A Culture of Haters

Despite my apathy toward Scientology, I viewed the recent attacks by Anonymous with a similar indifference. I don't view Anonymous' attempts to bring down Scientology websites in the same like I do earlier geek engagements with Scientology, or other actions like the anti-DMCA protests I participated in. Both Anonymous' means and ends are objectionable. As described by Jaclyn Friedman (2008) in "Wack Attack: Giving the Digital Finger to Blog Bandits" Anonymous is a "loosely organized cybermob" that attacks various sites and people for laughs on lulz message boards. While I sometimes share a dislike for their targets (e.g., Scientology, molesters) the frequent misogynistic attacks by this larger cultural movement on women are offensive, and their methods are contrary to the liberal values of free speech and open discourse.

The culture of lulz is saturated with juvenile, racist, misogynistic, and homophobic language and imagery. They use "fags" and "foggot" as blanket insults, make jokes about raping your mother, and define rape as, among other things, "black sex." (p. 46)

I began to get a sense of this phenomenon when Kathy Sierra was attacked. Being a fan of all things productive and organized, I had subscribed to her blog feed a few years ago -- her gender was not something I even remember being aware of. This changed when I saw the passionate and unreasoned hate that poured down on her for no reason other than because she was a woman. Similarly, in following Wikipedia, I noticed the type of criticism was changing: in addition to those with specific concerns or complaints, communities of derision, of "haters," were forming.

The phenomenon of virtual antagonism is not new. We've all heard of "flaming" and "trolls"; I even had a friend who ran a warboard BBS in the 80s -- and, yes, we were in middle school. While I didn't understand the appeal even then, on a warboard the "hate" was largely limited to the others who joined. What seems to be novel about the new haters is the community and cultural aspect. Just as I highlight the importance of a "good-faith" collaborative culture in the Wikipedia community, we are moving beyond the individual angry cloud. To be buzzword compliant, we might call it "Bully 2.0" or the "culture of hatefuck."

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