User investment and behavior policing on 4chan
Keywords:internet, 4chan, online community, virtual community, behavior policing, community boundaries
In this paper I explore the posting habits of anonymous users of the “Sports” (/sp/) board of the infamous American imageboard 4chan. Through qualitative analysis of the content of various posts, I argue that, contrary to the purported ideology and discourse of anonymity associated with controversial, anonymous online spaces like 4chan, users of the site are in fact highly invested in delimiting and policing the borders of what counts as “acceptable” posting behavior within the community, and are also eager to defend themselves from accusations of unfamiliarity with the mores of the community’s subcultural practices. These findings are remarkable given that anonymous users gain no consistent reputation among their fellow users by taking part in these practices and have nothing to risk in terms of community prestige. I conclude that member registration and expression of a virtual embodied identity are not required for inspiring investment of user energy in preserving and enforcing the boundaries and culture of a virtual community, and that anonymous spaces like 4chan actually have more in common with communities that depend on persistent user identity than they care to admit.
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