By Cassidy Havens

Marco Deseriis, “No End in Sight”

In Marco Deseriis’s essay entitled “No End in Sight: Network Art as a Participatory Form of Storytelling,” he discusses the relationship between narratology and networks. There are three aspects of a narrative text (Mieke Bal’s “the material of the fabula”), which include the presence of actors, unfolding of events that transition from one state to another, and the guiding of the story by a narrator. For storytelling in a networked environment, Marco describes three types of functions: denotative (“describes an initially unsolved situation, a conflict, a clue, or a dilemma”); performing (“demands its addressee to undertake action and play a role in it”); and pragmatic (“allows for the transmission of set rules, an ethics, or a system of beliefs that resonate with the nodes of the network to which it is addressed”).

Marco then transitions into talking about hypertexts (text displayed on a computer) and the possibility of the reader becoming a producer rather than only a consumer. He says that, “When a reader discovers unforeseen and creative ways of reading a story, she begins to cross over to an authorial position,” which becomes relevant to the hacktivist narratives of groups such as ®TMark (a pseudo-corporation whose mission was to “correct the identity” of other businesses), The Yes Men (who organize web parodies), and the Electric Disturbance Theater’s Zapatista FloodNet (which functions as a virtual sit-in by jamming websites). By “hacking new information out of the old,” these organizations fulfill Bal’s idea of the fabula, indulging in the denotative function through website descriptions, the performing function by asking the reader to play a role, and the pragmatic function by creating a set of rules or beliefs. Another example of a hacktivist group Marco gives is Les Liens Invisibles’s A Fake is A Fake, in which software is used to parody other websites. Most notably, this group parodied the New York Times with a headline saying the Iraqi War had ended.

One of the main hacktivist groups that encouraged Internet users to participate and perpetuate the ideas is Toywar, brought about by art group etoy as they battled the corporation eToy for the domain name etoy.com. Supporters could register then perform certain tasks, like writing their own reports and providing legal advice. etoy is something known as net.art, which is “Internet-based art and the art of networking.” Net.art is focused on the aesthetic exploration of machinic assemblages, manipulation of information flows, and identity play. He ends by saying that the only narratives that stick around are those that are appealing to a community.

Gabriella Coleman, “Old and New Battles Over Free Speech and Secrecy”

In Gabriella Coleman’s talk entitled “Old and New Battles Over Free Speech and Secrecy,” she addresses hacker group Anonymous’s war on the Church of Scientology. She says the reason that Anonymous has chosen to attack Scientology is that they have proved to be the perfect nemesis, with inverted views of technology and science than those of hacker geeks and the propagation of secrecy. The war against Scientology began with the creation of alt.religion.scientology on UseNet message boards, which exposed “secret documents” of Scientology. Coleman also discusses the real-life protests by Anonymous in 2008 and the proliferation of raids, arrests, and lawsuits by the Church of Scientology after documents and videos had been exposed.

She also brings into play the culture of trolling on 4chan. 4chan is a website composed of different subboards on a variety of topics. The members are mostly anonymous, and it’s known for its rampant trolling, including generation of memes. Trolling is the act of causing discord, usually for the “lulz,” or laughter at someone else’s expense. Coleman says that trolling is a type of argot, which encodes technical expertise, defines insiders vs. outsiders, and maintains secrecy. She also poses some interesting questions at the end of her talk, which are worth thinking about.

Questions

  • Why are people attracted to protest some injustices and not others?
  • Is there a positive role for the troller to play on the Internet?
  • How does Anonymous fit into Marco’s idea on narratology?
  • How does Anonymous’s production of the spectacle benefit them?

15 Responses to “Weekly Readings: Hacktivism”

  1. peternenov says:

    How does Anonymous fit into Marco’s idea on narratology?

    As Betty and Lara pointed out in their travelogue, Anonymous’ portrayal is not based on a structured central narrative because of the organization’s lack of an ultimate purpose. Though they occasionally may take action towards a central goal (i.e. HB Gary), members of Anonymous also attack other websites for the “lulz.” This makes it difficult for Anonymous’ actions be classified as “hacktivism.” They are stripped of the ‘pragmatic’ part of narratology; Anonymous does not appear to have a set of rules, guides, or ethics since their hacking for the purpose of civil disobidience cannot be distinguished from their hacks for lulz. While only some members of the group may participate in the more destructive hacking and trolling, their anonymity prevents them from being distinguished from other members of the group. As a result, all members are labeled uniformly.

    Is there a positive role for the troller to play on the Internet?
    I don’t think the troller can play a positive role on Internet, at best they can provide some entertainment. I wonder if anyone else thinks otherwise?

    • mdeseriis says:

      Great comment, Peter. Anonymous does not seem to have rules or an ethics, but they actually do. Most of these rules are tongue-in-cheek, but some of them are not. Notably, the main rule in Anonymous is that you do not talk about Anonymous–i.e. you shall not say or ask anything that may identify someone participating in Anonymous. (You can find a version of these rules here: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Rules%20Of%20The%20Internet). Whether this is sufficient to create a shared ethics is something that should be discussed.

  2. wasante says:

    1. There’s something so appealing about being the little guy fighting the greater evil and to be apart of that little resistance force seems to be like quite the rush especially if its a cause you believe in and you don’t have to leave your computer. However, despite our desire to stand against such a prolific force such as ‘the man’ or ‘a corporation’, we’d just as soon join them for the sakes of fame and fortune. A sad irony indeed.

    2. The troller has two purposes, one to remind you not to take everything so seriously since there are those that would act in not only an inappropriate manner but a deceptive manner so take everything with a grain of salt. The other is the prospect that while the internet is a place to foster friendship it still has a human element that can give way to division and foolishness. Seriously, I really can’t see anything that is truly gained from trolling than the memes and the healthy distrust of the human element.

    3. I thought that the rules of engagement and the ideals would be decided upon before acting but the prospects of the hierarchy and Anonymous’ lack there of. Essentially, allowing their members to engage in causes and acts that may not be consistent with the causes that all the members can agree to. There’s also the possibility of undermining one another. I wonder if that fits into the narratology model?

    4. It gets them exposure, respect and may cause more like minded individuals to side with them. And with their structure, it’s harder to comprehend which members to apprehend.

    As a side note, Anonymous is going after Sony for their ‘attempts a stopping free software and free distribution’. However, between the hacking of the PSP and the Call of Duty hack which made Multiplayer unplayable, its a little narrow-minded of them not to understand the business perspective of Sony’s situation. Though I understand the desire to side Hotz as well, at the very least from the corporation siding with the little guy.

    • mdeseriis says:

      I agree with Whitney, the main purpose of a troller is to get exposure. A troller trolls to attract attention upon himself/herself, and in so doing ends up disrupting more or less established community norms. That is why Coleman compares trollers to tricksters. In Native-American myths and other indigenous cultures tricksters frequently act impulsively–e.g., to satisfy their hunger or sexual appetite–and in open violation of community norms. This violation, however, frequently forces the community to discuss the nature norms. Translated in Internet lingo, when a troller enters the scene you will able to appreciate a wide range of reactions, from those who say “let’s kick him out” to those who argue that “there is nothing wrong in trolling” to those who will try to set up or enforce a set of standards so that the normal life of the community may continue to flow. Trolling is important because it sets these conversations in motion, imho.

  3. sjevakim says:

    To answer the 4th question, I think freedom of speech is enhanced by anonymous. It is true that anonymousness allows a number of people to abuse it, as they can say whatever they want on the internet. It has caused serious problems, and I have seen some celebrities committed suicide by unreliable rumors that anonymous people spread on the internet. but I believe that some people could more critically and freely express their thoughts and ideas without any command and control over them( it could be their current status…etc). Also, it is related to answer the second question, whether troller could play a positive role on the Internet. I still have a problem to clearly understand “trolling”, as I believe that it is a very subjective term. But, focusing on the fact that most trollers are anonymous, I think they can either efficiently use or badly abuse the functions of it, and they could play a positive role.

  4. ahmedbekh says:

    Relativity is the key indicator in people participation in anything. If something is affecting me directly I’m more likely to participate to support it or go against it than if something that I’m removed from. That said, the act of protesting against injustice is a learned practice and different societies are more active than other in such act.

    Trolling is quite subjective, Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. I think it’s only positive side in that regard is evoking controversy to subject that we avoid to touch on.

  5. ffornasini90 says:

    Trollers are interesting creatures. It is obvious that they do what they do specifically because they can do it while remaining anonymous. The idea would be: if you were given an invisibility cloak, would you or would you not go around looting? It is hard to think that we, ourselves, haven’t had the temptation to troll at least once in our online lives.

    • mdeseriis says:

      Your are right, Filippo! This means that trollers are not just a specific social category, but something that potentially belongs to all of us as soon as our identity is decoupled from social responsibility and the need of preserving a reputation. And anonymity is an essential precondition of this kind of inversion.

  6. Queenie says:

    Why are people attracted to protest some injustices and not others?
    I agree with Ahmed in that a person is more likely to participate in a protest/cause that is directly related to them, but I also think that some people consider repercussions. Sometimes people are passionate about a cause or movement but they fear getting trouble or people knowing about their participation, so that could also stop people from participating in a protest.

  7. I have to say that trollers are both good and bad and there are many different types of trolling. When I conducted my research on Reddit vs Digg, I got “pun” trolled. That means everyone who left a comment on my post was using puns to answer my questions, and my doing so they were not trying to make a point only trying to make me annoyed. And thats why I think trolling has a bad name, it is where people who dont have a cause just take part in an annoyance just for the fun of causing some mischief. There is good trolling though, trolling that has to do with a cause. For example, trollers might not like a certain design change of application on the website/ forum that they use to communicate with each other. So they start trolling. Their trolling binds them together like Coleman suggests, it acts as an argot and it brings enough of them together to get a message across and get their demands met.

    In terms of why people are attracted to some injustices and not others, I think it has a lot to do with practicality. People will protest and get involved in changing an injustice if they feel like their involvement can really make a difference. Also they will get involved if enough other people are involved too, and if there is a good amount of media surrounding the injustice. Also, like Queenie points out, people are afraid of repercussions. They do not want to get in trouble if they think that are going to be found out or caught for participating in a defiance against a injustice.

  8. lizcullen says:

    It’s funny how trolling sometimes is a backhanded way of voicing out against something a collective dislikes or perhaps thinks is unjust. Since we live in such a PC and lawsuit ridden world, I think it’s not that people aren’t attracted to protest in the real world or speak out, just that they are afraid or have a clearly defined plan. Anonymous defies these feelings and problems, since their identities remain hidden and secret. That being said, it is easy to see why Anonymous decided to revert their attention and trolling power to Scientology since they pretty much go against most of this online communities beliefs and power. I don’t know if trolling will ever be a productive or positive thing per say, but if they could expose injustices within a group like Scientology in the real world, then why not?

  9. xuan says:

    I think that online trolls benefit simply from the satisfaction of attracting attention whether their intentions were to entertain, annoy, or protest. Although I think that trollers are just looking to elicit spectacles for the most part, I see how they could also disseminate political messages through the internet using cleverness. At the same time, I wouldn’t automatically associate trollers with political activists.

  10. chelseachristensen says:

    In regards to why some people are moved to protest and others are not, I think there are multiple factors that come into play. As Queenie and Ahmed said before, direct involvement definitely is a factor in it. However, I also feel that many times, even if it is something that would directly affect a person, that person chooses not to act. I believe part of this is just due to personality. Some people are just much more laissez-faire about things in their life, and don’t feel the same sort of motivation or pull to become involved, while some people have a strong core of civic action or the need to express their beliefs and opinions more openly. Community can also come into play. I think if you know people or are involved in a community that actively participates in protesting certain injustices, you will be more prone to act in the same way, rather than stand by yourself. I think it takes a lot of courage to take action where others won’t, and many people are hesitant.

  11. Matt Gorman says:

    I think the first question you pose is really interesting; mostly because it’s extremely tough to answer. I think it relates to the question that Peter answered above regarding the rules or ethics of such organizations. Just as groups like Anonymous may have slightly unclear beliefs as far as the nature of what they do, they certainly must also have some belief guidelines which dictate what types of things they will act against and what they will not. The strange thing about this is that it implies that there must be some leader or “founding father” to set forth such guidelines, which only adds to the mystery of how they operate and maintain organization with such a cloud of secrecy.

  12. aroyce says:

    I know this is late, but I was intrigued but the part of Marco’s article about “Google will eat itself” but I found it a bit confusing. But is it similar to what he mentions later about Digg and Flickr and this inability to distinguish a public sphere, but in legal terms? I don’t get this long term goal of assuming control, but it does say something about Web 2.0 meeting hacktivism.

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