While I was volunteering at the Digital Media and Learning 2011 conference last weekend, I was able to attend a panel discussion called “The Politics of User-Generated Content,” which re-introduced me to the world of 4chan.org and the group called Anonymous which is most famous for its protests against Scientology and its stark support of Wikileaks and dislike of anyone who inhibits Wikileaks.
In this month’s Vanity Fair, there is an article on 4chan and Anonymous, called “4chan’s Chaos Theory,” (linked) which is a really, really good read. It discusses basically everything from the birth of 4chan by a 15 year old New York boy to the IRL (in real life) birth of Anonymous.
My favorite parts are when 4chan founder, Christopher Poole, is discussion how 4chan’s anonymous posting system represents a fundamentally different digital theory from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. It indirectly addresses a lot of the conflicts that Facebook has been facing over publishing private content, and presents, whether Zuckerberg intended it to or not, the Facebook point of view, I think.
Poole says,”Mark’s vision of the world is that you should be comfortable sharing as your real self on the Internet…He thinks that anonymity represents a lack of authenticity, almost a cowardice…I disagree with that.” Basically, Poole presents that an anonymous discussion board, while it is unpredictable, largely uncontrollable, and constantly changing (4chan’s most popular board has 80,000 posts a day, more than 550 per minute, according to the article and the panel at DML2011), still has something to offer today’s digital populace.
This article gave me a new perspective on the anonymous posting system, and definitely a new perspective on Facebook’s continuous privacy concerns. Perhaps Zuckerberg isn’t trying to share things we don’t want shared, perhaps he just wants us to be as close to our real life selves as possible on the Internet. And perhaps Poole’s 4chan and the resulting Anonymous isn’t just a group of perverted cyber-vandals. Maybe they are, as Vanity Fair paints them, “vigorous grassroots protestors-” offering no more real harm than, say… the bunch of kids we read about in Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother?