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4Chan’s influence in Egypt

Tuesday

In a recently conducted online survey concerning 4Chan and internet memes in Egypt, a surprising 56/100 people answered that they both knew what an internet meme was and were aware that they mostly originate from 4Chan. The results also suggested that the amount of time users spend online is almost directly proportional to their chances of discovering this information, as one would most likely need to have spent a significant amount of their time on the internet to come across such discoveries.

Even more surprising to discover was the existence of a Facebook group called “Egypt’s Sarcasm Society”. The ESS is a group of individuals intent on spreading most of the viral humor and images that come from 4Chan into a localized group for Egyptians, sometimes creating their own (albeit not in the least bit entertaining) image macros and micro-memes. One such example is a blog called “Memes In Arabic”.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=111950917271
http://memesinarabic.tumblr.com/

There was a noticeable surge in image macros and memes during the January 25th revolution, many of which were composed of “lolcomics” and takes on other popular memes with Egyptian localizations. Largely portraying 4chan humor, the images spread outside the context of Egypt to the Arab Spring in general. Encyclopedia Dramatica, a bastardized version of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, has an entire page dedicated to the Egyptian Revolution and Mubarak.

http://encyclopediadramatica.ch/The_Great_Egyptian_Riot_of_2011

Despite being mostly underground, it’s safe to say that they are becoming more and more popular with every passing day. A possible factor in their growth could also be attributed to the 4Chan-based hacktivist group Anonymous, who successfully shut down most of the Egyptian government’s websites during the first few days of the revolution in what they referred to as “Operation Egypt”.

For those not in the know, Anonymous is a hacktivist group famous for causing many acts of international vandalism and “cyber terror”. While the group has been known to do some serious damage in their many operations (such as their war on the Church of Scientology and hacking the e-mail of former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin), they have worked to use their power of numbers to what are widely considered to be good causes; such as shutting down the PlayStation Network over unfair terms of service, providing Middle Eastern countries going through revolt access to online information, and helping millions of people bypass censorship and internet blockades in order to freely access information.

An unknown member of Anonymous described the group as follows:

“Despite all the verbal masturbation anonymous produce, they are really not scary or evil. Anonymous is a Panopticon in reverse. A group where everyone is invisible and appears to speak from the center. Anonymous collectively contains every belief, creed, cultural status, sexuality, fetish, hobby, job, likes, dislikes, (insert any quality), etc. They have collectively experienced every act of violence and kindness. They know every language, probably even the dead ones. They know everything that can be known, and can perpetrate any act a person can. However, because they dwell in a reverse-panopticon, the individual anonymous who “yell” the loudest, most often, or most provocatively will be heard and remembered the most. This is why the anonymous seems so cruel and disgusting. But for every grotesque abomination that posts anonymously, there are probably 100 more who are decent human beings that are just too lazy to post, or are indifferent to the topic at hand.” – Anonymous

As expected, they have had their fair share of media coverage. Some are right on the money, whilst others are laughably exaggerated:

    References:

http://encyclopediadramatica.ch/Anonymous
http://ohinternet.com/Anonymous
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41280813/ns/technology_and_science-security/t/anonymous-hacktivists-attack-egyptian-websites/
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/05/201151917634659824.html
http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/interactive/2011/05/2011519182744550587.html
http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/the_way_we_live/article4173635.ece
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/03/world/middleeast/03hackers.html?_r=2

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Trolls

Tuesday

A troll is a person who posts annoying, insulting, shocking, or off-topic messages in an online forum or place where their identity will not be compromised. The troll thrives on inciting emotional responses from his or her victims; enjoying the comfort of never having to be held accountable for anything they say or do. They do it for “the lulz”—a take on the acronym “lol” that means laughter and entertainment obtained from causing misery or annoyance to others.

Today in most internet forums, the troll can sometimes be seen as a hero rather than a nuisance to the online community. In this case the troll acts as a savior who wittily gets rid of un-liked users by making fun of them. In a sense, they use their “trolling powers” to do good by getting rid of anyone that the regular forum members do not like through means of ridicule and mockery.

Here are some [unsurprising] insights about trolls made by news media:

“Whitney Phillips, a PhD student at the University of Oregon, studied trolls for her doctorate. She says they are mostly men in their 20s and early 30s, usually college-educated and intelligent.” – The Daily Mail (dailymail.co.uk)

“A normal person who does insane things on the internet.” – Jason Fortuny (The New York Times)

“You look for someone who is full of it, a real blowhard. Then you exploit their insecurities to get an insane amount of drama, laughs and lulz. Rules would be simple: 1. Do whatever it takes to get lulz. 2. Make sure the lulz is widely distributed. This will allow for more lulz to be made. 3. The game is never over until all the lulz have been had.” – Anonymous Troll (The New York Times)

While most acts of “trolling” take place over the internet, there are a select few 4Chan users who occasionally gain media attention by applying the same “trolling techniques” in real life situations. For example, a discussion concerning pedophiles on the Oprah.com forums was interrupted by an anonymous 4Chan troll who claimed to be a member of an online pedophile network that uses the internet to rape children. Needless to say, the message was taken very seriously by the online community; causing such a ruckus that the very next episode of Oprah had her reading the post as a warning to her audience.

The fact that making someone as famous and influential as Oprah fall for an obvious trap was considered a huge success to the 4Chan boards, causing an excess number of parodies being uploaded to YouTube:

Real life trolling (RL Trolling for short) has also taken other forms. In 2005, a large group of 4Chan users decided to raid the “Habbo Hotel” website. Habbo Hotel is an alternative-lifestyle game similar to SecondLife that enables users to create virtual avatars and interact with other users in a fictional hotel setting.

The point of this particular raid was to create an avatar of a black man with an afro wearing a suit, and placing said avatars in front of all the entrances to the pools of the hotel while citing “POOL’S CLOSED DUE TO AIDS”. The raid came as a result of 4Chan users believing the moderators of the website were needlessly banning people with Negro avatars.

Taking this attack a step further, an anonymous person posted one of the “Pool’s Closed” image macros onto the entrance gate of a community swimming pool in Texas. Not getting the joke, a grandmother of mixed race children thought it was a personal and racist attack on her black grandchildren and called the police. Local news media picked up the story and aired it on television, causing even more “massive lulz” to the delight of the 4Chan users.

As of this writing, there have currently been no documented cases of trolling or RL trolling in Egypt. While the possibility of trolling in online message boards is almost certain in Egypt, access to them is very limited as there are very few popular Arabic message boards on the internet (especially Egyptian ones) that have the capacity to understand the concept of trolling. In a recent examination, the Masrawy.com forums were found to be relatively free of trolls or people who fit the above-mentioned definition of one.

    References:

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/pools-closed#.TdqeXVs-ySo
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/magazine/03trolls-t.html
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1360788/Natasha-MacBryde-suicide-Vile-web-craze-taunted-family-bullied-girl-death.html
http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t=trolling&i=53181,00.asp#

What is an internet meme?

Tuesday

A meme as defined by Merriam-Webster is:
“An idea, behavior, style or usage that spreads form person to person within a culture”
The term was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene. Therefore, the term internet meme would be an idea that spreads rapidly through the internet gaining mass popularity and becoming viral. These internet fads or sensations often explode and sometimes reach international fame as well as press coverage. Early forms of internet memes date back to the early 90s. The recurrent factor that is present in all memes is that they are all closely tied in with popular culture and new age media.

Memes can spread through any form of communication, whether it’s a video, an image or a chain email. A meme might be that video that everyone is sharing on Facebook at one time, or that funny image that’s gotten many photoshopped versions lately. This includes image macros such as LOLcats and the photoshopped images of “the man behind Omar Suleiman”.

It is difficult to predict what can become a meme and what wont, and how long a meme will live before its cycle ends. Memes are generally unpredictable. Memes can evolve, they can grow, sometimes they can merge with other memes or they simply die out.
Memes have been used in advertizing as well. Large companies realized the golden opportunity to bank on internet fame, and surely enough videos for companies like “blend tech” and “old spice” started appearing online. The videos are designed to be entertaining and humorous, the necessary attributes for the ‘pass it on’ effect to occur.

Memes have recently been recognized among parts of Egyptian society. Many young Egyptians have intentionally and unintentionally created memes. An example of an Egyptian meme is “the man standing behind Omar Suleiman”. The man gained popularity as many humorously doctored images of him were released on Facebook and other social media. The man had his own song on youtube, and a facebook fan page within hours of his appearance on television.

Another Egyptian meme, which gained international recognition and became a YouTube viral video, was the panda cheese campaign. The videos were featured on YouTubes 2nd most viewed and subscribed comedians’ (RayWilliamJohnson) show.

The panda cheese commercials collectively have over 3 million views from all over the world. The panda from the commercials appeared on other Photoshop projects around the internet.

Mubarak

During the January 25th demonstrations, a member of the Egyptian Sarcasm Society Facebook group (more on that later) went to Tahrir Square holding a sign featuring a localized version of the “Y U NO” meme:

Y U NO STEPDOWN

Other memes that have exploded in Egypt include, but are not limited to, Photoshopped parodies of Mubarak leading the Israel Palestine peace delegations. Gaddafi’s Zenga Zenga song parody and famous television actress Affaf Sawqui’s youtube video complaining about the lack of food during the revolution, while thousands of martyrs died on the streets. These seemingly different memes all mimic the infamous style of 4chan humor.

References:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/magazine/24wwln-consumed-t.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/magazine/24wwln-consumed-t.html
The man standing behind Omar Sulieman – Facebook
http://www.tarekshalaby.com/2010/09/was-panda-cheeses-award-winning-viral-ad-campaign-stolen-from-another-commercial/

What is /b/?

Sunday

/B/ is the most popular and most controversial ‘board’ on 4chan, with over 30% of the total internet traffic generated by 4chan. 4Chan ranks at 660th most accessed website in the world, and 372nd in the US, giving it an immense influence on the culture of the internet as a whole. /B/ is the random thread, therefore users are allowed to create threads and share anything falling under any topic. Although there is a rough framework of rules provided by the staff, moderation is difficult as the number of posts per day exceeds  the 200,000 mark. The main rules forbid sharing of illegal software, child pornography and spamming. Anything else is allowed within the realm of /B/. Moot, the founder and owner of 4chan once told the New York Times, “ The power lies in the community to dictate its own standards [of rules]”.

The rules of 4Chan.

Most of the threads on 4chan are based on shock value. A regular internet user would not understand nor appreciate the type of threads and humor that /b/ revolves around.  The satirical form of black comedy associated with /b/ is often misunderstood as serious real life attacks on people or organizations, as falsely reported numerous times in the media. 4Chan users often refer to themselves as /b/tards, a modification of the word ‘retard’, or to each other as /b/ros. 4Chan users like to give the impression that they are all part of a cult, having their inside jokes, and even creating their own rules (which are a bunch of nonsense) . Most of these jokes develop into what we know now as Memes (more on that later). The /b/ community includes many people of many nationalities from all walks of life. /b/ users thrive on stereotypes, racism and pornography. Many of the users on /b/ are well educated and well read, but /b/ serves as their escape where they can point their fingers at the real world and laugh.

A sample of a 4Chan thread.

One of many personas on 4chan, and recently on the rest of the internet, the internet ‘troll’ seems to be the most noteworthy. A troll, like a class clown, thrives on peoples laughter at the expense of a few. A troll mainly posts inflammatory topics or makes provocative comments in hope of pulling a reaction out of a few. This is a troll’s main source of entertainment; they may not necessary agree with said provocative comments, but they just express them ‘for the lulz’ (to get a laugh or two).

How 4Chan works

Friday

To properly comprehend the gist of the infamous imageboard, one needs to first understand the underlying mechanics of its posting system. The 4Chan boards are divided according to category and are referred to by assigned letters; all of which frequented by a distinct group of individuals that more or less resemble a typical high school clique. For example, gamers or people interested in video games will be found most typically under the /v/ board discussing them, while others looking for pornography will visit the sex board (/s/).

What makes 4Chan stand out from any other forum-based website is the fact that posting there is entirely anonymous. No usernames or passwords are kept, making the imageboard even more attractive to people who want to pretend to be whoever they like. The most popular board /b/ is largely unmonitored and moderator intervention is kept at a minimum. The sheer amount of mindless entertainment offered by not giving away your identity is what makes posting on 4Chan so appealing. You can insult people and get away with it, express an opinion without feeling the sting of rebuttal, and share “questionable” media content that would otherwise alienate you for doing so in real life.

While virtually all forums ask for some kind of email, user name and password, 4chan only requires the user to fill in a captcha:

After the thread is created, each individual post is identified by a unique ID number. Anyone wanting to respond to a specific post made by another anonymous user can simply quote their ID number. To those who want to respond to the original poster, they need only to refer to them as “OP”. Of course, that doesn’t stop random people from posing as the OP and hijacking the discussion. But because it is considered to be one of the finer pleasure of posting on 4Chan, it is never looked down upon.

Also unlike most forums, all posts are deleted if there is no activity for a certain amount of time; which sacrifices the advantage of having an archive for the sake of keeping all content fresh and up to date.

The Premise

Saturday

The purpose of this blog is to measure the penetration 4chan.org has had on popular media (both online and offline) in Egypt. To begin this endeavour, we must first explain what 4chan.org is and define the impact it has had over the internet and its online subcultures.

4chan.org is an online image-board forum launched in 2003 by a young Christopher Poole under the alias ‘moot’. The website is divided into several sub-forums and was mainly a hub for anime fans to discuss cartoons and Japanese manga. In the days before YouTube, the massive influence 4chan held over its userbase made it an extremely popular web destination for anyone wanting to kill some time while having a few laughs in between.

Paying for 4chan’s hosting using his mother’s credit card, Poole said his main interest in setting up the website was to make money through online advertising. Fast forward a few years and Poole is now TIME magazine’s most influential person of 2008; a result of his site’s userbase mass-voting him into the #1 spot (more on that later). In time, moot gained enough fame to become a regular speaker at internet conventions across the globe, appearing in public talks and university lectures on internet phenomena. How this metamorphosis was possible and just what exactly has the site done to pull all this off will be explained in future posts. For now, here is a short list of 4chan’s contributions to the world:

– Inventing roughly 80% of all internet jokes and online memes, some of which leaked out and caused real-world drama

– Creating a massive world-wide protest against the Church of Scientology

– Hacking then-vice president elect Sarah Palin’s Yahoo! e-mail address and distributing its contents to the media

– Significantly dropping Apple stock after running a fake news story about Steve Jobs dying of cardiac arrest

– Shutting down Egyptian government websites in support of the January 25th revolution