Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Attack of the Internet Boids

No pranks, thanks: The 4chan user boids may swoop down on anyone, anytime.

I've just had my attention drawn to the 4chan web site phenomenon. Here is article on BBC news about it. It seems to be a web site that propagates a kind of organized trolling. One particular example of this “trolling in unison” that amuses me just a little bit is this one reported by the BBC:

Using the "Anonymous" persona, its tactics have included urging users to google the phrase "Scientology is a cult", pushing it to the top of Google Hot Trends, as well as staging real-world protests. In response, the Church of Scientology has labeled them "terrorists" guilty of "hate crimes".

In fact if you put “Scientology is....” into Google you get a recommendation with a general form of :

Scientology is (expletive deleted)

That should give the Scientologist lawyers a way to earn their crust. I wonder if they will dare to nobble Google and attempt to rig its recommendation algorithms?

However, chan4 users dish out mob justice and that can go over the top. The cruel women who was caught by CCTV dumping a cat into a wheelie bin was outed by the many eyes and ears of 4chan users and she has since more than paid for her crime. Also, amongst other pranks, YouTube has been flooded with pornographic videos by 4chan users acting in unison.

It’s instructive to compare 4chan with the readers (or “raiders” as I call them) of PZ Myers' blog, Pharyngula. At Myers prompting his many readers descend on some of the meaningless internet polls and give the poll creators a result they don’t want (but often the result they deserve). They also gave the hegemonic Real Catholics a nasty shock after PZ published Real Catholic, Michael Voris' video denunciation of democracy.

All in all it’s a lesson in system theory and self organization. We are probably dealing with a power law effect here: I suspect that the number of 4chan users dwarfs even PZ Myers readership; as one might expect if the distribution of web site user populations follows a power law. The users of 4chan are behaving like boids: The individuals follow a dynamic based on a relatively simple reaction to total group behavior and yet what emerges is single collective identity that has a modicum of intelligent behavior. Given that their eyes and ears are everywhere they are a force to be reckoned with. However, it’s a form of mob rule and their justice will be gut justice and not very discerning or even very just for that matter. Given the nature of this kind of mobsterism one can see why “An eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth…” actually advanced the cause of justice in the wild Middle East, circa 1250 BC.

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