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Date Published: 4/24/2013
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors


"Because none of us are as cruel as all of us": Anonymity and Subjectivation

Liam Mitchell

The stories and information posted here are artistic works of fiction and falsehood. Only a fool would take anything posted here as fact. [1]

In January 2008, a video of Tom Cruise discussing Scientology was leaked to YouTube. The propaganda-like video was intended for internal circulation within the Church of Scientology and not for public consumption; following the leak, the Church issued a legal warning to YouTube claiming a copyright violation and YouTube removed the video. The video, which has again become available, [2] casts both Cruise and Scientology in a comical light: Cruise utters incoherent statements and makes absurd, hilarious claims about the powers possessed by Scientologists while music resembling the Mission Impossible theme plays in the background. The removal of the video incensed a group of users loosely concentrated at who seemed determined to defame Cruise and the Church, and they quickly uploaded the video to alternative websites. Something, however, had shifted; many of the users began to discuss Scientology more broadly, sharing links to stories of corruption, fraud, and death. A groundswell began and a broad attack on the Church was mounted within days, manifesting first in mischief [3] and later turning into a call for direct political action.

The initial call -- the one that attracted the attention of individuals beyond 4chan -- was posted to YouTube under the title "Message to Scientology." [4] At the time, it read like a declaration of war, [5] and came across, at least to those not yet initiated into 4chan's distinctive discourse, as threatening: the rushing grey clouds and cold cityscape of the video, impersonal and uncaring, lent the perfect backdrop to the audio -- a computerized voice of someone who might be anyone. The voice calmly announced its (non-)identity: "Hello, leaders of Scientology. We are Anonymous." The capitalization of the name, deliberate (and reinforced in the explanatory summary on the right pane of the window) and intriguing (how to identify as "anonymous"?), aroused curiosity. Viewers unfamiliar with Anonymous were likely suspicious of the seriousness of the movement, but might nevertheless have found themselves drawn in. What is Anonymous? Who comprises it? Is it something new? At first, it seemed that the answer was no: the "Message" veered into familiar humanist territory as Anonymous declared that it was concerned with "the good of your followers ... [and] the good of mankind," and that Scientology "will not prevail forever against the angry masses of the body politic." The last lines were, if anything, even more clichéd: "Knowledge is free. We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us."

Aside from the affective framing of the message and the declaration of anonymous identity, then, the "Message to Scientology" seemed like a commonplace manifesto. But the declaration of anonymity and the complicated context that gave rise to the video suggest that Anonymous might count as a departure from other new social movements. The most obvious aspect of this departure manifested in the days that followed the declaration's release. At 4chan and a host of related sites, [6] anonymous users began agitating for real-world action under the operation banner "Project Chanology." Nonviolent demonstrations were proposed, and went ahead on February 10th, March 15th, and again in subsequent months. They were largely successful, drawing crowds outside Scientology Centers in cities around the world. Many demonstrators wore Guy Fawkes masks, paying homage to Alan Moore's V for Vendetta, [7] presenting a unified and dramatic image, and doing what many do online: protecting their identity by adopting anonymity.

Can we say that the anonymous users of 4chan and the masked protesters were doing something more than merely "protecting" their "identities"? Did the humanist, pop cultural-critical actions and messages of Anonymous do anything more than veil an identity that was always already there? If the answer is no, then we can close the book on this particular case study now. In this reading, individual participants in Project Chanology should be analyzed as individuals. They might have been partaking in a new social movement, but the extent of its novelty can be limited to the usual comments about Internet-based communications: the movement was an interesting, albeit ultimately insignificant, example of decentred protests organized at a distance in a semi-spontaneous fashion. [8] The Scientology protests raised the attention of media outlets around the world, and helped to further discredit the Church in certain circles, but they were only a small contributing factor to a much wider mobilization against an obviously corrupt "religion." [9] If, however, the answer is yes -- if the actions of Anonymous, or even its very existence, represent a qualitative departure from a politics based on identity -- then it might be possible to draw broader conclusions regarding the nature of identity and political action from this event.

There are reasons to believe that Anonymous -- particularly the Anonymous of 2008 -- differs from other contemporary social movements, and even from "hacktivism" in general, the most notable being the following: many of the "members" of Anonymous -- and they themselves might dispute this membership -- have never had any interest in politics of any form, and regard the Scientology protests and any associated iconography, Fawkes included, as an enormous (and enormously successful) joke. Those who might be described as "members" of Anonymous are far from monolithic in their views on Project Chanology and most other things. Many members who regarded the protests as a joke participated not out of feelings of injustice, but because they recognized the Church of Scientology as the perfect source of "lulz": humour derived from "disrupting another's emotional equilibrium," or "a quasi-thermodynamic exchange between the sensitive and the cruel," as Mattathias Schwartz puts it. [10] Internet trolls, like those associated with Anonymous, are motivated by the pursuit of lulz, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. [11] The Scientology protests appealed to them because the Church took their actions seriously and because the media covered the protests, intensifying the drama of the situation. [12]

Distinguishing trolls from protesters might seem like an arbitrary analytical move, since these categories neither exclude one another nor capture all the characteristics that might help to explain the issues discussed below. [13] Some of Project Chanology's trolls, for instance, may have been partly motivated by a disgust for the Church, and, undoubtedly, most protesters may have recognized and appreciated the humour of the protests. [14] Still, trolling can generally be characterized as a behaviour that is explicitly and self-consciously apolitical (and amoral). Trolls are motivated principally by the desire to laugh at the world, not to change it -- but the apolitical pursuit of lulz can result in non-obvious "political" consequences, particularly where subjectivity and epistemology are concerned. Insofar as trolls display evidence of novel processes of subjectivation and (thereby) subvert or transgress dominant ways of understanding the world, they are engaging in a politics of discourse, whether they like it or not.

My focus in the latter half of this essay, then, is the trolling associated with Anonymous and the forms of discourse prevalent at sites like 4chan. First, though, I want to establish that what Judith Butler calls a "postliberatory" political agency [15] -- a lens through which the indirect, epistemological consequences of troll discourse can be understood -- is based on a Nietzschean conception of the guilty subject. Trolls seem impervious to this guilt. The usual path of subjectivation can be discerned easily for individuals who identify themselves in the context of moral society, awkwardly for the protesters of Project Chanology, and only vaguely for trolls.

Bad Conscience

Particular processes of subjectivation can be associated with Project Chanology through an application of Nietzsche's genealogical method, which uncovers "a knowledge of the conditions and circumstances in which [morals] grew." [16] Insofar as the moral is associated with the conscience of the individual rather than the apparently conscience-free mob, we can understand why Nietzsche insists on a genealogical approach that uncovers the (subjective) conditions of the everyday (i.e. the individual). But what conditions give rise to the morals of the (anonymous) masses?

The genealogy of morals proceeds from the institution of "the good" through the revolt in slave morality, ressentiment, bad conscience, and asceticism. The penultimate term should be understood in a temporal context: "there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present, without forgetfulness." [17] Bad conscience requires the consciousness of time, which is intimately linked to remembering and forgetting in a way that complicates its linear conception. What we emphasize to ourselves (in remembrance) and what we forget (deliberately or not) act on us not only on the level of affect -- happiness, cheerfulness, hope, or pride -- but also in terms of the way that we are embedded in society. Without the ability to forget, we cannot extricate ourselves from the past and the promises to others that we then made; we become wrapped in the memory of debt, and that memory, following the slave revolt in morality, enables the feeling of guilt. But memory and promises alone do not engender bad conscience: they also require that people are, "to a certain degree," similar, uniform, and calculable -- a result obtained by imposing "the morality of mores and the social straitjacket." [18] Our choices, then, have lasting meaning, for others and for ourselves, only when we can be held accountable to our promises. [19] And we are conscious of this responsibility: conscience sits in the back of the mind, telling us that we have acted correctly, or that we have acted wrongly, and that we must feel bad. [20]

These points feed into one another. Conscience, for instance, reinforces calculability: the more a person is beholden to his or her conscience, and the more normalized are the consciences of those around her, the more predictable her actions will become. Conscience also feeds back into memory, insisting that forgetting is a bad thing: if we can forget what we have done, then our consciences will not be able to govern us effectively. Forgetfulness and memory-conscience thus compete in a zero-sum game, and the guaranteeing of memory therefore becomes a central problem for the institution of morality. For Nietzsche, the most effective way of creating and enforcing memory is the making-memorable of pain. If memory can be burned in, made indelible -- if it "never ceases to hurt" [21] -- then the guilty party can be made to really feel guilty. The formation of subjects -- those who are subjected to a social order -- therefore requires mnemotechnical devices. What mnemotechnical devices are employed in the processes of subjectivation we can see at work online -- particularly those in the Scientology protests? How are memories burned into these apparently Nietzschean subjects?

If there are processes of subjectivation at work online through which "individuals" become "subjects," they do not immediately appear to be "violent" as Nietzsche claims. But this is the case with offline processes of subjectivation as well: sex and gender, for instance, appear to be natural categories, divided less by a mnemotechnical regime than by nature. Nevertheless, Butler, for instance, argues that gender norms emerge from violence and that they are violently policed. [22] Identity and subjectivity are imposed through the same sort of inevitable violence that imposes gender; repetitive mechanisms are at work in the establishment of both sets of norms.

Offline, and with regard to gender, Butler argues that the primary mnemotechnical mechanism by which gender and sex are constituted is repetition. Although sex is normally assumed to be a prediscursive category that founds discursively constructed genders, Butler demonstrates that both gender and sex are discursive constructions, and that they influence one another through the repetitive movement of heteronormative desire. In heteronormativity, the male-female binary of sex is normalized in tandem with the heterosexual binary of accepted-rejected desire, and this normalizing function is violent for reasons of exclusion: all "other" terms (the transgendered, homosexual desire, the asexual lack of desire) are repetitively excluded -- psychically encountered and systematically repressed. Desire is made to conform to the strictures of these binaries and to produce itself through an inherently violent repetition. [23] Although this seems to cast repetition in a bad light, Butler argues that there is no reason to stigmatize this mnemotechnical mechanism as something which "ought to be stopped -- as if it could be." Rather, "[i]f repetition is bound to persist as the mechanism of the cultural reproduction of identities, then the crucial question emerges: What kind of subversive repetition might call into question the regulatory practice of identity itself?" [24] Given that the identity-constituting repetitive practices of everyday life cannot be avoided, Butler proposes the repeated employment of performative "acts, gestures, and desire" that might render gender "thoroughly and radically incredible." [25]

Chanology Forgives and Forgets

In Gender Trouble, Butler proposes a performative conception of gender that allows for "incredibleness" -- surprising, incongruous moments [26] that make heteronormatively bound observer-participants falter, question the "nature" of what is being observed, question the conditions under which their assumptions about the given order were (and are) made, and ultimately question their own sexes and genders. Might we say that the actions taken by Anonymous during the Scientology protests foster the same sort of incredibleness, but with respect to identity in general rather than sex and gender specifically? For this to be the case, the protests would need to have evoked a "thoroughly and radically incredible" reaction from observers; those reading about the scenes from the sidewalks would have had to be shaken or confused about the identities of the masked protesters -- about their natures as individuals, as a group, and as a cause. This was not the case. The demonstrations generated a fantastic amount of media attention, but not because they were "incredible"; they were spectacular, certainly, but not subversive. Who was the individual behind the mask? A man or a woman, a citizen of the country, a resident, an Internet user, a discrete identity. What was the group? A loose collection of like-minded Internet users, to be understood as an aggregation of individuals. What was the target of the demonstration? The Church of Scientology, which is surely a cult, and surely worthy of such spectacular attention. And why did they hide their faces? Because adopting anonymity was an effective instrument in the prosecution of the protesters' cause. [27]

Given the perspective of the unfamiliar spectator, it seems apparent that the argument from performativity fails to generate a novel reading of the Scientology protests. But there are other perspectives to consider, and other ideas to advance; it is worth pushing the performative analysis beyond the performance of anonymity and into the performance of "non-subjectivity." Anonymous might count as an instance of an online performance of the absence of both identity and subjectivity as such.

The repetitive element of the formation of subjectivity certainly seems to be at work on the net. Internet use in general is routine, and becoming more and more routinized. While arguments have plausibly been made that support the idea that the Internet necessarily produces "liberal" browsing patterns because of the relational character of hypertext, [28] it is increasingly possible for a user to log on to an email account, check his or her favourites, read familiar feeds, and log off. People become less creative with their use of technology over time, falling into patterns [29]: users tend to click from one site to another along generally predictable, and trackable, routes. The identities they disclose explicitly (through digital profiles) and implicitly (through information deposited on their computers) are reinforced by this trail of pointing and clicking.

But what happens when identity is repeatedly denied? Can we posit a parallel between corporeal performativity and the digital performance of non-subjectivity? When a user interacts with other users while assuming the (non-)identity of anonymity, the assumption of the subject itself might be performatively displaced. This idea harkens back to early commentary that held that the Internet would provide a forum for non-prejudicial interaction between anonymous equals -- an idea that has been called into question by the rapid spread of social network sites, image-sharing services, instant messaging, and so on. When another individual is encountered online, whether on a social network site where that individual is clearly defined, or in a virtual world where he or she is mediated but also cleanly represented by an avatar, or even on a message board where graphical representation is foregone in favour of simple textual user names, the assumption is made that that other individual is indeed an individual -- a discrete, human subject who is consciously engaging in online interaction. But when the declaration of anonymity displaces the individual subject whom we assume is there, a potentially transgressive performance takes place.

This phenomenon of digital performativity is readily perceptible on sites like 4chan, where there should be no doubt that the anonymous users posting messages and images in a continuous stream of absurdity are actual individuals. But a disconcerting sensation akin to Butler's incredibleness comes from the knowledge that the anonymous mass, though certainly made up of "individual" users, is partly governed by a non-individualized, hive-like (il)logic. On the /b/ message board of 4chan, almost all users post without entering a user name; their comments appear under the generic name "Anonymous." There is no way of telling who is responsible for any given post. The structure of /b/ suggests that the word "who" has no ultimate truth value online. When 4chan users speak to one another they sometimes refer to each other as "anons" (e.g. "wise anon is wise"), or address 4chan as a whole rather than its members (e.g. "what does /b/ think of this?"). These forms of discourse [30] mark 4chan as something different from other groups where a "hive mind" or "herd instinct" is at work: the use of 4chan is partly characterized by the consciousness of using 4chan -- taking part in something deviant or strange.

This self-consciousness -- the consciousness of the deviant position of the self -- is an essential component of the lulz. If there is anything that all trolls have in common, it is this self-conscious pursuit of humour. This pursuit marks 4chan as different from other groups that might be easier to classify: 4chan lacks the leadership and close social ties of organized groups like the Church (whether Catholic or Scientologist) or the military, but it has the presence of mind that disorganized groups like rioters lack. More significantly, 4chan may be driven by something other than the usual libidinal forces that, according to Freud, explain the psychological characteristics of groups. The groups that he considers in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, [31] for instance, are united by a common investment in an object -- a person, a goal, an ideal, and so on. This object replaces a group member's ego ideal as the thing toward which he or she should strive. Others are similarly drawn to this object, and their common idealization of it results in the egoic identification with other members, transcending the normal patterns of ambivalence and narcissism that, he argues, characterize social relationships. [32] 4chan's self-conscious pursuit of lulz differs from this pattern of investment and bonding because individual anons are not invested in lulz in the sense that they do not need them in order to maintain their psychic integrity: trolls do not "idealize" objects that would render them susceptible to the sort of melancholic disappointment that results from a broken ideal. Rather, lulz operate as a conscious barrier to unconscious desire: in pursuing them, the troll elides investment, establishing a distance from other trolls (with whom he may or may not feel a bond) and from the people who are governed by normal formations of desire. Insofar as the troll's discursive pursuits are conscious, they are performative, and insofar as they bypass or forestall normal formations of desire, they may be characterized as non-subjective.

Perspectives on Subjectivation

The idea that trolls might be performing non-subjectivity is still thin and contestable. Who is to say that the troll is really driven by something other than (socially) normal psychological forces? The presence of abnormal psychological forces and social formations does not guarantee the absence of normal ones. And why should the protesters of Project Chanology be subject only to normal formations? And isn't the description of "normal" and "abnormal" formations problematic? These questions demand a better definition of non-subjectivity -- especially since Butler gives the reader the strong sense that subjectivation in general is inescapable, and that a term like non-subjectivity should be meaningless. Nevertheless, the three perspectives on subjectivation that Butler employs in The Psychic Life of Power (focusing on a Foucauldian conception of power, a Freudian analysis of repression, and a Spinozist reading of social existence) suggest both that there is no "outside" to subjectivation and that subjectivation somehow remains a non-totalizing process. [33] A psychologically informed politics is possible, but must restrict itself to a sort of "dwelling within" subjectivation. The final perspective on subjectivation clarifies the meaning of "non-subjectivity" in the context of this description of Anonymous.

In The Psychic Life of Power, Butler gives an account of a performative iterability that undermines apparently existential or ontological social terms. She invokes Spinoza, connecting the conative drive to continue to exist with the guilt-based desire to continue one's social existence, and thus implying that all desire is ultimately the desire to be-with. The drive to exist is not free from the psychic forces of desire, and hence not free from the guilt-oriented, constituting processes of subjectivation, either: guilt is an existential phenomenon. Given this notion of grief, what would it mean for the subject to desire something entirely different? Desiring something other than (social) existence would necessitate the cessation of a certain kind of existence, to be sure, but Butler suggests that this is a death that might be "courted or pursued, in order to expose and open to transformation the hold of social power on the conditions of life's persistence":

The subject is compelled to repeat the norms by which it is produced, but that repetition establishes a domain of risk, for if one fails to reinstate the norm "in the right way," one becomes subject to further sanction, one feels the prevailing conditions of existence threatened. And yet, without a repetition that risks life -- in its current organization -- how might we begin to imagine the contingency of that organization, and performatively reconfigure the contours of the conditions of life? [34]

The subject cannot fully extricate itself from the social or ideological conditions of its reproduction, but can do so partially. The method by which these norms are reproduced is, as before, repetition, but here Butler calls our attention to the alteration of the social-existential context wrought by that method: existential conditions change, and this means that every repetition of the conditions of the reproduction of subjectivity bears the "risk" of denaturing those conditions. If this denaturing occurs -- by deliberately pursuing something fatally asocial, for instance -- then subjectivation changes: "one becomes subject to further sanction [i.e. by the socially-implicated forces of Nietzschean bad conscience], one feels the prevailing conditions of existence threatened." There is a death here -- the death of the prevailing conditions -- but not the threat of death itself, because the conative drive is not pure, but implicated in the desire to exist in the social order. This death engenders sanction and thus guilt, but it does not automatically bind the deviant subject to penance. Because the partial death of the subject has partially freed it from the social order, the ideological strictures that insist on the observance of guilt have lost their totalizing effectiveness. It is thus possible to "performatively reconfigure the contours of the conditions of life."

Butler's argument -- that the subject can be reconstituted through a sort of "death bound" appropriation of iteration -- does not suggest that subjectivity itself can be transcended, nor does it mean that "non-subjectivity" is without meaning. Indeed, it may be the case that an "individual" who has been psychically reconstituted may appear, from the perspective of those who are still bound up in normal social existence, to have been wrenched from the social order. So, if we can take "non-subjectivity" to mean a relative desubjectivation that appears to mark the death of the subject, do we see evidence of this process at work in Project Chanology?

The answer, relative as it is, depends on the perspective of the observer. The adoption of masks, confusing slogans, and idiosyncratic political practices may strike some as wholly foreign, even incomprehensible. Many of those who took part in Project Chanology would no doubt be happy with that reception. Others, however, would read the protesters differently, possibly arguing that the work of the protesters only tends toward non-subjectivity incidentally or instrumentally, and that it is first and foremost an affirmation of the same guilt conditions (freedom, truth, reason) that bind liberal subjects. No party makes this argument more strenuously (albeit in very different language) than those trolls who consider themselves the original constituents of Anonymous, and who are interested in preserving its bad name. [35] At Encyclopedia Dramatica, [36] a wiki-style resource that describes itself as "a central catalog for organized reference pages about drama, memes, e-pals and other interesting happenings on the internets," the page for "Project Chanology" begins with a subsection titled "HEY FAGGOTS": [37]

Ok, newfags, here's the news facts:

1. Anonymous is not some "awesome group of awesome people doing awesome acts of kindness and awesomely hacking things."

2. Anonymous does not care about other people.

3. Anonymous is not some avenging army.

4. Anonymous is not YOUR personal army.

6. True Anon have long since forsaken any scrap of humanity.

7. If you want to be a lovey dovey faggot, Paul Fetch's group is that way. ----->

9. If you want a cause, join greenpeace. Don't fucking call yourself Anon.

10. If you are part of the chanology cause (member of enturbulation or any of their other forums, or "*chans") again, DONT FUCKING CALL YOUSELF ANON!, WE WERE ANONYMOUSFIRST. YOU GUYS AREN'T ALLOWED IN THE TREEHOUSE. [38]

So: who is allowed in the treehouse?

The Internet Hate Machine

The term "trolling" entered widespread use in the late 1980s, when it described someone who intentionally disrupted early Internet communities. According to Schwartz, "[t]he trolls employed ... a 'pseudo-naïve' tactic, asking stupid questions and seeing who would rise to the bait. The game was to find out who would see through this stereotypical newbie behavior, and who would fall for it." Single individuals were usually responsible for this early form of trolling; now, however, the game is often played by groups of anonymous individuals based in message or image boards like /b/. And because "our emotional investment in the Internet has grown, the stakes for trolling -- for provoking strangers online -- have risen. Trolling has evolved from ironic solo skit to vicious group hunt." [39]

Discussions of trolling often focus on 4chan, and on /b/ in particular -- and with good cause: because the individuals using that board almost never attach a pseudonym to a post, they can give the illusion, at least, that they are free of identity. There are no user accounts on 4chan, and therefore no continuity of identity. Most importantly, there is no "contextual information about the writer, information that, while quite sketchy, may be the only such cues in the posting." [40] While trolling is thus often associated with the misrepresentation of identity, the pattern of deception, baiting, and exile that identity based trolling often takes only works when the trolls assume a pseudonym. Without the contextual information of the pseudonym, the nature of trolling changes. "Lulzy" attacks carried out en masse and anonymously are referred to as "raids." The self-righteous and the naïve make particularly good targets for raids, as they will often respond dramatically. As one of Schwartz's anonymous troll contacts puts it:

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. [41]

The following two raids from 2007 and 2008 -- one a relatively small scale attack on a blogger and the other a larger and better-known attack on Oprah -- help illustrate the difference between pseudonymous and anonymous raiding, and show that the social and guilt in the anonymous actions of 4chan function differently from the social and guilt in other Internet users. Exploring them will help demonstrate that there is in fact something that differentiates the trolls of Anonymous from the protesters of Project Chanology.

According to the Encyclopedia Dramatica article on the first raid considered here, [42] GoddessMine was a "self-styled financial dominatrix." Financial domination is a masochistic practice in which the dominatrix demands tributes from her subjects, "and, in return, does absolutely ... nothing, other than verbally abusing the submissive 'client.'" GoddessMine operated in various bondage, discipline/dominance, submission/sadism and masochism sites and on LiveJournal, a personal and community blogging service. Users of 7chan discovered her profile on LiveJournal, where "she bragged about the 'tributes' she had received ... [and gave] instructions on how to ... worship her." Sensing that GoddessMine would be a bountiful source of lulz, trolls left insulting, anonymous comments on her LiveJournal, which had, until that point, been publicly accessible. GoddessMine responded by making her entries private, and posting an incendiary message in which she called the anons "dumb dumb virgins" who should go back to "jerk[ing] off in the closet while your sister changes outfits." She also suggested that she had "a legion of ANON SPIES working for Me on these great INTERNETZ."

Encyclopedia Dramatica describes the effects of her comments eloquently: "[t]his was the internet equivalent of pulling down a wasps' nest, dropkicking it, and then pissing on the shattered fragments. Except that some of these wasps were hax0rs." Anonymous hackers from 7chan, 4chan, and related websites quickly started digging up information on GoddessMine, and found out that she was a kindergarten teacher at a private school. The trolls taking part in the raid associated her side career as a financial dominatrix with "sexual deviancy," and thus put her work as a kindergarten teacher in jeopardy: they sent a message to GoddessMine's school posing as a concerned parent, attaching screenshots and quotations from her website; reported her to the IRS, noting that she had been collecting fees for a service without reporting it as taxable income; and made threatening phone calls to her home. [43]

The phone calls were the last straw: GoddessMine posted a message to 4chan, including a picture of herself holding a card that showed her signature and the time at which she had taken the picture -- evidence to prove that she was in fact GoddessMine. The message was an attempt to "appeal to anon's good sense (404 not found)"; [44] GoddessMine asked that Anonymous "stop now, but I know being /b/, this is predictably going to only fuel some of you into trying harder." Anonymous "was now armed with the knowledge that their raid was in fact working, so they doubled the dataforce in an effort to drive her off the web permanently." [45]

When GoddessMine asked Anonymous for mercy, some individual anons might have been willing to grant it out of a sense of guilt. Others, however -- probably the majority -- would not. One cannot reason with a multitude, let alone appeal to its conscience. If any of its members are not susceptible to reason or conscience -- the province of the ego ideal, and therefore of the divide that characterizes subjectivity -- then the trolling will proceed. This alteration in the normal functioning of guilt means that the character of a troll's social world changes: even if individual trolls decide to stop actively trolling, they are still participating in the raid by viewing its results and enjoying the lulz. In other words, not everyone needs to consciously pursue an alternative to subjectivity in order for one to be instituted -- hence the motto of Anonymous: "Because none of us are as cruel as all of us."

The GoddessMine raid is a representative one, but less well known than the raid on Oprah. On September 15th, 2008, The Oprah Show featured a discussion of pedophiles who use the Internet to prey on children. A thread was opened on the show's website titled "Internet Predators: How Bad Is It?", and a user identifying as "josefritzl" [46] posted the following brief message:




The message was immediately followed by another in which a user named "lordxenu" -- a reference to Scientology, and hence to Anonymous -- claimed to be a pedophile preschool teacher who gets "aroused at the sight of a young boy 'peeing in the potty'" but who does not "act uppon [sic] my urges." [48] Oprah took the messages literally, and paraphrased them on television on September 19th:

Let me read you something that was posted on our message board from somebody who claims to be a member of a known pedophile network. It said this: he doesn't forgive; he does not forget; his group has over 9000 penises and they are all raping children. So, I want you to know, they're organized, and they have systematic ways of hurting children, and they use the Internet to do it. [49]

Oprah, and all of her viewers, had been trolled.

There were three stages to this raid. In the first, anons alerted 4chan to the Oprah episode on child pornography, and suggested that her community forums should be targeted for a raid. The thread for that particular episode had attracted an exceptional amount of genuine rage, disgust, and support for Senate Bill 1738, the "Protect Our Children Act," which meant that it was the perfect target for generating drama. In the second stage, josefritzl, lordxenu, and others posted upsetting comments that were either in favour of child pornography, as with josefritzl's comment, or intended to excuse the actions of pedophiles. josefritzl's comment was believable enough that the system administrators that monitored the forum alerted Oprah, who integrated the comment into her show. Additionally, they immediately stripped the offending comments from the forum. Nevertheless, the forum was live and accessible for a long enough period of time that a number of extraordinarily offensive messages could be spammed. [50]

At this point, raids normally wind down, and the denizens of /b/ turn their attention to something else. But because Oprah took the comments at face value, interpreting the flood of racist and pedophilic comments on the forum as evidence of a systematic organization of pedophiles, the raid entered a third stage. The "over 9000" part of josefritzl's comment "over 9000 penises" is a meme on 4chan, and generally recognized as a signifier of 4chan. [51] Because of this, because of the earnest manner of its delivery, and because of Oprah's international stature, her comment spread across the Internet like virtual wildfire, becoming part of the 4chan mythology. [52]

Pack Hunting

The objectives of the Oprah forum raid differed slightly from the GoddessMine raid. In the latter, the stated objective -- deliberately hyperbolic -- was to "drive [GoddessMine] off the web permanently" and to cause her financial and emotional trauma in the process. [53] The inferred reasons for doing this were a limited sense of disgust at the way in which she abused her clients and a limitless desire for lulz. In the Oprah raid, on the other hand, no one aimed to destroy lives. The comments were designed to be as offensive as possible, but they had no specific target. In both raids, the principal objective was the generation of lulz. The achievement of this singular purpose was facilitated by the amorality of the raiders as a whole. Again, while individual trolls might have backed down, the group would not. Insofar as participants can find themselves changed by participating in the activities of the group, then, raids can have conscience-altering effects on the individual participants:

Novice trolls often experience troll's remorse ["that sinking feeling in your stomach when you make someone cry on the Internet for the first time"]. Such feelings tend to pass once they realize that people who take the Internets seriously enough to get upset by trolling really ought to kill themselves. Once they reach this point, they are said to suffer from Internet troll personality disorder ["attention-seeking and disruptive behavior in anonymous, delocalized places of socializing"]. After long enough, they may even develop Chronic Troll Syndrome [in which the troll is "unable to tell the difference between internet and IRL limits"]. [54]

Encyclopedia Dramatica's account of the troll's change in conscience can be connected to my prior discussion of guilt. I wrote earlier that conscience reinforces calculability -- that there is a reciprocal relationship between these elements of the psyche. Anonymous, taken as the exaggerated, amoral collective that it makes itself out to be, has no conscience, and its size, reach, and objectives cannot be calculated. This makes the actions of the trolls unpredictable. As an observer, I can speculate about the methods that they might use once they have selected a target, and I can predict that any given raid will result in lulz, but I cannot predict whom they will attack, or when. When Anonymous conducts raids, it is less calculable than the normal individual. Anonymous is unpredictable in this sense precisely because trolls are not susceptible to conscience or reason.

I also mentioned that conscience feeds back into memory in a reciprocal way through the employment of mnemotechnical devices. Anonymous holds nothing against memory in general -- recursivity and the archive are important for reliving the lulz -- but it mocks memories associated with conscience or guilt. More than that: the "chronic trolls," if they exist outside of the mythology of Encyclopedia Dramatica, would have a hard time understanding why screenshot evidence of pain, like GoddessMine's photo, should be cause for remorse when, to them, it is so obviously hilarious. Anonymous is interested in neither forgetfulness nor remembrance; its form of memory is free from these normative strictures. Pain is not made memorable through raiding or the archive. If there are mnemotechnical devices at work here at all, they are in the hands of the trolls, as they are the ones instituting and repeating the memes that mock their victims. The "over 9000" meme, for instance, is endlessly repeated on 4chan, but its indelible effects have nothing to do with pain. The repetition of these memes constitutes a performativity that structurally rejects conscience-based reactions: the troll is supposed to feel bad for preying on the naïveté of Oprah's fans, but he or she has gone through the motions of trolling too many times for this reaction to be possible. The attack is subversively performative not because it mocks the outrage of Oprah's fans, but because it mocks the notion of moral outrage as such. When a raid parodies its moral targets, it parodies "the very notion of an original" [55] morality.

In alleviating (or even making impossible) conscience and guilt, raids also help to alter the social-existential conditions in which they take place. Without the contextual information provided by usernames, recognizable speech patterns, signatures, and so on, and considering the replacement of these mnemotechnical devices by the performative devices of Internet memes (for instance), the meaning of "social existence" changes. This change is reinforced by the distinctly insular language and behaviour of the anonymous, ephemeral, and offensive /b/.

Critical Desubjectivation

Raids help to alter the social-existential conditions in which they take place by exterminating feelings of guilt in the trolls who take part. Because these social-existential and psychological aspects of subjection or power can be connected with subjectivation in general, I can now clarify the distinction I proposed earlier: trolls do in fact operate in a manner that is psychoanalytically novel, because although their psychic goals -- anonymity or non-subjectivity -- cannot be attained, the "presence" of these libidinal goals results in a different form of subjectivation that mocks both guilty feelings and the idea of culpability itself. The psychic goal of the protesters of Project Chanology, on the other hand, is acceptance; ultimately, it cannot be attained either, but its "presence" results in a normal form of subjectivation that tends to not problematize its guilty foundation, and thus remains governed by bad conscience.

Butler argues that "the terms that constrain the option to being versus not being 'call for' another kind of response":

Under what conditions does a law monopolize the terms of existence in so thorough a way? Or is this a theological fantasy of the law? Is there a possibility of being elsewhere or otherwise, without denying our complicity in the law that we oppose? Such a possibility would require a different kind of turn, one that, enabled by the law, turns away from the law, resisting its lure of identity, an agency that outruns and counters the conditions of its emergence. Such a turn demands a willingness not to be -- a critical desubjectivation -- in order to expose the law as less powerful than it seems. [56]

Trolls meet these requirements. They are "willing not to be"; in pursuing lulz, they make non-subjectivity the object of their performance and desire. This does not mean that they aim to will themselves out of existence, but it does mean that their actions demonstrate the desire to be extricated from this particular social existence (or at least achieve the societal distance necessary to critique it).

So: does this mean that /b/ should be held up as a model of desubjectivation -- something to which we should aspire? Well, no. At the risk of sounding uncritical, I am happy to characterize many raids as unconscionable. Schwartz begins his article by describing one particularly unethical raid in which /b/ chose the parents of Mitchell Henderson, a seventh grader who had recently committed suicide for unknown reasons, as its target:

Something about Mitchell Henderson struck the denizens of /b/ as funny. They were especially amused by a reference on his MySpace page to a lost iPod. Mitchell Henderson, /b/ decided, had killed himself over a lost iPod. ... Within hours, the anonymous multitudes were wrapping the tragedy of Mitchell's death in absurdity.

Someone hacked Henderson's MySpace page and gave him the face of a zombie. Someone placed an iPod on Henderson's grave, took a picture and posted it to /b/. Henderson's face was appended to dancing iPods, spinning iPods, hardcore porn scenes. A dramatic re-enactment of Henderson's demise appeared on YouTube, complete with shattered iPod. The phone began ringing at Mitchell's parents' home. "It sounded like kids," remembers Mitchell's father, Mark Henderson, a 44-year-old I.T. executive. "They'd say, 'Hi, this is Mitchell, I'm at the cemetery.' 'Hi, I've got Mitchell's iPod.' 'Hi, I'm Mitchell's ghost, the front door is locked. Can you come down and let me in?' " He sighed. "It really got to my wife." The calls continued for a year and a half. [57]

I am not trying to suggest that we might construct an ethical system here -- that one raid might be "more" ethical than another, or that there are certain lines which cannot be crossed. What I am trying to suggest is that the form of Anonymous -- or the lack thereof -- may be an instructive example of desubjectivation. In this context, particular raids are interesting to the extent that they illustrate how normal processes of subjectivation function, how they work within dominant discourses, and how they can be transgressed. This transgression is a political side effect of the apolitical pursuit of lulz insofar as it generates alternative perspectives on social norms and alternative practices of subjectivation.

4chan itself is unlikely to lead to anything more productive than raiding and obscenity (though I should note that the anonymity that the site offers is an important and increasingly rare commodity on the Internet, as 4chan's founder regularly argues), [58] but the anarchic structure of the site's discourse, and the alternative perspectives that it brings (often uncomfortably) to light, make it possible to reimagine the ethical. If Anonymous is impervious to interpellation, its performance of non-subjectivity "may well undermine the capacity of the subject to 'be' in a self-identical sense" -- but "it may also mark the path toward a more open, even more ethical, kind of being, one of or for the future." [59]


[1] The warning posted on 4chan's "random" image board. "/b/ -- Random." 4chan. (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[2] "Tom Cruise Scientology Video -- (Original UNCUT)," YouTube: (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[3] Tactics included distributed denial-of-service attacks on Scientology websites, prank phone calls, taxis and pizzas ordered to Scientology centres, black faxes sent on infinite loops in order to run down fax machine ink, and so on.

[4] "Message to Scientology," YouTube: (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[5] "Anonymous has ... decided that your organization should be destroyed -- for the good of your followers, for the good of mankind, and for our own enjoyment. We shall proceed to expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology. ... You have nowhere to hide because we are everywhere. You will find no recourse in attack, because for each of us that falls, ten more will take his place."

[6] Related sites included,, and; all of them are now defunct.

[7] The protagonist of Moore's original comic book, V, wears a mask modeled after Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the British House of Lords in 1605. V, like Fawkes, is a terrorist willing to torture and murder in order to disturb the status quo. The film's climax follows V's widely reported death: the people rise up, each one of them putting on a Guy Fawkes mask and defiantly marching to the Houses of Parliament. This image inspired the adoption of the masks at Scientology protests (and at other venues in subsequent years). Although the film differs substantially from the book, Moore was glad to see the mask used in this way: he was "quite heartened the other day when watching the news to see that there were demonstrations outside the Scientology headquarters over here, and that they suddenly flashed to a clip showing all these demonstrators wearing V for Vendetta [Guy Fawkes] masks. That pleased me. That gave me a warm little glow." Qtd. in "Alan Moore Still Knows the Score!" Entertainment Weekly:,,20213004_5,00.html (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[8] This reading of Project Chanology as politically insignificant or readily identifiable might be countered by a closer look at the overtly political activities undertaken in the name of Anonymous in the last few years. To take just a few examples: in 2010, Anonymous conducted Operation Payback in response to attacks on Internet piracy by organizations like the RIAA, temporarily taking their websites offline, and then conducted Operation Avenge Assange in response to corporations like MasterCard and PayPal suspending donations to WikiLeaks, again bringing down a number of websites; in 2011, Anonymous supported insurgents across the Middle East, taking down some government websites, defacing others, and spreading the word about anonymizing software and international dial-up access numbers, and then took part in the Occupy protests; and in 2012, their activities included Opération Québec, which involved, in addition to the usual denial-of-service attacks, the dissemination of a video that was intended to demonstrate the intimate connections between Québec's political and corporate elite. For a discussion of the significance of these kinds of activities, see Gabriella Coleman, "Our Weirdness Is Free: The Logic of Anonymous -- Online Army, Agent of Chaos, and Seeker of Justice," TripleCanopy 15 (2012): (accessed on 13 February 2013).

While these explicitly political projects are among the most well-known activities attributed to Anonymous, the group -- insofar as it can be discussed as a singular entity -- engages in a host of explicitly non-political activities as well. These are far too numerous to enumerate here, but interested readers might begin to explore this side of Anonymous by looking into some of the group's better-known exploits, including the rigging of the 2009 Time 100 poll (see Paul Lamere, "Moot Wins, Time Inc. Loses," Music Machinery: [accessed on 13 February 2013]), the spate of "RIP trolling" that gained popularity and media coverage in 2010 (see Whitney Phillips, "LOLing at Tragedy: Facebook Trolls, Memorial Pages and Resistance to Grief Online," First Monday 16.2 [2011]: [accessed on 13 February 2013]), or the public humiliation of Internet security firm HBGary in 2011 (see Peter Bright, "Anonymous Speaks: The Inside Story of the HBGary Hack," Ars Technica: [accessed on 13 February 2013]). I take up two instances of non-political activity in the latter half of this paper.

[9] On the exposure of Scientology in popular culture, see, for instance, South Park episode #137 ("Trapped in the Closet", 2005), in which the words "THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE" are written across the screen while the president of the Church gives an account of Scientology's "Xenu" creation myth; John Sweeney's Panorama episode "Scientology and Me" (2007); and the longstanding website Operation Clambake maintained by Andreas Heldal-Lund at

[10] Mattathias Schwartz, "Malwebolence: The World of Web Trolling," The New York Times Magazine (3 August 2008): (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[11] Gabriella Coleman, "Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls: The Politics of Transgression and Spectacle," in The Social Media Reader, ed. Michael Mandiberg (New York and London: New York University Press, 2012), 111. Different motivations certainly come into play on a case-by-case basis.

Schwartz, for instance, discusses Jason Fortuny and Weev, two self-identified trolls who claim that their actions are motivated by morality, politics, or the desire to enlighten people about the cruelty of the world. In discussing an attack on the Epilepsy Foundation's website, for instance, Weev writes: "the whole posting flashing images to epileptics thing? over the line. we have to draw a moral line somewhere." For Fortuny, though, the seizure-inducing attacks were justified since they would provide visitors to the site with the knowledge that the internet can be a dangerous place: "Hacks like this tell you to watch out by hitting you with a baseball bat" (Schwartz, "Malwebolence"). While motivations like these might be important on a case by case basis, the type of trolling under discussion here is governed principally by the lulz.

[12] A feedback loop amplifies the relationship between trolls and the media. Trolls provide quixotic content for media reports written by people who often do not fully understand the trolls' purpose or their methods. These partial or hyperbolic reports impel the trolls to exaggerate this self-image, giving the media more, and sometimes more absurd, material to report. On this feedback loop, see Whitney Phillips, "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: The Origins, Evolution and Cultural Embeddedness of Online Trolling," PhD dissertation. (University of Oregon, 2012).

[13] Gabriella Coleman argues that the name Anonymous was principally associated with trolling before 2008, and but that it was "transformed into one of the most adroit and effective political operations of recent times" shortly thereafter ("Our Weirdness Is Free"). Indeed, the name Anonymous is now regularly associated with political action, and its iconography shows up at traditional protests -- but it doesn't mean that trolling as such is now in decline, or that trolls have stopped used the Anonymous moniker for their purposes.

[14] Masked protesters held signs referencing memes drawn from the Internet and popular culture ("LONGCAT IS LOOOOOOOOOOONG!"; "SCIENTOLOGY MAKES ME A SAD PANDA"; the lyrics from Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up") as well as signs deploring the Church.

[15] Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 18.

[16] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufman and R.J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 20.

[17] Ibid, 58.

[18] Ibid, 58-59.

[19] One is made calculable through the use of "the morality of mores and the social straitjacket": the promising "man" becomes the "sovereign individual." With promising comes the ability to create values, and this gives the appearance, at least, of free will. With freedom and value creation comes responsibility: the values that we freely create can only have meaning if we adhere to our promises and can be held accountable (Ibid).

[20] Ibid, 59-60.

[21] Ibid, 61.

[22] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1999), xx-xxi.

[23] "[T]he power regimes of heterosexism and phallogocentrism seek to augment themselves through a constant repetition of their logic, their metaphysic, and their naturalized ontologies" (Ibid, 44).

[24] Ibid, 44.

[25] Ibid, 185-93. Although these acts, gestures, and desires are normally caught up in heteronormativity, Butler suggests that different performances can subvert the coherence and intelligibility of gender, and therefore the very idea that there is such a thing as a "true gender." This is not simply an undermining of the coherence and intelligibility of one particular individual's gender, either: when the drag king or queen performs, he or she "implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself -- as well as its contingency." Drag does not work by parodying the opposite, original gender; rather, "the parody is of the very notion of an original." There is no pure gender, no prediscursive sex, and no natural desire: they are all conditioned by their performances, and every action I take contributes to this conditioning(Ibid 190).

[26] Pamela Robertson, "What Makes the Feminist Camp?" Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject -- A Reader, ed. Fabio Cleto (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1999), 273.

[27] Some of the video evidence makes this interpretation compelling. I noted the latent humanism of the "Message to Scientology" earlier, and I would note now that although this current is perceptible, it is only barely so in comparison with stylized and political messages like VOLSUPA's "WE RUN THIS" (YouTube: [accessed on 13 February 2013]). The affective register of the "Message" is cold and robotic -- stylistically informed by cyberpunk aesthetics, but effective nonetheless. The only clues to its humanism are in the message itself. "WE RUN THIS," on the other hand, is loud, long, and visually stimulating: bass-heavy music plays continually in the background; the vocal delivery, while still robotic, stutters and jumps in a stereotypically "postmodern" fashion; and the background shimmers in a retro-futuristic homage to Max Headroom. Additionally, the message of the later video is more blatantly liberal-humanist: the anonymous speaker complains of "crime and human rights abuses" perpetrated by the Church, of the "tendency" of the Church "to abuse the judicial system to suppress free speech," and of "truth." At the end of the video, the footage cuts to a different scene: one anon uses a hammer to smash in the television which had, apparently, been playing the video, and another walks up to the wreckage to use a fire extinguisher on it. After well over three minutes of rhetoric, the attempt at playful reflexivity seems somewhat hollow.

That said, these videos are just two of a host. Searches for "anonymous" on YouTube yield hundreds of thousands of hits, some from 2008 and before, but many from recent months and weeks. The sidebar of one of these videos displays other related videos; if the first one was at all compelling, the site offers the possibility of investigating further. If the user remains curious after that -- and these videos are often effective enough to arouse curiosity -- he or she can do a search to find out more information about Project Chanology, Anonymous, Guy Fawkes, or any of the other interesting material viewed so far. There is, in other words, an element of fun to Project Chanology (and to Anonymous's activities as a whole) that encourages people who stumble across it to remain engaged, possibly leading to an eventual visit to 4chan itself. So, while those who came across protestors on the sidewalk may not have been particularly fazed or disoriented, some may have found themselves interested in learning more. Project Chanology might be a gateway to something else.

[28] Peter Lurie, "Why the Web Will Win the Culture Wars for the Left: Deconstructing Hyperlinks," (15 April 2003): (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[29] G. Stone and D. B. Stone, for instance, argue that once-active decisions about media usage become passive with time ("Lurking in the Literature: Another Look at Media Use Habits," Mass Communication Review 17 [1990], 25-33), and Thomas Koch and Benjamin Krämer distinguish among different types of media use (e.g. ritualized, repeated, elapsed, and habitual) in order to argue that habitual use does not stem from passivity alone ("Media Use Habits: Remarks on a Disregarded Concept," presented at the International Association for Media and Communication Research, 2010).

[30] Michael Bernstein et al. present a typology of these forms of discourse in "4chan and /b/: An Analysis of Anonymity and Ephemerality in a Large Online Community," presented at the Fifth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, 2011, and available at (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[31] Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVIII, trans. James Strachey (London: Vintage, 2001). Freud draws on three other thinkers who had written about the herd instinct: Gustave le Bon, who argues that the crowd produces a "group mind" that exhibits the developmental level of an impulsive child or a "primitive" (ibid, 74-77); William McDougal, who differentiates groups on the basis of their level of organization and argues that highly organized groups can display all of the coherence of a sovereign individual (ibid, 83-86); and Wilfred Trotter, who takes the herd instinct to be an irreducible feature of human life (ibid, 118-19). Expanding on or arguing against their claims, Freud argues that the libidinal ties imposed by a group on its members shape those members' behaviours in a number of different ways, noting that groups organized around an abstract idea rather than a leader may demonstrate a different libidinal structure than the sort that he describes (ibid, 100). Here, I restrict my comments on the potential novelty of the troll to the psychoanalytical register, considering the possibility that the abstract figure of Anonymous installs a libidinal structure that differs from both those groups that follow an identifiable leader and those groups that follow none. This is not to say that other approaches would not bear fruit, of course. Further research might consider alternative approaches to questions around imitation or mimesis, like that of Gabriel Tarde (The Laws of Imitation, trans. Elsie Clews Parsons [New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1903]) and René Girard (Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. Y. Freccero [Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1965]), or questions around the swarm behaviour and the multitude, like that of Eugene Thacker ("Networks, Swarms, Multitudes, Part One," [18 April 2004], [accessed on 13 February 2013]) and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (Empire [Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000]).

[32] Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 102.

[33] Butler, The Psychic Life of Power, 10-24.

[34] Ibid, 28-29.

[35] Press coverage of Internet drama frequently misses the mark, depicting Internet trolls in an absurd light. In the most well known instance, KTTV FOX 11, an affiliate station from Los Angeles, ran a story describing Anonymous as "hackers on steroids" -- "domestic terrorists" who attack innocent people like "an Internet hate machine" ("Anonymous on FOX 11," YouTube: [accessed on 13 February 2013]). The video, and these terms of endearment, are central features of troll lore. On the relationship between trolls and the media, particularly with regard to the effect of KTTV FOX 11, see Whitney Phillips, "The House That Fox Built: Anonymous, Spectacle, and Cycles of Amplification," Television and New Media 14 (forthcoming 2013).

[36] All references to Encyclopedia Dramatica are from 2008. As a freely editable resource run by trolls, nearly none of these references can still be found in the form in which I present them. Such is the nature of the Internet. Compounding the problem was a dramatic incident that took place in 2011: Encyclopedia Dramatica's founder, Sherrod Grippo, shut the site down and started another called Oh Internet. Users of Encyclopedia Dramatica were predictably furious, but many reacted constructively, successfully launching a mirror of the original site at (accessed on 13 February 2013). For a more detailed description of the incident, see Luke Simcoe, "Encountering 4chan and Anonymous: The Drama of Encyclopedia Dramatica," Metaviews (16 April 2011): (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[37] A quick word on the word "faggot": on 4chan, this word functions in a fashion that differs from everywhere else. It is intended to be an offensive term -- this keeps it out of the mainstream -- but it neither operates pejoratively nor denotes homosexuality. For anons, "fag" usually refers to those who frequent the image board, though it almost always has a prefix: "old fags" have been around for a long time, "fag fags" are (literally) gay, and "moral fags" might be offended by this free use of the word "faggot." This use of language is typical of 4chan, where the high rate of anonymity and relative absence of rules creates an environment where "anything goes," and where one is likely to encounter pornography, gore, misogyny, racism, homophobia, or any combination of the above. At the same time, however, the anonymity of the site creates the conditions under which strange and progressive modes of expression, political and otherwise, can take place. On these conditions and the associated use of language on 4chan, see Bernstein et al., "4chan and /b/."

[38] "Project Chanology," Encyclopedia Dramatica: (accessed in November 2008).

[39] Schwartz, "Malwebolence."

[40] Judith S. Donath, "Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community," Communities in Cyberspace, ed. Marc A. Smith and Peter Kollock (London and New York: Routledge, 1999): (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[41] Qtd. in Schwartz, "Malwebolence."

[42] "GoddessMine," Encyclopedia Dramatica: (accessed in November 2008).

[43] Ibid.

[44] The parenthetical reference to "404 not found," an error message that used to appear on Internet Explorer, suggests that Anonymous does not have "good sense."

[45] "GoddessMine," Encyclopedia Dramatica. Given the information provided in the Encyclopedia Dramatica entry, this seems like an exaggeration; the only subsequent action taken seems to have been the hacking of GoddessMine's school's website so that the front page detailed her career as a dominatrix. Anonymous had, at that point, done all that it could do.

[46] The username is a reference to Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man who imprisoned his daughter in 1984 in an underground bunker and abused, raped, and assaulted her for 24 years.

[47] "Oprah," Encyclopedia Dramatica: (accessed in November 2008).

[48] Although josefritzl and lordxenu were using pseudonyms rather acting completely anonymously, their "status" ratings are zero, and they have no information on their profiles, meaning that the identity-related form of trolling does not apply here. Their profiles are available on The Oprah Show community forums (

[49] See "Oprah Gets Trolled by Anonymous," YouTube: (accessed on 13 February 2013) for footage from the program.

[50] A user offensively named "happynigra," for instance, copied and pasted the phrase "OPRAH IS A FUCKING CHICKEN EATING NIGGER!!" down the length of the page ("Oprah," Encyclopedia Dramatica).

[51] The phrase is taken from an episode of Dragonball Z, a popular anime series: one of the characters asks what the power level of an opponent is, and another replies, "It's over nine thousand!"

[52] "Oprah," Encyclopedia Dramatica.

[53] "GoddessMine," Encyclopedia Dramatica.

[54] "Troll," Encyclopedia Dramatica: (accessed in November 2008).

[55] Butler, Gender Trouble, 175.

[56] Butler, The Psychic Life of Power, 130.

[57] Schwartz, "Malwebolence."

[58] Christopher Poole, "Christopher 'moot' Poole: The Case for Anonymity Online," TED: _for_anonymity_online.html (accessed on 13 February 2013).

[59] Butler, The Psychic Life of Power, 131.


Liam Mitchell is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies at Trent University, where he teaches courses in new media practice and digital subjectivity. His research concerns the political and ontological implications of our continual immersion in technology, particularly those social media services that seem to fall under our control.

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