WARNING: NSFW IMAGES DOWN PAGE
Whilst so far this trawl through trolling has taken in a fair deal of mischief and a good bit of outrage it hasn’t really tackled the nasty side of trolling that is synonymous with the use of the term in the mainstream media. Whilst I hope I have made a case for trolling as an amusing and sometimes useful art-form it has to be acknowledged that the line between harmless pranks and intimidation can be remarkably thin. Anonymous are now known worldwide as some kind of Guy Fawkes masked hacktivist, protest group, they are filed in the public imagination alongside post-crash activism movements such as Occupy Wallstreet and Wikileaks. What is less well known is the network’s less than righteous origins in anarchic imageboard 4chan. One of the key features of 4chan is that user can post without entering any details: the post will simply credited to “anonymous”.
Around 2004, as the boards became more popular, the idea of “anonymous” as a single entity gained currency within the community . The loose collective, realising the power of their anonymous numbers, started to organise mass trolling exploits, the majority of which lacked the political or moral foundations of actions later attributed to Anonymous. These included invading Habbo Hotel with an army of avatars which resembled black men in suits, stopping regular users going about their business, drawing swastikas and generally being a nuisance.
Other morally dubious activities attributed to Anonymous included denial of service attacks on various sites, prank phone calls, defacing hip-hop sites with racist abuse and sending abuse to kids who had set-up an “anti-cussing club”. This Wikipedia timeline gives a fairly good overview of their activities. Anonymous took the trolling of USENET and gamified it, they turned trolling from an injoke into an activity where the “members” competed to pull of the most outrageous stunts simply for the “lulz”. 2008’s Project Chanology, where Anonymous went to war against Scientology, could be seen as the beginning of the more righteous activities the Anonymous tag has become associated with. Though by nature anonymous and committed by disparate individuals even these more righteous activities display an ideology that can be traced back to 4chan. The emphasis on freedom, piracy and not letting the man get in your way tend to be the cornerstones of the Anonymous world-view – all things presumably of interest to the adolescent males who frequented 4chan. It is notable that Anonymous’ pseudo-corporate logo of a suited man with a question mark in place of a head is very much male.
The dichotomy of the righteous / malicious troll can be seen most clearly on the unofficial 4chan / anonymous reference archive Encylopedia Dramatica. Here those more inclined to troll for the greater good are derided as “moral fags” whilst there is an inordinate amount of innovation put into being as offensive as possible. A movement as deliberately nebulous as Anonymous can never mean one thing: the tactics of trolling never means one thing either. It’s a bit like how people react to Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name”. Some of the crowd will take in the message about racism and anti-imperialism but a hell of a lot more will be jumping up and down screaming “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me”:
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