Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Tradition Eleven: "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films."

Tradition Twelve: "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."

From the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, first published 1946.

I think I've whined about this before, but I've never seen any good fiction set on the internets. Gibson's Pattern Recognition is the closest fiction seems to want to come - it's a story about the real world that involves a lot of internetting, but it's not quite there. Nonfiction set on the internet is still way above fiction; no one's made up anything as interesting as A Rape In Cyberspace or The MsScribe Story: An Unauthorised Fandom Biography. (And god, read those if you have the time. The former is a short tale from the early internets; the latter an engrossing epic that occurred in Harry Potter fandom 5ish years ago), And there's no cyberpunk character half so inspired as Anonymous.

People have all sorts of takes on anonymity/public identity on the web. This is how it looks on the Project Chanology wiki, Partyvan:

When internet communities are formed, nearly the first thing that is implemented is to remove anonymity, to make truthful registration as mandatory as possible. This is because of the aptly named Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory*, which observes that rude behavior normally unacceptable in polite society is inversely related to how non-anonymous users are. Not surprisingly, most people assume this means anonymity is a bad thing, and take every step they can to punish users who do not adhere their personal conversation etiquette.

A few people question this conclusion. A very few try out the alternative. So what happens when all censorship, including self-censorship, is removed? Chaos.

*Anonymous reads Penny Arcade.

How the mainstream sees it at the moment; Libby Brooks writing about the non-role of the internets in the Bridgend suicides;

...the unseemly rush to collar social networks only exposes adult ignorance about the integration of technology into young people's lives. Over 90% of UK teenagers belong to a social network like MySpace, Bebo or Facebook, and one-third of those keep at least four separate profiles running at once. The distinction between online and offline relationships has become increasingly indistinct for this generation, and the medium is integral to the way they present themselves and manage peer-group connections. [...] Research shows that most social network contacts are local, based on pre-existing networks... It's partly about perspective: teenagers simply don't adhere to the offline/online binary.

And I read that right after I'd read this old-internets view - David Wong, in Apex Digest, talking about pseudonyms and why his penname is the same as the name of his book's main character:

I started writing as David Wong when I created my first website ( back in 1999. It's just part of internet culture that you don't write as yourself. My friend Mack Leighty would write under the username John Cheese. Both of us would write in the first person, but always as these fictional people, so we wound up creating these characters on the fly.

(Until I read John Dies At The End [OMG] I hadn't clocked that David Wong wasn't a real person. Epic fail. I guess I'd mentally grouped him with the Ents.)

It's at least partly internets generational - not generational in an age sense, but dependent on what the norm was when and where you got involved. (I am still totally weirded out by how different my younger brother's internets is to my internets). Wong is slightly internets-older than I am (I first dipped in in 2000, and by 2002-2003 was a BNF in a small fandom I hope you've never heard of). Then, two-word pseudonyms seemed to be the in thing. (That, or the things concluding in random number streams that got spat out by AOHell). Before that - well, I'm sure we all know of a few pre-WWW internet ents - people like Julian Dibbell, Barbara Mikkelson, or J Brad Hicks, who talk about MUDs or BBs long before Usenet. I'm sure there are some exceptions, but I've yet to come across a still-active Ent who doesn't wear their RL identity on their sleeve. For all I know some of them started out anonymous and have got real since, but these guys are real and have been real for a considerable time now. (And see also The Strange Case Of The Electronic Lover; violations of trust wrt identity - lying online about who and what you were IRL - was taken seriously in [at least part of] the internet world of the late 1980s. In some places, it still is). [This said, I know that there existed an internet generation, a clutch of utopians somewhere between the different waves I've met, that liked to not disclose their gender, let alone any other personal information, because they thought the point of the internet was to dispense with these things. More of that later.]

The Bridgend kids are full-circle - identity out in the open, so all your internets friends will know if you top yourself. For this we can blame Landgon freaking Winner. (FTW.) If objects have politics - if the norms of our civilisation are morphed by the emergence of certain technologies; if you can't imagine what your society would be like without reliable contraception; if we'll do anything, sacrifice anything and anyone, to avoid losing a nuclear war; if we'll fall into whole new habits of communication just because we haz an internets - then software has society, for sure. To compare two juggernauts of internet society; Facebook's architecture/society features exclusion of the pseudonymous, while 2channel mandates full anonymity ("People can only truly discuss something when they don't know each other").

Because of the nature of the physical internet, true online anonymity is often impossible (Compartments has a neat article about how & why she takes care of hers) and that's just as hard-coded as 2channel's compulsory anonymity - more so than AA's forced anonymity. The new RL-centric social networking sites just reinforce what was already there; we're all connected already, and the internet just keeps A plugged in to B. And yet (bloggers hereabouts might remember this incident), in spite of a thorough hunt irl, Anonymous never found Brandon. He is truly one of their own.

From what I recall of internets culture five years ago, was there and Anonymous wasn't. 4chan's big point as a community wasn't the anonymity, it was the anarchy. No limits, no mods or rules to speak of; the anonymity was because 4chan was intended as an English-language alternative to 2channel, with anonymising architecture to suit. Rather than being a 'one', 'legion' Anonymous, a then-friend who was one described /b/tards as being a deliberate non-community; a group of people who browsed the same place (and shared an already notably intricate internet dialect) but perceived themselves as being unconnected.

AA similarly took time to achieve a philosophy of anonymity, the Traditions being ten years younger than the group itself; Daisy recently explained the spiritual and practical purposes of AA anonymity, in a vent on the subject of ______, a person who Daisy is not happy with. [this was on seekrit listmail, qwp, but Daisy also has a fascinating post about legal/illegal drug use here].;

THERE IS A REASON that the Anonymous is in ____Anonymous. The reason is not to protect your sorry ass, but to protect the CONCEPTS and IDEALS.

To wit, if Drew Barrymore, Shannen Doherty and David Crosby (to name three offenders off the top of my head), go around saying "I'm in AA!" and then they go out and get publicly and spectacularly drunk, which all three of them DID, what does that say about AA? Many people will assume AA therefore DOES NOT WORK, and they have therefore hurt the program. Someone who might need it will think, ah, doesn't work.

OR... they will look at ______ and think, EW, I don't want sobriety if it means acting like that asshole.


Please make PRIVATE references to the 12 steps if you want US (fellow members) to know. For instance, use some phrases from the 12 steps, like Richard Pryor did in very dignified ways, "searching and fearless moral inventory"--a way to give US the heads-up, but not everyone. (I felt like he was waving to us, and that was nice.)

But to mention the 12 steps as often as you do, is obnoxious and uncool, and in fact, probably puts as many people off as it attracts people. But since you think you are so fabulous, you won't get that, will you?

We all know who said that ideas are bulletproof. (also, note the Chanology Code of Conduct that opened with internets rules 1 & 2; do NOT talk about /b/).

And we know what Anonymous looks like, not least from Deathboy's photos and flickr links (I link it again because it is brilliant). The V masks are the thing now but back in 2006 when Anonymous was raiding Habbo, their film character of choice was Jules Winnfield. (But look at the race/racism mock on the ED Habbo page). The suit-and-tie icon has endured. Anonymous is masculine - the February 10th photos indicate that IRL Anonymous is 80%+ male. Said photos also include posters mentioning Lisa McPherson's death (and plugging, a site that opens with her photograph) and the fact that the Co$ forces female Sea Org members to get abortions. Sometimes people use men to symbolise Scientology - Tom Cruise or John Travolta, usually - but never with this narrative of oh noez poor victims. There Anonymous is, in a suit and tie, holding aloft placards begging us to rescue these women.

I mentioned people who didn't disclose gender or race or other physical whatsits because they wanted a utopian internets without privilege? Compare to the one we've got, even once 'the gloves come off'. This isn't about Anonymous nearly so much as the other places we all know it happens - Indymedia most notoriously, Wikipedia, many or most corners of the net that supposedly give everyone a voice. It's the same voice as it was before the internets, with the same skew of volume. And that's in the design, the way the internet is an integrated part of the existing media/communications market. (though some people go quite off the rails about this fact).

So we considered going to the Atlanta Chanology thing, didn't, but that evening we go to the ED Chanology East Coast page and ctrl+f Atlanta, and find this video of what came to pass;

Riot police.

I am, for now, leaving aside the question of why my Georgia tax dollars are being spent on sending a million zillion riot police - with a partyvan! - to scare the internets out of RL, something that didn't happen at any of the other 100+ protests, though believe me I am very keen to get an answer to that. No, I'm blogging this because - just look at them. Riot police. In head-to-toe black, with masked faces, all moving as one.

The beautiful lady has been known to mention her Asshole Theory; it goes 'WHY OH WHY can't everyone be like ME?' Both masks and uniforms can keep that Asshole holding together.


Daisy said...

The way your mind works is just SO INTERESTING!!!!! :) Fascinating post. (PS--I didn't know they had never actually found Brandon!)

Love being quoted by you!

Daisy said...

And I just linked this post, too!

(consider this a trackback, which I never learned how to do)

thene said...

I can't do trackback either. Epic, epic fail ;__;