the beholder? Maybe we need to return trolls to the Scandinavians to understand a troll as someone who uses their anonymity (mythical) to be mindless? Or better yet combine it with Medieval France:

Troll: a person that anonymously offends or insults without a specific target in mind. In other words, online hunting.

And on top of this if the content that the troll publishes is problematic and potentially defamatory, who is truly responsible for it? The commentator (i.e. Full Natty Brah), the channel owner (Jenna Marbles), or the platform owner (YouTube/Google)?

Let me know where you think the responsibility lies in the poll or comments below. And I’ll come back with Part II as my next post to discuss this. 

Officially Friends?

Recently, a colleague and I began to form a friendship, and slowly this friendship started to grow outside of the work arena. However, rather than exchanging phone numbers and maintaining communication through this network, the relationship was officiated through very different platforms. First we followed each other on Instagram; then became Facebook Friends; then SnapChat; and after this we decided to exchange phone numbers. This evolution of our friendship was a type of ‘social grooming’, a modern day ‘social etiquette’ of revealing yourself in an ordered manner. It is a type of courtship amongst the younger generation; a slow unveiling of introducing your social media identity before allowing another entry into your private space.

buddy

Is this the new 21st century friendship formation? boyd and Ellison (2008) differentiate between everyday “friends” and Friends, which is capitalised, as Friends on social network systems. The latter Friends requires a formal “bi-directional confirmation for Friendship”, as an intent to be connected via a specific network. This connection could mean a way to see inside your “online representation of self”. For example, once my colleague and I confirmed our Instagram and Facebook Friendship we agreed to allow each other to see what visual way we filter / represent our day-to-day life, what content we share or like and opened a direct messaging portal.

boyd and Ellison’s essay focuses on the ‘showcasing’ abilities of social networks, rather than the content that is shared across these networks. Whilst this may have been the case during publication in 2008, this visibility element has shifted to being more focused on the content that you share, such as images, videos, articles, statuses…etc. While the organisation of the online community has shifted, the creation and formulation of the ‘online representation of self’ has grown stronger, with growing pressures tomeme i love me appear a certain way, to filter a perception of the self. boyd and Ellison discussed how social network sites were constructed as ‘egocentric’ networks, with the “individual at the centre of the community”. We create a social media space to represent a desired perception of ourselves, through a selective and filtered online identity.

Which leads me to ask if there is any semantic shift in the way we understand the term ‘friend’ since social network sites became a norm in our everyday lives? If there is a need to differentiate friend and Friend, and the line between online and offline blurs, what happens to our understanding of friendship? In 2011, Sherry Turkle argued a cultural tolerance for being ‘alone together’, where the intimacy of friendship is managed on a friendship-on-demand model. There is an illusion of companionship, an illusion of a two-way social dynamic relationship. When observing the emotional validation and importance of the ‘Like it’ button when a status is put up, we can see how we are managing this friendship model through a validation of impressions, and of how many likes. Take for instance the concept of specific hashtags that exist to get you more ‘friends’ (followers), for example #followback on Twitter or #tagsforlikes on Instagram. These are some of the most popular hashtags, which brings us back to Turkle’s ideas that the dynamic on social networks are an illusion. Our performance is managed through the number of likes or followers in order to make us feel validated, but instead we are ‘alone together’.

meme friend

As my colleague and I add each other on Facebook, we joke that we are now officiated, because we are ‘Facebook official’. A common joke poking at the farcical level of meaning placed into relationships on social media. It is important to differentiate between the values and relations we expect from a friend and those of an acquaintance sustained via the social media channel as a Friend. Academics and social scientists have gone into depth into the ethical concerns of ‘virtual’ friendships and the loss of necessary emotional intimacy, which is partially summarised by Joseph Kahn here. But perhaps it’s a semantic shift that needs to be appropriated. Many friendships are commonly supplemented via an online element, such as emails or social media, some (such as long distance) are maintained with greater ease this way; and others are those who are acquaintances or former friends, such as old school friends, who are retained here, perhaps for nostalgic reasons or prying curiosity.

What do you think, is there a difference between Friend and friend? Let me know in your comments below.