Chloe Westman


I. Question

What motivates 4chan users to work together through Project Anonymous?

II. I Wonder

I'm intrigued by why users on 4chan feel connected to each other, and then choose to show that conenction through Anonymous. I also want to explore how a truly anonymous group is only possible because of the internet.

III. My Plan

Because there is very little scholarly research on this topic, I will focus more on observation for my research. I will look at the 4chan boards, and perhaps even post on there to get responses from actual users.

IV. What I Want to Learn

I want to gain some insight into the psyche of 4chan users.

There's not enough depth to this proposal for me to give it the green light. Check out the recent New York Times story on the topic to deepen the quality of your proposal.
--Renee

Research Report 1
(I interviewed someone and observed 4chan)
I interviewed my friend Lewis who would look at the 4chan boards regularly, almost daily, especially the "random" topic board, or 4.chan.org/b/. The random board, or "/b/" as it's most often referred to, is the most well known and regularly used board on 4chan, and a good starting point for observation on the site because it mixes together all different images, fandoms, and types of users. He never participated by posting or replying to any images, but he did observe other's posts. In internet speak, this is called a "lurker". After about a year and a half of going on 4chan regularly, he stopped. Now, he frequents sites like Reddit to find funny images or internet memes, instead of 4chan. He claimed he made the switch because he was seeing too many things on 4chan he didn't want to see:
"The anonymity is abused by immature posters, it allows unfavorable content and nonsense to be posted. It ruins legitimate content because you have to dig throught the bullshit to find it."
On sites like Reddit or Digg, while they are set up in a much different method than the basic imageboard system of 4chan, the same type of content can be found as on 4chan - however, these sites are regulated so that certain images, such as pornographic ones, cannot be posted.

I then went on to ask if he saw the complete freedom of speech on 4chan as a bad thing, and if it needed to be somewhat censored, but he disagreed and claimed a completely open and free space like 4chan existing on the internet is a positive thing: "Some people have urges to say something that would otherwise get them banned from posting, but on 4chan they can say whatever they want."
After establishing Lewis' thoughts on the anonymity of 4chan, I went on to speak to him about Anonymous and hacking. He stated that in all the time he was on 4chan, he never saw users organize and hack or "spam" a website, and if anyone ever did post something to try to get users to rally and hack, it was largely ignored by the other users. He also denied a link between Anonymous and 4chan.

In addition, while I was observing 4chan this evening, I saw a user start a post about Occupy Wall Street, with a "call to all members of Anonymous". Only a couple of other users responded to the thread, telling the OP (original poster) to stop posting Occupy Wall Street-related items, and denying the link between Anonymous and 4chan and its users. One user responded to the thread and stated:
"ive been on /b/ since christmas06 and anonymous fags are unrelated to /b/ros" (sic)
"/B/ros" are what regular users of 4chan.org/b/ call themselves and referring to someone as a "fag" is a regular occurrence on 4chan and not necessarily a sign of homophobia, or even of negativity. Users refer to themselves as "newfags" or "oldfags" based on how long they have been active members of the board.

After conducting this interview and observing 4chan, I am considering shifting the topic of my study away from the Anonymous hacking group and more towards the unregulated and uncensored nature of 4chan's site. I can then comment on the pros and cons of 4chan's existence, and do research on both sides of the topic. Ironically, when I first tried to get onto 4chan earlier today, I found that the site was shut down. I then went to 4chan's twitter (@4chan) and learned that the site had been hacked with a type of hacking called "distributed denial-of-service attack", or, "DDoS". The point of a DDoS is to keep a user-generated site down by denying its users service. This was interesting to me because while I suddenly was doubting the relationship between 4chan and Anonymous/hacking, clearly some hackers felt the need to shut down 4chan. Perhaps this is because those in Anonymous were sick of the media constantly connecting the group to sites like 4chan. Both the 4chan twitter, and the official 4chan status blog (http://status.4chan.org, a blog set up by 4chan to help users know when and why the site is down), did not name the hackers. This leads me to believe that they did not who had hacked the website, because going along with 4chan's freedom of speech policy, if the hackers and their reason had been known, it surely would have been shared.

The tweet by @4chan that described the site being down stated:
"Disappointed that we won't be able to support American Censorship Day tomorrow (http://americancensorship.org/) due to the DDoS. Great job!"
I loved this tweet, and mostly because of the obvious sarcasm in the "great job!" comment at the end. I also loved that this tweet highlighted that tomorrow, November 16, is "American Censorship Day", when the United States Congress will begin hearings on "the first American Internet censorship system". I knew that in the U.S. many were beginning to worry about internet censorship, but I did not realize how quickly legislation was being put into motion on the subject. I will surely be following this issue in Congress and will be incorporating it into my project.