Open Codex HISTORICAL entry

2012 Sep 19 | “404 Not Found”: Infocide in Open Content Communities

The initial draft of “404 Not Found”: Infocide in Open Content Communities is available. I welcome comments here, or via email.

Abstract: The term infocide, and related neologisms such as cybersuicide, are identified and distinguished as a type of cyberlanguage. The complexities of infocide are then explored in open content communities with respect to reasons, enactment, and community reactions. I find that infocides are often prompted by the exhaustion of maintaining an online life, by discontent towards an online community, and over privacy concerns that one’s real and online identifies have intersected. Community responses are also varied: infocides might be ignored, lamented, sleuthed, and mitigated by preserving content that was taken down.

2011 Dec 13 | What We Call Leaving

When people choose infocide they are doing two things: they are leaving and they are taking their stuff (information) with them when they go. (Hence, in English we have an idiom for those that leave in a huff as “taking their ball and going home.”) Even without the retraction of one’s self from a community, leaving is an intriguing behavior itself. We have many ways of speaking of this behavior with varied connotations including: resign, quit, drop-out, and take a break/holiday. Similarly, Wikipedia has templates that decorate the user pages of those that have gone missing, which I sort based on the how often a template is used.

Template # Description
Retired 2177 is no longer active [Wikipedia2010tr]
Wikibreak 1562 is taking a short wikibreak and will be back soon [Wikipedia2010tw]
Not here 514 may have left Wikipedia [Wikipedia2010tnh]
Semi-retired 427 is no longer very active [Wikipedia2011tsr]
User EX-WP 285 has decided to leave [Wikipedia2011tue]
Long wikibreak 231 is taking a long wikibreak and will be back [Wikipedia2010tlw]
Vacation [1,2,3] 116 is away on vacation [Wikipedia2010tv, Wikipedia2011tv, Wikipedia2010tv1]
Holiday 97 is away on holiday [Wikipedia2011th]
Temporarily inactive 66 temporarily inactive [Wikipedia2011tut]

Here we see significant redundancies (why 3 versions of a vacation template and a holiday template) but a few interesting features. First, these are self-declared absences — except for “Not Here.” Second, the absence might be more or less permanent. Three, the reason for absence is only specified in the case of a real world (e.g., holiday/vacation) though the EX-WP template implies dissatisfaction since one is purposefully no longer identifying as a Wikipedian.

2011 Dec 05 | Infocide Definitions

Even when one puts aside mediated or facilitated death, terms related to infocide might speak of (a) attention seeking, (b) getting oneself banned (intentionally or not), and (c) and the purposeful retraction of one’s presence and contributions from the Internet.

Attention seeking behavior is central to the Urban Dictionary’s first definition of Internet suicide: “When someone in a forum, newsgroup, etc. says they are leaving (sometimes ‘and never coming back’), but actually wants to see how people react to their leaving. Usually as the result of drama” [Shawnyshawn20071is]. However, this dramatic aspect is less ambiguously identified as a flounce at Encyclopedia Dramatica:

A flounce post is when one must proclaim that they are leaving a community forever. These attention whores are nearly as amusing as those who use “deleting your LiveJournal” for attention. Rather than quietly leaving an LJ community, they feel they must leave a long ass, boring, nonsensical post explaining why they are so much more highly evolved than anyone else in the community. [Dramatica2011fce]

Behavior which is likely to get oneself banned is identified in the second definition of Internet suicide at Urban Dictionary. While infocide is usually spoken of as a voluntary and self-enacted practice, this definition speaks of annoying others such that they are the ones that enact the retraction: “The act of intentionally getting yourself banned from a website or forum.” The provided example does not follow this connotation exactly as it implies that the term is used in a sense that mirrors the “real world” declamation that a particular behavior is risky and may result in an unintended consequence: “Man, you can’t go around posting the f-word everywhere, that’s internet suicide!” [Dude20092is]

Finally, retracting one’s online presence is captured in the definitions of infocide and digital suicide at Urban Dictionary:

infosuicide/infocide: Disengaging from the Internet via the deletion of all your publicly available information. Kquadhome20111ii]

digital suicide: Deleting all or most of your information from the internet namely social networking sites such as your facebook, twitter, xanga accounts…. “[For example, Frederick] committed digital suicide when he applied for a new job”. [shitastic20101ds]

This sense, of retracting one’s online presence, then has varied Web-site specific variations including Twittercide [rtil20092t], Wikicide [Dramatica2010wde], and Facebook kevorkian (“A person who assists a Facebook user in committing Facebook suicide (deleting their account), especially with regard to deleting all information and data” [beagle20111fk].

2011 Nov 29 | online *-cide

I have recently begun a small research project about infocide: the purposeful retraction of one’s presence and contributions from the Internet. However, naturally, one must distinguish this practice from the purposeful ending of one’s life. Both retraction and suicide have varied, and sometimes overlapping, neologisms. Internet suicide is ambiguous in that one can find it applied to suicide that is facilitated or mediated online [Wikipedia2011is] and getting oneself banned from a site [Shawnyshawn20071is]. However, cyber suicide is distinct and has a longer history of being used to describe online suicide [AlaoYollesArmenta1999cis,Analytics2005chi] — reflecting that “cyber” was a popular affix then, following e- but preceding i- and 2.0. Similarly distinct, infosuicide/infocide is consistently used for retraction [quadhome20111ii,Dowland2011ide], as is digital suicide [shitastic20101ds] and the more specific twittercide [rtil20092t].

Beyond neologisms, the phenomenon of online suicide garnered some popular attention with the enactment of suicide pacts in Japan in 2000 and 2003 [Ueno2000saj]. However, if Wikipedia can be thought of as a popular indicator of online phenomenon it’s surprising that the first version of its English article was created in 2005 [Wikipedia2005is]. In any case, a search of English-language journal articles reveals the issue became salient to mental health scholars in the late 90s: Suicide On The Internet: a Focus for Nursing Intervention? [BaumeRolfeClinton1998soi], Cybersuicide: the Internet and Suicide [AlaoYollesArmenta1999cis], Internet Sites May Encourage Suicide [Dobson1999ism], and The Internet and Its Potential Influence on Suicide [Thompson1999iip].

In this work I will be focusing exclusively upon what I will label as infocide: the purposeful retraction of one’s presence and contributions from the Internet.

Open Communities, Media, Source, and Standards

by Joseph Reagle