I Did It for the HeeHees, or, Jumping the 4chan Shark

October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

For the last few days I’ve been revisiting –reworking, reorganizing, reframing– my dissertation for possible publication. I haven’t looked at the thing since I deposited the manuscript in mid August, and since “finishing” (finishing is a relative term) so much has happened in the world-o-trolling I hardly even know where to start. The discourse surrounding trolls and trolling behaviors has gotten away from everyone, including trolls, who seem just as confused about what the term means and whom the term subsumes as the media. As I discussed in this May 2012 post, my argument can handle these sorts of seismic shifts, since I had no choice but to back up and retrofit my argument to BE about change. Still, yikes, and back to the coal mines I guess.

The above art film pretty much captures it. And a quick programming note: I will be drunk blogging Smiley aka 4chan the Movie with my friend Kate Miltner this Sunday; check your local listings.

…As Evidenced Through Google Insights

September 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Chris –of “my boyfriend” fame– has just sifted through some analytics that illustrate, with numbers, the thing some of us have long suspected: namely that the ROFL space (variously known as memeshit, internet culture, and/or web culture), which once shared a great deal of subcultural overlap with Anonymous (here I mean little-a anon), has plateaued. I am both shaking my head in sadness and tenting my fingers, who knows what that even means!

The full article is well worth a read, but here’s a quote that follows the first of a series of Google Insight charts (which measure fluctuations in search volume over time):

Well, if there’s one thing that can be ascertained from this chart, it’s that as of February, “memes” have reached a ceiling. At the very least the phase of exponential growth that lasted from 2008 until about last January is over. And if there’s a second thing to be learned, it’s that Anonymous (or at least what we knew as the lulz-driven Anonymous) is effectively dead.

This is a controversial and potentially even counterintuitive thing to say, given the mass popularity of memes. But he’s not saying memes are GONE, rather that this particular iteration of this particular memescape is no longer on the upswing. Still —  I await the internet’s response…

Anonymous, Adrian Chen, and the Shoe

September 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yes yes, this news is 12 hours old — I’m just now posting about Adrian Chen’s shoe and tutu-themed Glamour Shot because today was the first day of classes (well, the first day of my class), and one simply cannot write blog entries about that one time Anonymous said they did a thing and Adrian Chen responded trollishly whilst discussing one’s attendance policy.

So. Anonymous threatened to withhold any further information about an alleged hack on an alleged FBI cybersecurity agent, allegedly, unless Chen outfitted himself in a tutu and balanced a shoe on his head, Gangnam vintage ytmnd-style. Sounds legit! Chen agreed to Anon’s terms, and as a result, the above image will grace Gawker’s front page until 6:30 tonight.

As someone who studies the homologous relationship between troublemakers (trolls, hackers, etc) and members of the media, I am intrigued by this arrangement. By drawing attention to Anon’s claims, Chen breathed new life into the story. As a result, both Chen and Anonymous achieved their short-term objectives — the ultimate in quid pro quo branding. This is textbook amplification; this is how the process works. What’s unusual about this particular story is that Chen is (read: seems, I don’t know what lurks within the hearts of Gawker writers) fully aware of Anon’s intentions, but has decided to play along anyway — if only to call their bluff.

And this is where the story goes off-script. Usually, the media has no idea (or as the case may be, pretends to have no idea) that they’re ultimately just pawns in the troublemaker’s game. See Jenkem, see Over 9000 Penises. I’m curious to see how –or more interestingly, if– this unholy non-alliance results in the kind of spectacle Anonymous has historically been so adept at creating. I’m inclined to doubt it, since in this case there is no game to win. In fact, Chen’s willingness to play the game means the game has already been called, or at the very least is now Anonymous’ to lose. This is a very smart move on Chen’s part, not just in terms of pageviews, but also because his response –which essentially amounts to “I double-dog dare you”– will likely diffuse what Anon hoped would become the hot new trend in teen trolling. Well played, Gawker. Well played.

Update: Yeah nothing happened, at least on Anon’s end. Both the FBI and Apple have denied Anon’s claims (that Anon acquired 12 million Apple ID names/passwords from the FBI, which acquired them from Apple), which…I mean who knows, corporate henchpeople deny things all the time. But we’re well past Anon’s deadline and there’s been no update to Chen’s Gawker article, and you can bet your bippy that he’d update if there was something worth updating. 

Quinn Norton’s Review of Parmy Olson’s “We Are Anonymous”

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

This morning Quinn Norton published a review of Parmy Olson’s contribution to the growing library of Anonshit. The review is…….not positive. Per Norton, Olson’s account is intellectually, technologically and journalistically lazy — a quality informed/exacerbated by Olson’s willingness to give full credence to a small handful of professed liars.  In short, Olson does it very wrong, and wrong in ways that ultimately render her account meaningless. There are not enough emoticon winces in the world to convey the OUCH.

Some high -(low?)- lights:

Olson’s technical explanations are stilted, forced, and repetitive. Written in the kludgy language of a non-native speaker who is not particularly interested in the language she’s speaking, they are her weakest point in laying out the landscape of Anonymous (or even Lulzsec). A DDoS attack is flooding a target with junk traffic, 15 men trying to get through a revolving door at the same time, and a flood of visitors — all in the space of a single paragraph in chapter 5.

This kind of journalism is fundamentally disrespectful of technical culture. Like British pop stars singing about being African children, it appropriates and discards the culture as if it were an object. It’s where the idea that all hackers are teenage basement dwellers comes from and it’s a frustrating disservice to an increasingly diverse community that often faces not just social alienation, but prosecution from the US government, and sometimes much worse elsewhere.

We’re all on deadlines, and dealing with tighter budgets and more demands in journalism, but after a point, negligence slips over the line into exploitation. We’re getting it wrong and not caring as long as it draws in readers.

From within Anonymous’s sea of voices, all experimenting with new ways of being in the world, the only voices in Olson’s book are those of the small groups of hackers who stole the limelight from a legion, defied their values, and crashed violently into the law. It was a mediagenic story to be sure, but in the end, it turns out to be not the real story of Anonymous, and not a story with any real meaning.

Full review here, it’s worth the read.


June 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

From the NYT review of Parmy Olson’s new book, We Are Anonymous.

The breeding ground for much of this was 4chan, the “Deep Web” destination “still mostly unknown to the mainstream but beloved by millions of regular users.” The realm of 4chan called /b/ is where some of this book’s most destructive characters spent their early Internet years, soaking up so much pornography, violence and in-joke humor that they became bored enough to move on. Ms. Olson, whose evenhanded appraisals steer far clear of sensationalism, describes 4chan as “a teeming pit of depraved images and nasty jokes, yet at the same time a source of extraordinary, unhindered creativity.” It thrived on sex and gore. But it popularized the idea of matching funny captions with cute cat photos too.

Full review here, wats not included.

Well Alright

March 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Well played, Dawson. Well played.

And now, some mood music via Dlisted.

Also, if you’re reading this now, then the artist formally known as Anonymous’ brilliant plan to poop all over the whole internet, aka maybe make it a bit more difficult to load porn for like an hour, was a fail. #phew #nobodybetterlayafingeronmybutterfinger. True to form, they were doing it for the……..well obviously not the lulz, what are those anyway! For the justice? Probably for the justice. And/or the children. My cyberheroes!

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Anonymous

March 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

I just accidentally this whole fashion show

Anonymous goes to Toronto Fashion Week!

There are simply not enough sharks in the world to jump over.

That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

"Whatever you say, Hector"

Welp, Anon’s day is getting off to a bad start.

“Increasingly as Silly as a Sheriff Arresting an Airplane for Trespass”

November 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Video related.

Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity (2004)

When people talk about copyright law they typically think of “piracy” and how they absolutely would download a car. But that’s not the actual issue. Granted, “piracy” –i.e. taking shit without adding any value to whatever thing, “value” of course being a huge wildcard– warrants some form of legal response (proportionate to the thing being “pirated,” I mean let’s be reasonable). The problem is that copyright law is a very dumb machine and hasn’t been programmed to distinguish between “stealing” and “transforming.” All it cares about is copies, and the making/taking of similar — meaning copyright law as it’s currently written ends up prohibiting (at least theoretically) basically everything people do on the Internet. This is fucked up and bullshit and only serves the interests of corporate entities who find themselves in competition with the creativity and innovation of others, thus creating a system in which “fair use” merely means “the right to hire a lawyer” (187). This is very very bad! And runs counter to everything we’ve ever valued as a culture! You know like innovation generally!

Lawrence Lessig, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (2008)

Look you guys. We can go on flipping our shit over anachronistic conceptions of “intellectual property” and “piracy” and the rest. But this war is already a lost war. Continuing to fight only makes things worse, not only by stifling creativity and innovation but by criminalizing the behaviors of an entire generation, i.e. turning our kids into collateral over what basically amounts to a corporate vanity project. Furthermore this war would be a terrible war to win, since the triumph of Read/Only (RO) over Read/Write (RW) content would be bad for everyone. Our culture is, and will continue to be, enhanced by the RW imperative, as mashups and remixes and sampling of every stripe encourages engagement and critical thinking and creativity, all good things. This isn’t to say that RW should replace RO; one benefits and is benefited by the existence of the other, in the same way that commercial and sharing economies are neither logistically not ideally mutually-exclusive. Verily, we’re entering (have already entered!) an era of unprecedented hybridity.

Dogs don't care

In the first section of Remix, Lessig quotes Victor Stone, a friend and fellow Creative Commons advocate/architect: “You know…this discussion will be over in ten or twenty years. As the boomers die out, and they get over themselves by dying, the generation that follows…just don’t care about this discussion. They just assume that remixing is part of music, and it’s part of the process, and that’s it” (97). I laughed because dying really is the best way to get over oneself, but also because Stone is entirely right — internet people (and especially young ones) just aren’t operating under the same set of assumptions as the current –and increasingly– Old Cultural Guard. The issues that needle at the former don’t needle at the latter, and vice versa.

This reminded me of an early this-changes-everything Copernican revolution moment brought on by someone else’s offhanded comment — in this case my dear brother, who in terms of intellectual influence is rivaled only by my shadowy consultant. This was way way back in August of 2009, before I knew shit about shit. Despite that (not knowing shit about things has never stopped me before), I’d written a short thing about the Obama-as-Socialist-Joker poster that had been cropping up on Los Angeles freeways. This is the work of Anonymous, I argued, and outlined the connection between this particular iteration of the Obama/Joker image and 4chan. A few days after my piece was published (I’d link, but can’t remember what all I wrote and would need to read it again, due to vanity; I’m afraid I’ll want to kill myself when it turns out I was an idiot), a reporter from the Los Angeles Times identified the artist as one Firas Alkhateeb, a college student from Chicago who has posted the (uncaptioned) image to his Flickr account. Alkhateeb didn’t know how his image ended up in Los Angeles, and didn’t know who added the “socialism.” Still, mystery apparently solved!

I first heard the news while shopping in a Humboldt County Target— two separate friends of mine, both eager to undermine my original argument, had emailed me the headline within an hour of its posting (dicks). As I stood in the Cookware aisle, helping my brother pick out plates for his dorm room and scanning the Times article on my phone, I began second-guessing my argument. What if the Obama/socialism/Joker image really was the work of a single author? Did that invalidate my entire analysis? Basically, fuck. I asked my brother, a CS student and sometimes-troll, what he thought. He wasn’t impressed –his “meh” shirt already suggesting as much– and told me not to worry. “Newspapers get most things wrong about the internet,” he said. The kid may have uploaded the image, but that didn’t mean anything; as soon as something goes online, it belongs to everyone. Saying that any one person is responsible for any one thing online is stupid, because you can’t. Also meh. This really was a cartoon lightbulb moment, and for the first time illustrated the profound, even ideological tension between how the old guard sees the world and how the new guard lives in it. Hence my appreciation of the above quote, the end.

Hackers on Steroids

August 25, 2011 § 4 Comments

McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto (2004)

Oh my god WORDS. Abstraction (n.) Boundless possibility exploited by an abstract class of abstract hackers abstracted via abstraction. Class (n.) That which drives the world towards further abstraction; divided into pastorialist class, capitalist class, vectoralist class. Classes of production vs expropriation. Hacker class critical to development of latter, due to abstraction. Question mark, sure. Education (n.) See hegemony. Battleground in whatever current class war. Biopower etc. Hackers ambivalent to education; desire knowledge instead, unless dicks. Hacking (n./v. sing.) Elegant and beautiful. The revolution will not be commoditized. Either vilified or minimized, due to FEAR AND LOATHING. Lightning round: History is an abstraction begging to be hacked. Information wants to be free. Nature is a thing, except not really. Production is produced via hacking. Property is theft abstracted. All representation is false because news flash it’s called REPRESENTATION not TRUTH. Revolt happens, sometimes. The state is a lie (/abstraction). Subjectivity is a lie (/abstraction). Surplus is a lie (/abstraction). Vectors are real you guys. The world is a vampire.

tl;dr we’re the greatest people to ever live.

Gabriella Coleman, “Old and New Net Wars Over Free Speech, Freedom and Secrecy; or How to Understand the Hacker and Lulz Battle against the Church of Scientology” (2010)

Two disclaimers: trolls are offensive so gird yr loins, also it might be helpful to think of trolls as tricksters. I’ll get to trolls later, but first hackers. Divergent origins in phone phreaking communities (also possible forerunners to trolling?), plus battles over open-source software. Distinctions when dealing with Scientology even trickier, because hackers? Trolls? Both? Oh lord, it’s a mess. Anyway, the story. Scientology + hacker foes = the ultimate in hate-fucking nemeses, due to near perfect ideological inversion. Have been mortal enemies locked in CYBERBATTLE since early 90s, origins on Usenet group alt.religion.scientology, and hitherto unprecedented legal battles the result of unauthorized postings of church documents (THETAN DUMP LOL). Welcome to Mortal Combat, per 1995 Wired article. Basic idea, Scientology super litigious censorship-mongers while hackers all about transparency & unlocking locked doors, because why not, anyway the more padlocks you instal the more alluring the door becomes. Bizarre-o world versions of each other: freedom vs. repression, plurality vs. monopoly, science vs. comical science fiction, openness vs. proprietary, etc. Hackers –> Anonymous –> Project Chanology. Connexion to 4change, background there. Encyclopedia Dramatia, Version 1.0. LULZ, the only reason to do anything. Earlier protests mostly political while Chanology primarily characterized by good old fashioned internet motherfuckery, at least at first. “Perhaps the first accidental protest movement in the world.” That picture in place, three brief points: Scientology metaphorical. Trolling tactics hugely effective. Trolls as tricksters? Potential for ethical dimension. With serious reservations, due to is it ever possible to do something “just” for the lulz?

Part one, two, three, four, five, six of Coleman’s talk.

Douglas Thomas, Hacker Culture (2002)

Jesus, what does the term “hacker” even mean? It’s not nearly as simple as the Mainstream Media would have you believe! There’s even controversy (perhaps more vitriolic controversy) within the ranks of those who would classify themselves as hackers, oh boy! This seems sort of appropriate, though, given the scope of this book, which considers the intersections between mainstream culture, the legal system, and hacking subculture (both defined from within and without), and which posits that hacking is more about ethos (approach) than tools (specific machines). Meaning that. Hacking ain’t just for programmers anymore, though I pretty much confine my research to “proper” hackers, whatever that means? Something about boy culture, something about historically contingent iterations of notions of secrecy.

Whatever! Hacking! Although as a set of behavioral practices it spans nearly 5 decades, there’s a pretty clear split within the ranks, namely between the old and new schools — the former encompassing proto- and golden-age hackers from the 50s, 60s and 70s and the latter referring to the much more maligned CYBERTERRORISTS of the 80s and 90s. The old school is characterized by a utopian sense of Possibility. They believed that information wanted to be free, and that the world would be a better and more open place thanks to Technology. Recall Levy’s Hacker Ethic! These brave virgins were almost always affiliated with universities or with the government, and were motivated by discovery. They may have been somewhat solipsistic, but the hackers of yore sure did…stuff, like make the internet a thing. The new school i.e. CYBERPUNKS are much more dystopian and, to overly simplify, stand on the shoulders of their hacking progenitors in order to undo the damage said progenitors have done since selling out and enacting the same indignities which in their younger years they would have –should have– fought against. Verily it is the circle of life! The important thing is, hackers occupy a hugely prominent role in contemporary popular culture; how the mainstream media reacts to hackers is less about hackers themselves and more about prevailing cultural attitudes towards technology, the end.

What I learned from these fine scholars

Dear god, definitions are just impossible aren’t they? Slippage in every single direction. In itself this isn’t a bad thing — as Biella Coleman explains, sometimes it’s just not possible to define these sorts of nominatives, sometimes the most accurate definitions consist of one slippage piled atop another. Between hacker and troll, between troll and anon, between 4chan and Anonymous, between abstraction and…every other goddamn noun in the dictionary, the beat goes on. Problem is, when there’s not a lot written about a given subject, there’s greater pressure, not to mention a very strong impulse (at least for horrifying A-types like myself), to carefully define whatever thing, if for no other reason than to make crystal clear what the hell it is I’m talking about (i.e. this not that).

Trollshit really is the worst, in part because a series of unofficial definitions –which cropped up due to there not being an official definition, and/or like 50 makeshift definitions to choose from– have obscured the most basic meaning(s) of the term. What ends up happening is, you find yourself rolling uphill to the drumbeat of CYBERBULLYING, and have to spend half your argument explaining what your argument is not before you can make any major claims. That can be a little frustrating, but I suppose it would be worse if a specific definition had been fully top-down and bottom-up codified. In part because I’m sure after a year (let alone an academic lifecycle) the definition would already be wrong, and probably laughably so, consisting primarily of exceptions. I would reference a few contention-bones with Judith Donath, here, but I can’t even remember what all I’ve written in the last few weeks, and would like to leave this terrible place as soon as possible — after her summer-long absence Mother had forgotten that PLC smells like the ghost of a thousand asses. The ass of a thousand ghosts? I wouldn’t doubt it. In conclusion, a) who cares how we define our words, it’s the behaviors that matter and b) it’s critical we use the right words because the right words make all the difference.

p.s. Trolls are third-gen hackers (“hackers” used in the metaphorical sense), standing on the aforementioned shoulders of those who stood on the shoulders of the people who built and subsequently ruined the system hackertrolls are now fighting against, for freedom. This however is a topic for another post.

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