Baking Bread: Rhythm and Substance of 4chan/pol [general]

Team Members

Tim Groot, Silvia Semenzin, Serena Coppolino Perfumi, Ryan Tsapatsaris, Quynh Tu Hoang, Mischa Szpirt, Michael Hockenhull, Lucia Bainotti, Emmy Eklundh, Emilija Jokubauskaite, Elena Aversa, Daniel Bach, Cengiz Salman, Brooklyne Gipson, Beatrice Gobbo, Alex Gekker, Abraham Koshy

Contents

Summary of Key Findings

A mainstay of the 4chan message boards, and in particular on the sub-board /pol/ are "general threads", user-created respositories of links that also act as organising points for discussions of their thematic subject matter. The project performs a comparative analysis of two general threads, one on American President Donald Trump and the other concerned with the Syrian Civil War. It is determined that each general thread has its own temporal rhythm, ecology of associated linked media and users. A group of users called "bakers" are identified as organizers of the "bread" (general threads) make a selection of source and update general threads following specific guideline (specific number of threads).

1. Introduction

In the past several years, vernacular interpretations of political events, as developed by fringe Internet communities, seem to have acquired an enormous influence. By vernacular interpretations we understand the reappropriation of politics to serve as a “building blocks” for emergent meme-based world views.This project continues a line of research from the last few DMI schools as well as the Tracking New-Right Anti-Immigrant Narratives & Vernaculars sprint, held at the DMI by the Open Intelligence Lab in May of 2018. The focus of these projects have been to understand how users of the far-right forum 4chan /pol/ create novel tactics concerned with collaboratively shaping narratives based on the platforms affordances.

During the 2018 Winter school, one of these tactics were shown to be interesting, namely the idea of “general posts”. These posts serves as a way for the community to curate and accumulate a narrative about ongoing events, such as the war in Syria, or about something completely made up, like the conspiracy surrounding Pizzagate (https://digitalmethods.net/Dmi/WinterSchool2018DeepVernacularWebAltRight#Theory%20Delirium:%20How%204chan/pol/%20Cooked-up%20Pizzagate).

This communal curation of facts creating certain narratives allows for a look into both the organization tactics as well as the worldview of the far-right community of 4chan /pol/. Researching how their narratives are accumulated and what they are constructed of will allow for a greater understanding of the elements of which the far-right lifeworlds are build, how their social order exists in the ephemeral space of 4chan and how the building of lifeworlds and social order creates a mobilized network of dubious facts and far-right activists.

Previous projects have been built primarily on a basis of computationally reliant digital methods approaches. These have created a basis of knowledge for the 4chan research carried out at the DMI in the past few years. This research has not escaped the prying eyes of the users of 4chan /pol/.

Among other interesting suggestions and comments made by the channers, one point stood clear to the facilitators of this project: To understand the minutiae of 4chan culture ethnographic methods would have to be employed

Therefore, a focus of this project will be an attempt to formulate a methodology for combining digital methods with ethnographic methods with an added focus on experimenting with participatory observation.

2. Initial Data Sets

  • Trump - 2 weeks
    • Gender reading: comments and photographs: entire archive
    • June 20 - June 21 - 24 hrs period, combing through all the comments - signing the executive order, news of the event, after it's rolled back.
    • Duration of a thread - the vitality/ longevity of the general thread.
  • Syria - 2 weeks
    • tracing original
    • all links depth 1 crawl

3. Research Questions

How should "general post" culture of 4chan's board /pol/ be understood and characterized:

  1. In terms of rhythm

  2. In terms of substance

  3. In terms of epistemology

4. Methodology

In order to investigate the outlined research questions, and drawing on previous DMI Summer School work on the topic (https://digitalmethods.net/Dmi/WinterSchool2018DeepVernacularWebAltRight#Theory%20Delirium:%20How%204chan/pol/%20Cooked-up%20Pizzagate), it was decided to focus on the so-called "general threads" of the 4chan board /pol/, or, politically incorrect. These threads are features of the platform which are the previous researcher had pointed to as serving the function of organising collective activity and speculation amongst 4chan users. In line with a general digital methods approach {Rogers:2013uf}, it was decided to take seriously this aspect of the medium and use it as a means through which to understand the social life of the platform. As general threads typically are topic specific, it was decided to focus on two particular threads: the president trump general (/ptg) and the general thread concerning the Syrian civil war (/sg). Unlike previous summer school research into 4chan and the pizzagate general thread which had been active for a short period around a particular controversy, these were ongoing threads that were regularly reposted and interacted with by /pol/ users.

The research was split into two main groups covering the respective threads, and these groups further subdivided themselves to focus on specific issues pertaining to the threads. In both of the groups of variety of ethnographic close-readings and computational approaches were used. At one point an intervention into the site - 4chan's /pol/ board - was also executed in an attempt to enter into dialogue with the users of the site itself.

5. Findings

  • Minimaping the different rationlisations for the executive order.
  • Syria: A list of external sources that frame the narrative.
    • Wordpress w/ conspiracy theories claiming to be a core actors of a movemnet: taking ownership of the movement
  • General: media ecology of sites, with the general thread acting as a "stabilizing element" of the external information.

6. Discussion

Discuss and interpret the implications of your findings and make recommendations for future research and application, be it societal, academic or technical (or some combination).

7. Conclusions

Present a summary of what you have found, and its significance.

8. References

List your references in a standard academic bibliographic format.
Topic revision: r5 - 28 Aug 2018, MichaelHockenhull
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