The Mob Within

I’m particularly interested by, and even tickled with (mostly because they haven’t targeted me yet) 4Chan.

If this is your first time on the Internet, let me introduce you to 4Chan, which is that seedy area that isn’t described in your tourist guide, because it doesn’t so much have an operating red light district, as is a good place to buy counterfeit gun parts.

Except that you can’t actually buy anything there, illegal or not. That’s Craigslist, or eBay. And it’s not stolen property, because it isn’t a torrent network. :) 4Chan is, as part of the world wide web, really almost nothing substantial at all.

4Chan is actually an image posting board. Bare bones, text only, except one image per post. Images. Cars. Porn. Anime. Fetish. Everything else. Most of those LOL pictures you’ve seen elsewhere came from 4Chan before they were distilled from the Internet’s sense-of-humor aether.

What makes 4Chan unique is that it is absolutely anonymous. You can post there without anyone knowing who you are, and in fact you must, because the site is designed in such a way as to not record who you are, except by a random number if you so choose. It is about as anonymous as anonymous gets on the Internet. They can ban IP blocks for abuse. That’s it.

This fact becomes a feature, and the most outstanding feature of 4Chan. Because it is anonymous, it has created a particular home base for a bunch of stuff, which can only be known as /b/. The first rule of /b/ is “ZOMG NONE!!!1″. That pretty much says it. There are some perfunctory global rules to the entire site that apply to bans (no advertising, etc) enforced within /b/, but other than that, this is what doesn’t fit elsewhere. And there is a lot of that.

And doesn’t fit, it does not. This anonymous space opens up a bizarre sort of Internet–an internet of odd humor, of various tinctures of pure id, of emotion and devious retribution towards nearly anything that might be rebelled against.

The most notable thing to me, is that out of this chaos, very distinct forms emerge. There is a head to this beast, and a motion to the mob. Like a school of fish, it moves quickly, purposefully, and with all the authority that anonymous, random, network content can provide.

Because this is Cyborg month, I’ve been thinking about most things in a very cybernetic way. So allow me to indulge this, as in my best Rod Serling voice, I present these items for your consideration.

Item One: Most Influential

In a feat that, granted, sounds more devious than it was in the end, 4Chan not only promoted 4Chan founder “moot” to Time’s Most Influential Person, but arranged the next 20 runner-ups perfectly in a bit of acrostic inside-joke graffiti. As the full post-mortem reveals, the inherent vulnerabilities of Time’s online poll made it easy, and reduced the magazine poll’s last remaining ounce of cultural weight down to the vacuous popularity contest it always was, using only a little bit of clever code and some widely available automatic poll-hacking programs.

In this exhibit, we see /b/’s desire not just to fuck with anything, but the ability of certain members of the swarm to really dig into the fabric of the net in order to do so. Compare this to the alleged Digg Patriots, a right-wing group that purportedly uses multiple logins and organized tactics to bury articles on a ranking site. The Digg Patriots use the system, they just game the system in a way that violates the given rules. On the other hand, /b/ completely hacked the poll system, rendering other organized attempts to game the system moot (pun intended) by even distributing faulty software to other interested groups, that would work against them as it appeared to be working for them. They broke the system. Why? Because they decided to. As the person who supposedly wrote the code to spell the message said, “Many believe we [the 'secret' group] are “dead” or only doing hugraids etc, so I thought it would also be a way of saying : we’re still around and we don’t just do only “moralfag” stuff .”

Item Two: Justicefags

More recently, /b/ has been making hits on individual enemies. Their choice of individuals for targets are always as widely spread as an Internet mob-mentality would narrow itself, from pop stars to random YouTube teens. But there is, occasionally, some method to the madness.

Specifically, they have targeted people seen in videos being cruel to animals. And they get their man/woman. With the crowd-sourced distribution of /b/’s members, it isn’t long before they hit on leads, and follow down other sites’ false anonymity to the source.

Tim Maly has speculated on a new future of crowd-sourced panopticons, and this would seem to be a case in point. Naturally, of course, following the random ethos of /b/, the mob decides, seemingly haphazardly, that certain targets are worth it, and others are not. They are far from staunch ideologists, the tag “justicefag” being applied derisively to those anonymous members who like calling out targets on moral grounds–the choice of slur not only signifying the inherent dissent of the chaos of /b/, but also refuting anyone who might think that they are left-leaning soldiers of equality. In fact, they’d probably attack you for saying so.

But, like any mob, a unified manifesto or dedicated base is hardly required to string someone up. It only takes, as the saying goes, enough rope.

Item Three: The Human-Bot Net

The crowd-sourced cyborg mob of /b/ finds its current (for today, anyway) zenith in so-called cyber warfare. It is commonly speculated that recent instances of politically motivated attacks are not launched by governments, but by other entities either acting of their own volition or as mercenaries for political causes. /b/ can now be listed among these entities, after their DoS attacks took out the website of the MPAA, and an Indian firm that recently admitted conducting their own DoS attacks against torrent websites. Salvo and counter-salvo, the flags waved here being file-sharing/media piracy.

If you are, like myself, loving the idea of your SF-cyberspace-distributed-warfare-hacker fantasies come true, please enjoy this excerpt from the anonymous, incendiary, mob call-to-arms:

How fast you are in such a short time! Aiplex, the bastard hired gun that DDos’d TPB [The Pirate Bay], is already down! Rejoice, /b/rothers, even if it was at the hands of a single anon that it was done, even if ahead of schedule. Now we have our lasers primed, but what do we target now? We target the bastard group that has thus far led this charge against our websites, like the Pirate Bay. We target MPPA.ORG! The IP is designated at “216.20.162.10″, and our firing time remains THE SAME. All details are just as before, but we have reaimed our crosshairs on this much larger target. We have the manpower, we have the botnets, it’s time we do to them what they keep doing to us.

[...]

Install the LOIC [for "Low Orbit Ion Cannon", the real name of the program, I shit you not] linked above into any directory you choose, load it up and set the target IP to 216.20.162.10 port 80. Method will be TCP, threads set to 10+, with a message of “payback is a bitch.” Keep in mind that using wireless is not recommended due to the connections that will be opened.

Everything else must be left blank. Once you have the target locked, DO NOT FIRE.

REPEAT: DO NOT FIRE!

This will be a calm, coordinated display of blood. We will not be merciful. We will not be newfags. The first wave will be firing in:

ONE DAY: 09/17/2010 9PM EASTERN

When it comes time to fire, ignore all warning messages. They mean nothing. Keep firing.

Clearly, they are enjoying themselves as much as I am. But is a stylistic nod to the Revolutionary War, this Battle of Bunker Hill speech so off base? What was the Continental Army, if not a pissed off mob who owned muskets, who were pressed into ranks to die in a war for a generalized declaration of independence? Is the MPAA the modern day East India Company? I don’t know. But the MPAA’s website went down in flames, and stayed down for 18 hours until they moved to a new IP address.

N+1: Next?

The day after the MPAA attack, the RIAA went down. Despite many who are heralding this as “the new wave of protest”, I don’t really think so. For one, there is a difference between people taking to the streets to risk real physical injury and a few crafty folks finding some pins that bring down somebody’s circus tent. However, I will be willing to reconsider this statement as soon as /b/ decides, “hey lets seez control over a small contry 2nite”.

But I think it does represent a new mob-space on the Internet. Spaces like /b/ are given to exist, by the very nature of human’s relationship with technology. You have enough social media tracking services out there, then there are going to be anonymous spaces as a result. In these alleyways, people are going to do whatever people do in alleyways: i.e., what they wouldn’t do in the street. Homophobic slurs will be thrown, porn will be traded, graffiti will be penned, both artful and depraved, and people will plan to beat other people up and take their Game Gear. The Internet is a social space, and so the reality of human society will no doubt be observed. And the reality of human society, though most of us try to avoid going to that site, is /b/.

The interesting part for me is that these sorts of mass attacks, these waves of the Internet rising up and drowning particular islands in the net, has always been associated with the technology itself. Like the computer network of the Terminator films rising up against humanity, DoS attacks are blamed on Sino/Slavic Bot-Nets, in some sort of zombified nostalgia for a Cold War missile gap. It is the MACHINES that do it to us, in the end. Computer viruses composed to cripple our infrastructure, so blindly hooked up the the network. The failure of our foresight, as in the Y2K scare. Or even in the positive examples, it is cell phones that connect the world, Twitter that fuels revolutions. The technology is the thing. The tools are controlling us.

But I don’t think that is true. What /b/ shows us, is that behind it all, lies a whole bunch of people. 6.8 billion of them, and counting. You can put the people in their own basements, plugged into machines, but you can’t the desire to riot out of them. The wetware has certain tendencies in its kernel. There’s no human brain on the planet that doesn’t enjoy a good lynching–or at least a video of a drunk jerk getting his comeuppance by falling on his head. We are, always, a violent mob. And any technology we create will only end up reflecting that fact.

Posted: September 20th, 2010
Categories: Ballast
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