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    I write a lot of posts here about anonymity.

    One one level, it’s because I just really enjoy the concepts and ramifications anonymity - which by extension makes me one of the disconcertingly small number of creators who can maintain a positive relationship with 4chan and the other Anon Cultures. On another level, though, it’s a professional interest: anonymity is very important to anyone who deals with crowds, public opinion, and data gathering. Statistically speaking, the responses people give when others are watching and judging them tend to be very different than the responses people give under the veil of anonymity. 

    However, the other thing I like to talk about on this blog is social manipulation. In all my discussions of anonymity, there’s still one topic I haven’t really touched on very much: how do you control anonymous people?

    Anonymity as a data gathering tool is well and fine, but one of the big fears people have of 4chan and similar cultures is their seemingly uncontrollable, chaotic nature. With 4chan in particular, popular culture knows them largely by their external actions - 4chan raids, 4chan harassment, 4chan hacktivists, etc. Content creators especially seem pretty clueless when it comes to actually exhibiting control over anonymous figures - which is strange because, like I’ve said before, it's not complicated. It’s really kind of confusing how people can be so bad at it.

    So, in this post I’m going to more or less just talk about how to control anons. To understand the techniques, though, we have to get into a bit of psychology and history.

    Put on your psychologist scarves, kids. We’re gonna talk about brains.

    Crime and Punishment

    Before I get into the thick of this, the first thing you have to understand is the difference between reinforcement and punishment.

    The concept is pretty simple. The idea behind reinforcement is that someone receives a reward for behaving in a certain way, which encourages them to behave that way more frequently. It can be a positive reinforcement (giving them something they want, like a cupcake) or a negative reinforcement (taking away something they dislike, like an annoying singer), but in both cases it leaves them better off than they were. 

    Punishment is the opposite. Someone faces consequences for behaving a certain way, and this discourages them from doing it again. Like with reinforcement, punishment can be either positive (someone sings annoyingly until you leave) or negative (they take away your cupcake). The common trend is simply that it leaves you worse off than you were before. You fear the punishment happening to you, and this causes you to act a certain way.

    Our culture has a very large emphasis on punishment. On some level, this is an institutionalized thing we recognize and accept - we know and approve of the fact that people get charged money for driving recklessly, or will be locked away from people if they physically harm someone else. There are a lot of other types of punishment that are used to control behavior, though, which we tend to overlook.

    For instance: social ostracization. We have very strict and complicated rules governing everything from eye contact to the appropriate progression of discussion topics. If someone violates these rules, it’s not a crime, but we still try to make them get hurt a little. For things like inappropriate conversation progression or eye contact, they’ll be accused of obsession with a topic, or their sexuality will be called into question in a way that makes them uncomfortable. In more serious cases of someone violating norms in a way we disapprove of, we will inflict viral misinformation against them - this is where you see stuff like slander and decontextualized quotes used to harm someone’s reputation or career. At this point, you’re usually not trying to discourage that person’s behavior - you’re trying to make an example out of them, and show others the cost of violating your beliefs of how people should act. 

    Rape is another punishment that is pretty widely accepted in our culture. If you go to prison, for example, it’s taken for granted that you’re going to get raped. People don’t complain about this a lot, probably because they recognize that prison on its own looks like a pretty good deal for a lot of people - it’s a warm place to sleep and three state-funded meals a day. The fear of rape is regarded as one of the things that makes prison an effective punishment. You also see this fear of rape used in politics - any time a conservative politician uses the classic “it was her fault for dressing that way” line, he’s establishing rape as a de-facto punishment someone incurs for violating what he sees as an appropriate dress code. It’s effectively an attempt to weaponize rape as punishment.

    Even death is a pretty common punishment in our culture. Like, even outside arguments of capital punishment, we are taught that you simply don’t walk certain places at night, or reach into your pockets in the wrong way, or make any sudden movements when a cop pulls you over, or things like that. We recognize that, yes, if you do these things then you're probably going to die. Like rape, it’s also something that’s been politicized in the past - if you’ve ever read the beautifully dated “Homosexuality: Legitimate Alternate Deathstyle”, the comic’s whole premise is that if you’re gay you will die. It’s not used as a statement of “we should do something about HIV”, but instead as a political statement that you really shouldn’t be gay. In general, our culture is pretty okay with death as long as the person was doing something we disapprove of.

    And like… sometimes, I just like to think about how fucked up and dangerous our entire culture would seem to an alien visitor. 

    Anyway, the point here is that our culture is utterly terrifying. Outside of the written rules, we have a complex web of social standards and personal beliefs that are enforced through vigilante justice. Good and bad are irrelevant - you just can’t piss off the wrong people, or they’ll come and get you. However, there’s always been one defense to this: anonymity.

    One of the earlier forms of this was confessionals in the Catholic church. People who committed a mortal sin would confidentially tell it to a clergyman who offered them ways to seek absolution without the clergyman judging or hating them. Later on, you also saw the concept of anonymous crime tipping emerge - letting people report a crime in a way that the criminals could not trace it back to them. In both cases, anonymity was being used as a way to encourage positive behavior by inhibiting problematic people who would enforce punishments on it. The tipper or confessor could still be rewarded with the positive feelings of making amends for their wrongdoing or inhibiting a crime, but they were less likely to be punished for it. 

    In some ways, this had a dark side: it’s where we got things like the magazine-clipping ransom letter. In other ways, it got romanticized: we saw fiction stories of superheroes concealing their identity so that criminals could not attack them or their families at home. In all cases, though, anonymity came about as a defense against punishment

    With the advent of the internet, it became easier than ever to conceal your identity. You might be a lowly fry cook by day, but by night you were just a name on a forum like everyone else. At school you might get beat up for being a nerd, but at home you were a Level 50 Paladin in your MMO guild. Nobody could hurt you for what you were or did while wearing a mask.

    On top of this, people discovered that they could have their identity completely concealed to the point of not even having a persistent online name, and it would still be psychologically rewarding to interact with people. Under complete anonymity, people could act and take chances without even the fear that their beloved Level 50 Paladin would be punished for it in their stead. 

    In a hostile and punishment-driven world where you could have all your career aspirations permanently destroyed by holding a conversation topic for a sentence too long, people realized that they could be invincible. They just needed to put on a mask.

    Fighting Faceless

    As long as there is punishment, there will be anonymity. The very act of punishment gives people two options: they can meet the punisher’s demands, or they can learn to defend against it. Anonymity represents the latter: people weakening the effectiveness of punishment. For better or for worse, an anonymous individual can act without personally suffering negative consequences.  

    This, I think, is where most people falter in their attempts to fight anons. Anonymity is a defense against punishment. They are still susceptible to everything else. 

    For a lot of people, this can be a kind of disconcerting experience as they realize exactly how much they rely on threats and coercion to control others. Sometimes, this is a very big sign you are doing something wrong - if you rely on bullying or slander to control others, you will have a very hard time controlling an anon culture. Other times, it’s a bit more innocuous - if you rely on institutional laws like DMCA, the inability to punish people in an anon culture who violate it can be frustrating. 

    External punishments still affect them. You can threaten to hurt someone an anon cares about, or destroy something they love - all the standard villain tactics that work against masked superheroes also carry over here pretty well. Of course, this is also a really stupid thing to do, since it provides them with positive reinforcement in the form of moral justification

    This highlights an important point, though: moral justification does affect them. Feeling like they made a positive difference affects them. Heck, any kind of positivity or reward affect them.

    Like I mentioned above, anonymity is a defense against punishment, and everything that isn’t punishment is fair game. You can reinforce positive behavior, evoke feelings of righteousness, reward them with things they want, and even influence them with empathy and camaraderie. You can control them or stop them or anything like that, and it’s really not that hard. Most people outside of me wouldn’t even call this “manipulation”. It's kindness. They’re incredibly susceptible to it. 

    The Big Twist

    So, you know all that stuff I just wrote about controlling anons? It also works on normal people. In fact, it works better than coercion.

    Like I mentioned earlier, we often don’t recognize the degree to which we rely on fear and punishment as a culture. We’re accustomed to it, and those of us lucky enough to be born with social aptitude can navigate these complex interpersonal relationships with relative comfort. Someone’s reactions and strategies in their first encounter with an anon culture can be a telling indicator of how much said person relies on punishment - or even the ways in which they rely on punishment. It can be a humbling experience, having a branch of manipulation tactics suddenly cut off from you, but you become more powerful because of it.

    Anonymity and similar defenses against punishment are an ingrained part of our culture that will not be going away any time soon, and your success these days will largely depend on your ability to adapt to them. Services like Steam, for example, are viable in the modern age because they try to combat the unpunishable forces of piracy by providing better service than the pirates can. They rely on reinforcement rather than punishment, and it works. Meanwhile, companies that try to enforce punishments slowly dry up and die. 

    And not only is it economically non-viable, but a reliance on coercion can be dangerous and self-deceptive. As I said at the very beginning, the opinions people present around others differ from the opinions they present under the veil of anonymity, and their actual habits are better reflected by the latter. Someone might share your political beliefs when they see how you treat people who disagree with you, for example, but you have no idea what that person is doing when they enter a voting booth and gain their anonymity. If they are siding with you out of fear, you can bet they’re secretly fighting you when consequences are removed. Thanks to the very existence of anonymity, all coercion does is obscure your knowledge of who’s on your side and who isn’t. When the masks are on, the rules are different.

    I think that’s what makes anon cultures so interesting to me. For all their depravedness and hostility, they largely represent a place in which punishment is less effective. The cultural differences that emerge from that are neat - not entirely positive, nor entirely negative, but certainly different. I think the world would benefit from more people learning the techniques to effectively control anons, because they carry over into about everything. People in an anon culture are no different from normal people, other than being more resistant to the cheapest of manipulation strategies. 

    That’s not to say I think anonymity creates the end-all perfect culture or anything like that, but it’s definitely an interesting step that is worth learning from. In particular it’s important to know how to respond to it, since elements and effects of of anonymity are only becoming more prevalent as time goes on. 

    Anonymity and the idea of consequence-free social interaction might be be scary, but as long as you understand how it works, it’s relatively harmless and there’s nothing to be afraid of. If nothing else, it’s simpler and safer than the world you’re living in now.

    I don’t usually talk about politics, but I’m reblogging this old post due to its relevance to current events. 

    Like I explain above, our culture relies very heavily on social punishments. We often get people to do what we want through threats of ostracization, threats of placing derogatory labels, or even threats against someone’s employment status or social connections. However, anonymity exists as a defense against punishment. When anonymity is granted, punishments cannot be executed against the anonymous party, and the threat of punishment therefore carries no coercive value. If anything, the attempted threat may lead the anonymous party to act against the manipulator out of spite.

    Places like 4chan are an example of what happens when you build an entire culture around anonymity, but anonymity exists in many other places to a lesser degree. A very important one we tend to forget about is public elections

    I live in a guaranteed blue state. I’ll readily admit I voted for Jill Stein this election because 1.) I agree with her political views and 2.) my state’s ten electoral votes are going to the democrats either way, so the only way my vote can make a difference is by trying to help my favored party get the 5% they need for federal funding. The only thing I could’ve done to further influence this election was write a guide on how to control anonymous people, which I did. If you tried to influence people’s voting decisions using the sort of tactics that anonymity provides a defense against, a failure to adequately influence those people is your fault. There is no other way to put it. 

    Something being your fault isn’t bad. It means you have control over it, and that - even if you use that control poorly - your decisions can make a difference. Yet already, I’m seeing a lot of people blaming the election outcome on things completely outside their influence. They’ll say Donald  Trump won because the US had a massive, undefeatable horde of racists going out to vote, or because too many people voted third-party (really guys, if you looked up how the voting system works, maybe we’d get that 5%). Too few people are willing to accept that this outcome is largely because the Democratic party used tactics that do not work in an anonymous environment. All the people who said they’d vote for Hillary Clinton out of fear of being labeled a bigot and gave us those polls estimating her at a 90% chance of victory went out and voted against her as soon as anonymity was granted. Heck, a lot of your friends who are lamenting Clinton’s loss probably actually voted for Donald Trump. As a worthless greenie who writes about the importance of anonymity and makes a point about not judging people for their political views, people admit their votes to me. And you wouldn’t believe some of the people who are lying for the sake of their personal safety and friendships. 

    It’s okay to be upset if you did not get the outcome you wanted, but it’s also important to start thinking ahead for 2020. People are already falling into attacks and stigma mechanics against Trump supporters, further biasing their own data and inhibiting their ability to isolate where rhetoric is most necessary. Not only that, I already see a lot of people operating under the assumption that Trump’s presidency is going to be so bad that the democratic candidate is going to win 2020 by default. In the event that his presidency is not that bad, it’s going to decimate the credibility of many people opposing him (and with the amount of doomsaying going on, “not that bad” is a very easy bar for him to surmount). And don’t forget, with the level of stigmatization from the left surrounding Trump support, further stigmatization makes it increasingly unlikely that Trump supporters (or even undecideds who fell on his side) are going to flip. Discovering your tactics to be ineffective is not a good time to double down on them, and assuming disaster should not be your sole plan for victory.

    Like I said in the post I reblogged, the rules are different when masks are on. The mechanics you ordinarily rely on to to control behavior will not necessarily work when punishment tactics are disabled. These are observable facts of human behavior, and to disregard them is not an act of protest - it’s an act of surrender. Don’t do that! If you want to be the “shepherd of the masked”, it falls upon you to engage in the behaviors that facilitate it. 


    The sad thing about the WaPo’s sensationalist story about the Russians supposedly hacking Vermont’s power grid is that our power grid is, in fact, really susceptible to that sort of hacking. If the Russians wanted to put significant effort into it, they could get inside our power grid. That’s one of the weak points of US national security you don’t hear about much.

    I hear about it all the time, actually. I’ve just never heard of anybody with the ability do anything about it accomplish anything but hemming and hawing. I feel like we’ve reached a point where the done thing is to use a potential problem to scare people into doing unrelated shit until something actually goes wrong, and then you can maybe fix it while you push in more unrelated shit.




    so in the halo tabletop im hosting, everything, literally everything has gone to shit. 

    Except for the adventures of the UNSC Clint Eastwood. The Eastwood is a frigate which, after taking a direct hit from a Covenant cruiser immediately murdered that cruiser with a one-two punch, dodged three plasma torpedoes, and escaped. 

    Shouldn’t it be the UNSC Make My Day?

    Listen. The USNC Eastwood escaping the godawful fucking naming conventions of USNC vessels is proof of its high luck. Do not question this.

    UNSC Get Off My Lawn

    So, I think things were happening before this, but they are FUCKING gone. I’m playing/inside some amazing VR version of Street Fighter. I’m Ryu, getting tag teamed by Ken and Zangief for some reason. The arena is a huge, deep grotto; basically a tubular, moss-covered cliff face broken by waterfalls and such. I say grotto instead of cave because the sun is streaming in through a hole high above, and we get near it when either me or Ken does a shoryuken. Because of this, lots of the battle takes place in the air, and  there’s way more time for that than in an actual fighting game. Rather than throwing any discrete moves, everyone is attacking and blocking in cinematic fluidity as the camera spins around like one of those lazy ass “things are happening!” shots in an anime.

    I can’t remember if I won or not. I do know that after the end of the match, I saw some kind of demo where Zangief’s head got smashed into mangled, silly-looking meat, and I thought this looked so ridiculous and amusing that I decided to make it my “skin” for a little while, which turned several elements in the environment into a cartoonish meaty texture with unnecessary eyes. This sounds creepy, but it really wasn’t. It was too silly.

    I may have spent time in a different game, I can’t recall. Whatever the case, I wound up hiding in a bush in the corner of what turned out to be a schoolyard, or rather a niche of it bounded on three sides by the school’s red brick walls. I noticed a huge google logo in the opposite corner, and found it particularly ghastly in the meat style, so I started dicking around with skins again. Parts of the bush turned into these horrible little black droplet things reaching toward me. They looked almost like giant sperm with their tails attached to the leaves and branches, their fat heads floating around like lazy balloons, but definitely straining towards my direction, and some of them making weird noises. Peeping? Honking? I can’t remember. It scared the pure shit out of me, so I got out of the bush, at which point it also looked completely silly. It was just unsettling to have happen all around you when you weren’t expecting it.

    I explained to my friend (who I apparently now had) about the logo and the horrible bush thing, which she couldn’t see any of because skins are player-specific. I didn’t entirely think of it as that at the time, because even though stuff got a lot more game-ish later, at this point it wasn’t clear if I was in a game or if I was just in a reality with fantastic elements, like my friend occasionally being some kind of beautiful, floaty, glowy ghost… membrane… thing. In her human form, she was a bookish sort with short, curly hair. Basically slightly more feminine and personable than Pat from Saturday Night Live.

    We talked excitedly about… things. Things to do with games? Even while I was experiencing this it was kind of glossed over, like an auditory version of how most of the time when you read things in dreams you just know what it says (or even just how you’d feel about reading it) instead of seeing the words. Anyway, she’s clearly interested in it, but keeps kind of drifting away from me. I start to get the sense that this is the sort of dynamic where she’s embarassed about being into this stuff and wants to return to the normal world, away from me. Because I’m so excited about this stuff and her, I shrug off this intuition as me worrying unnecessarily and follow her around while continuing the conversation. We eventually reach a covered walkway outside the cafeteria where everyone else is standing. She enters the building by squeezing through an impossibly narrow gap in the wall. We look at each other across this gap in surprise. Apparently neither of us expected her ghost powers to still work.

    I ask her to come back out to test if that’s what’s happening, and she just walks back through as though the walls aren’t even there. We both marvel at this for a moment and then notice that nobody else is noticing. I start to become concerned that others can’t perceive her, or that she can’t become tangible at all. I tell her to try to get some of the other students’ attention and when she doesn’t seem to, we play around with it. She has some sugar or something, and she starts flicking it out of her hand. We laugh at how people seem to only notice the sugar spraying around everywhere.

    In this next bit I’m no longer sure exactly which person is which. One of us is getting a beatdown from a huge bully who is upset about our mischief. The other confronts them and tells them to stop. Unable to really do much else after retraining his attention, I (whoever I am) tell him to hit me instead, and he does. A lot. Very badly. I let out a mournful cry. This cry has an effect similar to something from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: in that book, when any living being is very distressed, they emit a telepathic signal which communicates to all present exactly how far away from home they are, something which people in a planetbound culture like the natives of Earth wouldn’t ever be aware of because the effect is too small. This signal is received by a bat. This bat and the rest of the bats he’s hanging out with (ha) are my friends who I saved in another game at some point in the past. I am now controlling this bat, leading the colony to my rescue across a great distance.

    Unlike most video game dreams, I am actually aware of a controller in my hands. Specifically, I am aware of screwing this part up by holding one of the triggers down too long or something, going under instead of over a huge tunnel with a busy road going through it, and getting hit by a car. I have to restart this part a couple times before I get it right. When I finally do, I don’t fare much better; close to our objective, there’s a constant hail of artillery which withers our numbers, until we finally arrive next to the poor girl (who is now much more attractive, gothy punk-style, unaware of my existence, and trapped behind some kind of broken wall) with only one last bat.

    She is obviously distraught at this. She loses all hope and begins to cry. Nearby are a couple birds, kind of like ravens but with much longer beaks with orange streaks. I remember kind of watching this scene from the outside, and hoping that one of the birds would help her. One of them eventually hops over towards her, and she starts gently caressing its beak. Suddenly, the bird turns into some kind of crazy red demon. I can scarcely remember exactly how this plays out, but it turns out there’s other demons there, and the girl fucking trashes them. All the demons are very brightly colored, and their powers are in their fingers, which they trade around like currency and stretch out to make most of the form that you face in battle. (I don’t see that happening, I just know it as a fact in this reality.) Because of their colors and stretchiness, the effect while she fights them is similar to pulling taffy. After they’re defeated, she notices that they tried to attack her with a braid of two different colors and she decides to try that.

    While she’s collecting demon taffy to braid, the setting changes: she’s in the cluttered back room of a small, closed store in New York. She comes out from behind all the junk and into the main lobby. A mailman is there. I can’t remember if a conversation took place or not. Anyway, the mailman turns out to be involved in what’s going on outside: suddenly Eddie Murphy is a cop chasing a guy, and the mailman is helping him. (?) I rationalize that the mailman has a gun because he must be an undercover cop and so that becomes reality and everything starts to become much more like a scene in a movie where that might happen, complete with a funky soundtrack. Eddie Murphy chases a guy across the road, a car driven by another villain barely misses him, and Eddie Murphy shoots the guy he was chasing. This is the end of the action, the music stops, and I jump out of the scene.

    Out of the movie entirely, in fact. I’m on a couch in a room, somewhere. There’s not even a TV this movie could’ve been playing on. I am laughing hysterically. For the next several minutes, I’m trying (badly) to explain to my father (was he even there?) why I think it’s absolutely goddamn hilarious when the NYPD shoot black people in movies, without sounding racist. My reasoning is thus: the big joke is that it happens way more often than it does in real life, which is a Huge Statement. After repeating this explanation several times to… is anyone even in the room? Fucked if I know. Anyway after a laughing fit that has me completely in stitches and rubbing tears out of my eyes, I open them. Ludacris is leaping at me from across the room, in super slow motion. As he hangs in the air, inches from my face, he holds a hypodermic needle poised to jab me in the nose. I spend a few seconds paralyzed with fear, then he just licks my nose, floats back down onto his feet, and walks away. I am so shocked by this turn of events that I wake up.

    Anonymous asked :What do you think about notch's twitter implosion going on now? He's admitting he's done basically every drug imaginable and telling everyone to do a ton of LSD asked :


    Notch has 2 billion dollars.

    That is a number that the human brain cannot actually really even deal with.

    Like, we read that, and we think we parse it, but we don’t really.

    Even a billion dollars is so much money that a person would struggle to spend it in a life time. You could live in the utmost luxury, forever, and not spend even half that. Maybe not even a tenth.

    Notch has twice what is essentially ‘infinite money’.

    He is so rich that nothing can ever actually happen to him. He is above literally everything. Even the complete collapse of society could probably be weathered by him, with that much money.

    My point being, no shit he’s going nuts, he’s realized all this and has realized he can say and do whatever he wants without anybody able to do shit to him, and I don’t think anybody can be that rich and not go nuts.

    How the hell does that even qualify as an implosion

    Doing a shitload of drugs used to be seen as completely normal programmer behavior








    I had an idea recently about how someone should make “the most American gun ever”.

    It would be an AR-15 with a US flag design, and at least two magazines. One magazine with the Constitution printed on it, the other with the Bill of Rights.


    Needs a cheeseburger and steak dispenser. 

    You are your own cheeseburger and steak dispenser.

    Unless you’re telling me you’re so un-American you don’t know how to cook either of those things.

    Oh no, I can make my own food, I just think it’d be cool to have those on a gun, too.

    Can we at least give it a beer holster on the side? 

    I mean you can, if you want.

    Personally I would want liquor, so I’d need a shot glass on it.

    Needs an eagle perch hanging off the side. Also built in speakers for playing America Fuck Yeah and Danger Zone.

    “One magazine with the Constitution printed on it, the other with the Bill of Rights.”


    It should have an underslung 1911.

    Then you can engrave the Bill of Rights on that and the rest of the Constitution on the AR.