There’s an extremely interesting scholarly article on the culture of anonymity that I came across while following a link from Kazerad’s blog. It’s not light reading, but it’s a well-written analysis on that well-trodden asshole of the internet – 4chan’s /b/ – and the kind of discourse that happens in and around it.
Of particular note is what happened when newcomers, wholly ignorant of the board culture where anonymity is enforced as the gold standard, started entering this place in large amounts following a few well-publicized incidents. As you might expect, it didn’t end well. These people walked into the asshole of the internet without learning the ground rules – ‘lurk the fuck moar’ in those days actually meant something.
Worse, these people expected /b/ to, for lack of a better term, be exactly like their other communities, both online and physical.
Predictably, the beast lashed out. And that’s how we got where we are today.
Rather, misogynistic discourse is one variant within a canon of trolling practices meant to exert collective control over new, casual users who disregard /b/’s habitus. These new users bring with them the behavioural values of economies of self-publicity: egocentrism, narcissism, indicators of offline identity, and identity-based prestige. Such qualities are necessary to participate in the dominant online cultural economy of self-publicity on social media platforms, where participation means ‘public-by-default, private-through-effort’ (boyd, 2011)
…these users, dubbed ‘newfags’, barraged 4chan once its existence came to light following 2006 media coverage of offsite raids and a dirty bomb hoax. Once secretive and exclusive, 4chan ascended to prominence in 2008 following Project Chanology and the emergence of the politicised activist group Anonymous.  Expecting the dominant paradigm of online interaction, newcomers flooded /b/ with photographs, low-content greetings, requests to be rated, and offers to perform for /b/—behaviours that either conform with cultural economies of self-publicity or presume that /b/’s normative social structures merely run counter to dominant cultural economies. This behaviour, termed ‘newfaggotry’, consists of introducing to /b/ the logics of self-publicity and imposing socially normative interpretations of ‘anti-normative behaviour’ onto /b/’s practices without understanding the habituated dispositions actually comprising them.
-Vyshali Manivannan, Tits or GTFO: The logics of misogyny on 4chan’s Random – /b/
Case in point.
I guess I’m just old-fashioned in the way I view the internet; I think one should go to great lengths not to advertise their personal information, social media I consider a particularly virulent form of memetic cancer and this shameless modern internet culture of self-promotion and propagation I find particularly disgusting. Then again, how the fuck is anyone meant to get noticed in this instantaneous culture of now? I get it. I don’t have to like it, but I get it. America is a land where people do strange goddamn things to earn a few dollars, and the US-centrism of the American perspective means that people naturally carry this all the way into the information superhighway.
However, the events of the last few years have convinced me of one thing utterly. Internet anonymity must never go away.
It is quite sincerely the one place we have left, accessible to anyone with an internet connection, where we can come even close to touching the golden cape of a living, breathing meritocracy, where ideas, thoughts, and actions are judged utterly divorced from the identity and cult of personality the world teaches us to venerate and construct around ourselves. Our culture values the superficial skin of what we look like, who we talk to, who we vote for, what we eat and drink. The internet, on the other hand, cares not about any of these things. It is the true equalizer, the great fifth estate. The one place where a multi-millionaire celebrity and a broke immigrant living on the poverty line can speak on the same terms, and be judged accordingly – as people screaming out into the void.
There is no darkness out there in this fifth estate except what we brought into it ourselves. Every form of social malaise I’ve heard people complaining about on the internet (racism, sexism, misandry, misogyny, inequality, and every form of social malaise both imagined and real) surprises me with its prevalence. I can’t browse for more than fifteen minutes without coming to some article or page that complains about the latest social ill or unrest, or uses evidence on the internet to justify mounting some kind of crusade against other people believing different things. Just as rapidly as it proliferated, we brought our wars and insecurities and jealousies into the fifth estate.
The internet, despite teetering closer and closer to the edge of the oblivion it once promised to save us from, is the one remaining place, despite the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory being empirically provable – that we can truly speak and live free of consequence, and we are truly faced with what we and others are in the dark. And there are people who want to take this away!
Even if that means what we are in the dark is, you know, total fuckwads.
I remember when the most vicious of internet discussions were over shit like, say, who could come out in a fight between a plumber and a hedgehog or who Harry Potter would end up fucking, instead of things like the ongoing cultural war and the effects it has on our fragile little minds. I miss those days.