Not Just for the Lulz


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The anonymous culture of sites such as 4chan is best known for its seemingly senseless obscenity. However, I argue that 4chan and its ilk act as centers of subversion in which political activism can originate.

Bakiogla, Burcu. “Spectacular Interventions in Second Life: Goon Culture, Griefing, and Disruption" in Virtual Spaces.” Journal of Virtual Worlds Research (1.3).
"Griefing." Encyclopedia Dramatica.
Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens.

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  • In this presentation I’ll be talking about trolls, by which I mean internet users who disrupt other people’s online experience. Although many trolls are just in it “for the lulz”—which is to say, their own amusement—I’ll be arguing that trolling can become a form of social activism.
  • One specific type of troll is the griefer. Griefing means to exploit design flaws to ruin an online game for other players. The Web site Encyclopedia Dramatica, which is basically Wikipedia except written by trolls, recommends that griefers destroy other players’ creations.
  • Griefing is especially easy in the game Habbo Hotel. Members of trolling-oriented online communities, including a message board called 4chan, sometimes organize raids for the purpose of massive griefing in Habbo and other virtual worlds.
  • Several griefer-controlled avatars areblocking the ladder of a pool. Nobody can enter or exit the pool as long as the avatars remain standing where they are. And the griefers are using in-game chat to taunt other players, telling them they’ve been quarantined for AIDS.
  • Maybe griefers making jokes about AIDS don’t have any agenda aside from pissing other people off. They really do seem just to be in it for the lulz. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think that trolling as a form of play has a deeper purpose than being offensive.
  • Johan Huizinga, an influential scholar of playing and gaming, argues that all play is significant—all play has meaning. This meaning is created relative to its cultural context, within special social structures that he called “magic circles.” A magic circle is like a force field impervious to the norms of outside society.
  • Within a magic circle, the only rules are the rules of the game. A magic circle can be anything from a chess board to a virtual world. It suspends the rules of the real world, so that people within the circle lose many of their normal inhibitions.
  • What griefersdo is draw magic circles within existing magic circles. By blockading a pool, the Habbogriefers disregarded the norms of the virtual world. In doing so, they drew a magic circle of their own, creating a game within a game. The object of this new game was to infuriate other players.
  • Why force unwilling participants to play a game with you? I would say thattrolls create their own norms, create their own culture, as a form of protest. In the case of Habbo Hotel, the protest was petty. But other trolls have more serious agendas—even though they present those agendas humorously.
  • Earlier I mentioned the message board 4chan, which has organized many griefing raids. This beautiful portrait of Jacob from Twilight is a typical example of 4chan’s humor. 4chan is what Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars might call “a hive of scum and villainy”—a home to trolls of all sorts.
  • The most notorious section of 4chan is called /b/, and its members—who call themselves /b/tards—have created their own culture. This culture mainly consists of two things: ridiculous humor as in the previous slide, as well as vicious mockery of people with disabilities (POINT), among other minority groups.
  • But let’s look past the offensive veneer. A recent operation organized by /b/ shows that trolling can be done for a higher purpose. /b/tards decided to target reCAPTCHA, a service that helps Web sites distinguish between spammers and legitimate users.
  • We’re all used to filling out CAPTCHA prompts. One common type is the reCAPTCHA, which is owned by Google. Every time you fill out a reCAPTCHA, it helps Google to interpret scanned images of book pages. By filling out reCAPTCHAs, you are providing Google with free labor.
  • A group of /b/tards decided they didn’t want to work for free. So they figured out a way to trick the reCAPTCHA system. (POINT AT IMAGE) The way reCAPTCHA works is it asks you to type two words from an image. In each prompt, the system already knows what one of the words is, but it depends on you to identify the other word in the prompt.
  • If you are correct about the word that the system does know, it assumes you are also correct about the word it doesn’t. Here’s an example of how this works. (POINT) reCAPTCHAknows that the first word in the prompt says “LifeLan,” but it does not know what the second word says. By getting the first word correct, you can fool reCAPTCHA about the second word.
  • reCAPTCHA trolls are giving Google the quality of work that the search engine is paying for. If Google needs human input to add books to its database, then it should pay humans to do the work. Projects like this are a way for trolls to challenge greed.
  • Think about how the Web works. The design of a site determines what you are able to do, how you are able to interact, what you are able to create. And often, it requires you to fill out reCAPTCHA prompts or to view advertising. Almost all of our online activity makes money for someone else, and we rarely see a dime.
  • We’ve looked at two examples of trolling:griefers targeting Habbo Hotel, and /b/tards targeting reCAPTCHA. Instead of using these Web sites the way they were designed to be used, trolls turn design to their own purposes. It may seem trivial to block players from entering a pool or to fill Google Books with nonsense.
  • But trolling, fundamentally, is a way to question authority. Trolls break the rules of discourse. They offend us. And in doing so, they draw our attention to the structures that govern our activity online.
  • Not Just for the Lulz

    1. 1. not just “for the lulz” Griefing and Trollingas Activist Discourse
    2. 2. In any game where “players are encouraged to build/construct, destroying their so-called art is a great way to demoralize and enrage.”
    3. 3. Griefing Habbo Hotel1. Create Habbo Hotel avatar 3. ?????2. Block other users from where they want to go 4. Profit!
    4. 4. Play MattersHuizinga:In play there issomething ‘at play’which transcends theimmediate needs oflife and impartsmeaning to theaction.
    5. 5. The MagicCircle
    6. 6. Pedobears, LOLcats, and memes … … oh my!
    7. 7. Trolling for anoble purpose
    8. 8. CAPTCHA:Annoying the Web since 2000
    9. 9. Google Books now believes the second word is “what.”
    10. 10. Alone?A troll.
    11. 11. Together? A movement.