cultural, political, & economic effects of technologyManipulation of transaction, production, & exchangeDoing so allows me to reach two equally noteworthy objectives: On one level, focusing on this manipulation online exposes the ways it influences cultural transformation offline. For example, grassroots initiatives that mobilize online communities alter the landscape of offline media production or even politics, as in the case of the Arab Spring. On the other hand, examining the tactical strategies deployed by these online communities reveal a lot about the nature of these groups. If anything, the agreed upon rules that define what is ethically appropriate behavior tell us a lot about the kind of cultures that these online groups form. Frequently, interrogating the contexts in which ethically ambiguous activities become acceptable is even more telling. Investigating the types of transgression, therefore, divulges the nuances between these groups and exposes the rich tapestry of online cultures.
Participatory culture:low barriers for engagementsupport & sharingmentorshipvarying levels of contributionMy interest in participatory culture and networks of resistance allows me to develop my research in two registers. While initially I focused on grassroots storytelling and how it serves as a subversive mechanism in mainstream media production, later I began to examine the disruptive activities in online communities and virtual worlds that result in transgressive politics.
My recent article, "Exposing Convergence: YouTube, Fan Labor, & Anxiety of Cultural Production in Lonelygirl15," came out of this earlier research. Submitted to Convergence and is currently under review, the essay teases out the uncomfortable knots in the production of LG15 and demonstrates to what extent the interests of the community and its free labor helped steer the franchise and product development. I am currently preparing another manuscript that discusses how the same fan labor also became a force that threatened the integrity of the show, mainly through fan-created ARGs that introduced new characters and plot lines into the canon. In short, my argument in both of these articles is that LG15 exemplifies a troubled franchise that problematizes intellectual property, appropriation of content, and originality of works.
Other fieldwork that I have done for my dissertation project, specifically the one on the disruptive activities of the griefer groups in Second Life (a 3D virtual world based on user-generated content) led me to develop my research in a different trajectory. Griefers are nebulous collectives that form one of the subcultures of virtual worlds. Their primary goal is to cause mayhem and disruption in these synthetic environments, but they do so in a number of ways. Some of these groups are known for conducting raids that disrupt the daily activities of other players or spam chat channels with offensive language and content that test the boundaries of the culturally accepted norms. While others release viruses in specific regions to slow down the daily functioning of the world and ultimately crash its servers to render the virtual environment temporarily unusable. 4chan was started in 2003 in the bedroom of a 15-year old student from New York City who posts as "moot".He intended the site to be a place to discuss Japanese comics and anime, an American counterpart to the popular Japanese Futaba Channel ("2chan") imageboard.Prior to starting 4chan, moot had been a regular participant on the Something Awfulforums.4chan: Chinesefutaba channel, memes: /b/ random boards, EncyclopediaDramaticaInternet memes are catchphrases or images that spread quickly, peer to peer, across the Internet. Many Internet memes (lolcats, Rick rolling), have originated on 4chan, usually from its /b/ threads.In my dissertation, I analyze these activities within the context of vernacular creativity and taste cultures, but later, I began to research the potential of such activities to become a political force in policy making and governance. Breaking the system, Internet is Serious Business
In it, I argue that griefing has developed from a set of linguistic practices that manifests itself as irreverent language and dicey pranks into serious initiatives with political undertones. The case study that I use is the data leaking initiative conducted by one of the griefing groups that exposed a surveillance operation in-world. In both of these articles, I maintain that griefing could be considered as tactical uses of media that lead to transgressive politics in virtual spaces. In order to demonstrate how this transformation has occurred, this paper will discuss the birth of vigilante organizations, specifically, that of Justice League Unlimited (JLU), and the operation conducted against them by The Wrong Hands. The said operation, whose intention was to leak JLU’s secret papers, Brainiac Wiki, exposed a grid-wide surveillance operation that the vigilante group was conducting in Second Life.In this project, I am expanding my existing research to include other types of virtual worlds, specifically EvE Online, Minecraft, and World of Warcraft, and build a more nuanced analysis of griefing that takes into account the effects that these activities have on larger issues like intellectual property, privacy, surveillance, and virtual protest. Viewed as such, deviant behavior in virtual worlds has ramifications that go beyond the worlds in which they occur: they also bear the potential to help define Internet policy in general. Consider, for example, cyberbullying, piracy, surveillance, and online activism, all of which occur within the context of griefing and governance in virtual worlds, yet at the same time, influence the Internet at large. This project will help further discourse around the aforementioned topics and be useful to scholars in the field of Cultural Studies, Internet Studies, Governance, Policy, and Law.
As operation Payback is a Bitch finished up its second week, things seem to be winding down. For those of us who are unaware of what went down, here’s a recap: The operation is launched by Anonymous against the entertainment companies, in particular MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and RIAA (The Recording Industry Association of America) and their legal watchdogs to support bitTorrent sites like The Pirate Bay. Within days, it developed into a cyberwar in which everyone got its share of the pie. The sit down may not be over yet. Anonymous stated that the attacks will continue until they are no longer "angry." Embracing the manifesto “we manifest anarchy,” the organization believes that the industry organizations’ “long outdated traditional views on copyright infringement enforced solely by rich and powerful corporations need to be modified in light of the modern age on the Internet, the Information Age,"The manifesto of the aforementioned operation is quite interesting in that it reveals how anarchic behavior may ensue when policies, in this case those that relate to copyright issues, are inadequate to respond to the needs of the contemporary age. Quite interesting that such criticism would be voiced by a group that was born out of the message boards of 4chan infamous for its crass humor and profanity. But at the same time, you don't have to be a genius to see the obvious. In the absence of functional regulators or laws, related parties are ravaging the loot while waving the banner of "doing good." And the manifesto announced by Anonymous, cited in full in Slyck in its entirety, demonstrates this chaos. The relevant section is as follows: “There have been a massive lobbyist-provoked surge in unfair infringements of personal freedom online, lately. See the Digital Economy Bill in the UK, and “three strikes” legislation in the EU which both threaten to disconnect internet connections based on accusations supplied by the music and movie industries. In the USA, a new bill has been proposed that could allow the USA to force top level registrars such as ICANN and Nominet to shut down websites, all with NO fair trial. Our tactics are inspired by the very people who provoked us, AiPlex Software. A few weeks back they admitted to attacking file sharing sites with DDoS attacks.”The problem, perhaps, is not just the inadequate copyright laws, but also the inability of the industry to adapt itself to the contemporary needs of our culture. In a recent interview with TorrentFreak, Fritz Attaway and Craig Hoffman, the two of the top suits of MPAA, admits that the large part of the problem "is developing new business models that consumers will access legally and find that experience superior to illegal access.“While the two are optimistic and believe that the industry is doing an excellent job in attaining that goal, the latest events that transpired prove that we have a long way to go. In the meantime, the groups are seeking justice in any way they can and no one is too sure who is the sheriff in town is or even if there is one. As is the case with most cyber-protests, it is not even clear who the victim is.To fight back against the anti-piracy lobby, Anonymous did what it does best: to initiate one of the largest cyberwars to date and, to maintain momentum, says Tom’s Guide, the group sought out more members by sending out flyers and recruiting people through Facebook, Digg, Reddit and other sites and made sure they had access to the tools they needed. Who is on the menu? The aforementioned associations, MPAA and RIAA, The British Phonographic Industry (BPI), The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), StichtingBeschermingRechten Entertainment Industrie Nederland (BREIN), ACS:Law, Aiplex, Websheriff, and Dglegal. Ultimately, what happened on the Internet, did not stay on the Internet. The initiative ended up being far more consequential than it initially was thought to be, exposing scams, personal information of hundreds of people, ACS:Law’s dirty laundry, and… well… the names and information of those who illegally downloaded gay porn... or porn... Come on... admit it... we're all one big happy family here ;-P Well, you get the idea. The stench of the mess is so potent that it may require some radical cleaning up that requires more than fining people and putting them into jail. The story starts like this: The Operation Payback was initiated when RIAA had hired AiPlex Software, an India-based company working on behalf of Bollywood studios, who admitted [http://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-outfit-threatens-to-dos-uncooperative-torrent-sites-100905/] to using not-so-kosher techniques to fight piracy including launching DDoS attacks. You see, Aiplex is not the first or only company resorting to strategies like this. Seeing that their very own tactics were being used against their beloved p2p sites, Anonymous decided to take the matter into its own hands. And, as they promised, Anonymous took down the Web sites of RIAA, Aiplex, and ACS:Law, the law company that was hired to hunt down the infringers. So they did. The real damage to ACS:Law, however, came after the DDoS attack when, in their haste to put everything in order, they exposed the backup of their confidential files containing the e-mails of its only lawyer, Andrew Crossley, in addition to thousands of personal records that were handed over by ISPs, including Sky, BT and Plusnet. And this information appeared on the website, unencrypted. Ooops, sorry! This unfortunate faux pas led to the company’s gory tactics being revealed to the hacker world who eagerly downloaded all this good information. Apparently, ACS:Law had been extracting money from the alleged infringers by encouraging out-of-court settlements. The firm's confidential (and now not-so-confidential) business plan shows that, while the amount of money demanded in the letters varied depending on the rights holder, the number of letters sent out by the law firm has turned its business into "a numbers game," so the payments of between £300 and £500 quickly added up into a handsome sum. Crossley, whose clients were mostly in the porn industry, came up with what seemed to be the perfect scam: track down BitTorrent infringers, convert their IP addresses into real names, and blast out warning letters threatening litigation if they didn’t cough up some cash. Except that the scheme had its flaws. Unless you are aggressively following the threats, people don’t take you seriously and if you are too aggressive, they bond together and resist collectively (both of which were the case here). Not to mention, the average file-shares don’t have extra of cash laying around to begin with, otherwise they would buy the movie in the first place. On top of this, according to a the same leaked business plan, only a fifth of money collected from damages paid was given to the rights holders, turning the law firm, which keeps 80% before paying ISPs and IP tracking companies, into cash cowsAnd so last week, the Internet witnessed ACS:Law going down in a spectacular fashion. But not before shaking down other companies. Everything seemed to come down like a house of cards. British Telecom (BT), the owner of PlusNet, admitted to sending to ACS:Law unencrypted personal data of 500 users who had been suspected of illegally downloading porn following a court order. But because they sent the data unencrypted (hoping that the unprotected files would be securely stored by ACS:Law), they breached the Data Protection Act, in addition to violating the very same court order they were following because the order had specifically stated that PlusNet should send this data in an encrypted form. The story doesn’t end here. After the collapse of ACS:Law, Gallant MacMillan (another law firm famous for hunting down infringers) rose up to the occasion to take over where ACS:Law has left off… and declared that it will use whatever method necessary to bring down the file-sharers and went to court to subpoena the IP addresses of additional suspected infringers. Seeing what had happened to BT, the ISPs weren't so hot in delivering this information when presented with flimsy proofs. Guess what happened to Gallant MacMillan and its client, the Ministry of Sound? Yup, you guessed it! Their sites went down, though they had a little bit more dignity than ACS:Law when doing so. If you are interested in the details of the entire operation, you can find them here. Already, the data leak is bringing important questions into the limelight, questions that exceeds copyright issues, but also, as you can suspect, verges upon privacy violations. Privacy International lost no time is expressing outrage by the breach and decried it as a “travesty of data security.” The quality of the standards set forth by The Digital Economy Act of England, while deemed to be satisfactory, is questioned as a result of all the dust that Anonymous brought up following its DDoS war. Even if ACS:Law’s evidence (sending warning letters by turning ISP into customer names) would be sufficient under the current regulations, it would still may not be considered as acceptable evidence in court. Privacy International is already seeking legal advice about the possibility of bringing charges against BT for contempt of court. If found guilty, the firm could face a fine of up to half a million pounds if it is found in breach of the Data Protection Act.
Such operations bring about discussions on privacy, surveillance, and responsibility of ethical game play as they relate to governance of virtual worlds. Viewed as such, deviant behavior in virtual worlds has ramifications that go beyond the worlds in which they occur: they also bear the potential to help define Internet policy in general. This project will help further the discourse around these topics by expanding this research onto other virtual worlds to examine how they play out under different virtual governance. Such a study will be useful to scholars in the field of Communication Studies, Cultural Studies, Internet Studies, Governance, Policy, and Cyberlaw.I maintain that the analysis of transgressive behavior online reveals a lot about the nuances of online cultures, as such these activities are indicators that the digital landscape comprises pockets of communities with different cultural norms. But at the same time, they serve as a Petri Dish in which some of the cultural, social and political issues we experience offline can be experimented with.
T A C T I C A L M E D I A TRANSGRESSION: convergence cultureburcu s. bakioğlubakioglb@lawrence.edu
research questions Transgressive uses of media networks of resistance diversity culturalonline cultures transformation