"Go to bed, Tao Lin."

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I thought we could either gchat, then edit later, or meet in person and transcribe whatever happens w/o editing (including things like ["long pause"] and "[nervously laughs]." I think I kind of prefer the 2nd.

So began my interaction with author Tao Lin, a young author known as much for his self-promotional antics as for his several published novels. I wanted to interview Lin about his experiences with a popular image board called 4chan, known for being a playground for internet trolls and the birthplace of the "hacktivist" collective known as Anonymous. 4chan is a place where thousands of people gather for cheap thrills: porn, gore, and spontaneous collaborative pranks that range from harmlessly goofy to insidiously dangerous. 4chan trolls go after religious cults, white supremacists, scam artists, pedophiles, and animal abusers. They also seem to hate Tao Lin. I wanted to know why.

4chan is a collection of image boards that allows users to anonymously post messages that disappear quickly unless they contain content that inspires others to respond. It is marked by the presence of a geeky, insular cultural currency of internet-borne ephemera which we've now decided to collectively call "memes." For the most part, 4chan's users just want to kill time shooting the shit with other geeks. They talk about anime, mecha, papercraft and other mostly-geeky topics. I've been hanging out on 4chan pretty regularly since 2007—it's a fascinating Darwinian "meme-pool," from which much of internet culture derives. I wrote a book about 4chan last fall. 

Two years ago, 4chan's administrator added a literature board, or, /lit/, to the fifty or so extant forums. It was an immediate personal thrill to see the often puerile tone of 4chan's boards used to describe Dostoyevsky, for instance. The content on the ...

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Cole Stryker, Author of "Epic Win for Anonymous" on Interior Semiotics, Context Collapse, and "You Rage You Lose"

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Still from Natacha Stolz's Interior Semiotics

Last year, an anonymous Rhizome contributer interviewed Natacha Stolz regarding her performance Interior Semiotics, the video documentation of which eventually found its way on 4Chan:

What is it that made, and is still making, [4chan users] so angry about Stolz’s performance? The video contains graphic material, but in the age of Goatse, and Tubgirl, explicitness alone cannot shock or offend most people—especially internet trolls. Rather, it was the label on it—art—and the work’s perceived demographic—hipsters—that crawled under people’s skin. Many on the internet seem as angry with the audience—for sitting there, for clapping—as they are with the performance itself. Whether or not you like Stolz’s piece may be a matter of personal taste, but taste is never strictly personal. It stands at a nexus of hot-blooded issues; issues relating to class, status, accessibility, belonging and not belonging. Taste necessarily begs the question not just of how we assign value to things, but also of who should be doing the assigning. The hipster has come to epitomize for many what’s seen to be the ridiculousness of taste; and so it struck people who hated Interior Semiotics as no mere coincidence that many audience members in the video were punked out, or gothed up, or otherwise retrofitted.

A lot of the comments on the video fall into two categories: comments addressing the definition, or ideal definition, of art, and comments addressing the nature of hipsters. The latter tend to be violent expressions of a kind of inchoate rage.

Recently I asked my friend Cole Stryker, author of Epic Win for Anonymous: How 4chan’s Army Conquered the Web for his take on the trolling of the artist:

 

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RECOMMENDED READING: 4chan and /b/: An Analysis of Anonymity and Ephemerality in a Large Online Community

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MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab and University of Southampton researchers recently wrote a paper analyzing 4Chan's "alternative credibility mechanisms" and particular community activity. Collecting a dataset over two weeks (576,096 posts in 482,559 threads) 4chan and /b/: An Analysis of Anonymity and Ephemerality in a Large Online Community (Michael S. Bernstein, Andrès Monroy-Hernández, Drew Harry, Paul Andrè, Katrina Panovich, Greg Vargas) considers the speed of activity on the site and user habits like having “/b/ folders” archiving material from the site and unicode fluency is a status indicator. Interestingly, the paper sees 4chan's ephemerality as a potential motivator for further participation ("One may think users would see no point to contributing if their actions will be removed within minutes. However, if /b/ users want to keep a thread from expiring within minutes, they need to keep conversation active. This 'bump' practice, combined with a norm of quick replies, may encourage community members to contribute content. This hypothesis was derived from our observations, and will need to be tested more rigorously.")

Among their findings:

  • The median life of a thread is just 3.9 minutes...The fastest thread to expire was gone in 28 seconds (i.e., a thread with no responses during a very high activity period); the longest-lived lasted 6.2 hours (i.e., a thread with frequent new posts to bump it).
  • The median thread spends just 5 seconds on the first page over its entire lifetime..The fastest thread was pushed off the first page in less than one second (actually, 58 of them shared this dubious honor), and the most prominent thread spent 37 minutes on the first page cumulatively over its lifetime.
  • Threads last the longest between 9am and 10am EST and expire fastest between 5pm and 7pm EST ...
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