People who have heard of 4chan know its reputation for being the scum of the Internet. I have been an avid Internet user my entire life, but for as long as I have known about 4chan, I have tried hard to avoid it at all costs; however, there is no denying the fact that when it comes to online anonymity, 4chan ranks near the top of the list. I watched a TED talk titled “The Case for Anonymity Online,” by Christopher “moot” Poole in which he discusses the role that anonymity plays in an online environment, 4chan specifically. 4chan is a great example of how anonymity can be both good and bad when it comes to Internet culture, and even society in general.
With over 7,000,000 monthly users, and over 700,000 posts per day, it’s not hard to believe that there are quite a few people who abuse 4chan’s trait of unregulated anonymity. Luckily, there are still good people left in the world, and some of them just happen to be on 4chan, which has been the breeding ground for activism, ranging from the arrest of a cat abuser to the world famous hacktivist group Anonymous. Poole refers to an incident involving a cat known to the Internet as Dusty who was abused by his owner in a video posted online. This did not sit well with the 4chan community, who proceeded to hunt down the cat’s owner as a group of anonymous individuals posting to a forum board. Within a mere 24 hours they had already discovered the identity of the man in the video, and within 48 hours, that man was arrested. This is a case in which anonymity played a positive role in the online community, but sadly 4chan’s reputation comes mostly from the community of its /b/ imageboard. /b/ is the most popular board on 4chan, and so it is difficult for moderators to manage the posts even with the very few rules they do have in place, such as no child pornography, invasions of other websites (posting floods of disruptive content), and under-18 viewing. Since users appear and can post anonymously, some people have chosen to use 4chan’s /b/ board as a way to distribute child pornography. This content, combined with other extremely obscene content stemming from the ability to post anonymously, have given 4chan the reputation as one of the darkest places on the internet, even if there are many other good aspects of the site.
In keeping with the theme of Anonymity, I also read an article titled “Peeking behind the curtain at Anonymous,” by Gabriella Coleman in which she describes what Anonymous is, and what Anonymous isn’t. Coleman gives the best description for Anonymous I have seen so far,
“it’s not an organization with one or even a few leaders at the helm. It’s a name adopted by various unrelated groups of hackers and technologists to describe a whole range of actions, from hacks against security firms to technical support for occupiers to those involved in national revolutions. Subgroups such as Antisec, meanwhile, scour servers to look for sensitive national, military or political information they can leak to the world. What links the groups is a spirit of irreverence and disdain for the law as it stands.”
Anonymous began to gain recognition after their protest of Scientology in 2008, and have grown in their fame tremendously over the past several years as their targeted attacks have grown size. The great thing about Anonymous is that even though there is no unification, the members generally have a common interest at heart, fighting for what they believe to be the common good of the people. Coleman says, “Anonymous is not proactive, it is reactive, event-driven. It rises up most forcefully when Internet freedom is in jeopardy.” At this time people feel most compelled to take action, which is why Anonymous has been such a large proponent in the fight for Internet freedom. Unlike many vigilantes, Anonymous announces itself to the world, yet strives to avoid personal fame. Nobody really knows just how many people take part in the group, or who does what when where or how. For this reason, Anonymous can last as long as it wishes, for whenever activist and hacktivist alike feel the need, they may call upon this name to continue protecting the freedom of the people in whatever way they see fit.