Blog Post

DML2011 liveblog: The Politics of User-Generated Content

With Mizuko Ito (Moderator), Finn Brunton, Jonathan McIntsoh, Andres Monroy-Hernandez.

Mimi Ito kicks off; credits danah boyd with putting together the panel. Industry calls this user generated content, but as educators etc we look at online spaces for amateurs and various groups to connect, mobilize, find others who share interests and identities and to create new forms. Networked spaces offer possibilities for peer based learning and for collective action & mobilization. Drive participation and engagement.

Cases raised by this panel raise questions and problematics: about how you design, engineer, encourage uses of these opportunities in ways that are productive for learning. Very different from traditional education. Point is to give users and players more control, authority decentered; how to infuse these spaces with positive values that lead to outcomes we care about?

Complicated relationship with commercial entities that run spaces.

Panelists will give short examples to illustrate complicated dynamics discussion can explore. 


Jonathan McIntosh introduces himself: remix artist, spends a lot of time on YouTube. 

Plays Right Wing Radio Duck:  Million views on YouTube.

Then plays Glenn Beck's response as an introduction to himself. "This took some time, some talent and some money... best made propaganda I have ever seen. I want to show you what was on his website--pop culture hacker, new media educator, *social justice* (in tone of disgust)" and horror at federal funding. Beck is looking into it.

Other remix projects of his: gendered advertising remixer, Buffy Meets Edward. 


Andres Monroy-Hernandex, MIT Media Lab. making tools for youth to remix content. 

What actually happens when kids get involved in remix & sharing -- as opposed to when we just talk about it? Conflicted relationships within communities of amateur creators--when people remix one another and create on top of one another's projects. How to design communities that support remixing and balance those tensions?

Scratch: tool that allows people to remix and create, and to share their creations. Many remixes are remixed from other projects on the community.

Creators on Scratch are very protective of their work. Capacity to disable remixing -- kids behaving like Disney in not wanting their content to be remixed.

[my comment: coming from creative media fandom, this doesn't surprise me at all. Commercial content is vewerd very differently from fan-made content there, and unauthorised remix or fan fiction using fans' creations is considered very offensive by some.]

System in Scratch shows automatically when someone remixes a project; this increased the number of complaints when users saw the unauthorized remixes. Puzzled the MIT team; a distinction was perceived between attribution--something a website might do automatically--and credit--a thank you note purposefully added by the creator. Credit created a connection that was more appreciated by original creators. A distinction between using something and "copying" made by 15year old user Amy.

For designers: how to give control--to creators or to their audience? How to balance that? By default in Scratch everything is open, everything is creative commons. But some creators are not happy and some of the most active creators have left because of this.


Finn Brunton, "the ambassador from Mordor"--amid all these cool ways to repurpose digital artifacts, he's here to talk about 4chan. What do we do with extreme forms of creativity.

Warning: 4chan is the most broadly offensive artifact that has ever been produced in the history of human media! Bear this in mind if you're checking it out in the office...

Structure of 4chan: anon image sharing forums first featured in Japanese language internet. 2 Channel/2chan's creator described in (late 90s) 'delivering news without taking any risk. ... people can only really discuss something honestly when they don't know each other'.  

4 years later, 4chan emerges from Chris Poole's bedroom. Persistent pseudonymity is possible in the system but it's 90% anonymous and very few use a persistent pseud. Content is ephemeral, not archived by the site  itself. 11 pages of threads, as new threads are added old ones disappear. Front page live time for a thread often 5 seconds and time up at all 5 minutes -- only way to continue threads is if they are active. Threads are started with an image that vanishes when the site disappears; only what poeple like enough to download will last. Crudely Darwinian creativity.

4chan has 44 boards... your heart must go out for the other 43 that are not /b/. /b/ the least moderated, an endless well of self referential black humor. The absolure antithesis of the pro-social values that Mimi was describing. Impossible to maintain attribution.

Social rules created in technical structure: old vs new users are identified via tricks, slang. From 4chan comes Anonymous, now politicized via Scientology, Wikileaks, Egypt and Libya support.

5 minutes ago: IRC channel for Anonymous group working on Libya. Started a pirate pad to draft declaration of recognition of Libyan People's Council -- to declare that anyone messing with the Libyan people will face the wrathe of Anonymous. Highbrow language immediately deleted with REMEMBER THE LULZ / KEEP IT OLD SCHOOL and commenters remarking that this is why they don't do anonymous collaboration, since most anons can't be trusted to act like grownups...


Q from Mimi Ito: what are the indicators of community health?

Jonathan: For, spends a lot of time on YouTube looking at remixes. Lots of communities are on YT, some only there and some off. Can talk about a particular community's health or that of YouTube as a whole. Fair use of copyright material on YT faces takedown notices, an unstable place -- YT makes holes in its communities' archives. Takedowns are a vertical, negative form of accountability--but there are more horizontal forms of accountability among YT communities to deal with eg trolls, hate speech; and ways people can moderate in comments, blocking or moving up or down. YT's tools were not built to prevent harrassment & horizontal community could be better suppored in design.

Andres: what are a given community's objectives? Individuals looking for reputation intersecting with other agendas. Who do you give control to? A central authority or a decentralized group.

Finn: group solidarity can be very high, fun and internal cohesion, whether making an encyclopedia or trying to make someone else's life hell!

The Well, 80s internet group, struggle over doctrine of 'you own your own words'--that if words are used against users' will, not the Well's responsibility. Part of this was also giving users power to delete their own words -- leading to one sided conversations, holes in archives as in YT takedowns. Unresolved questions: is there a collective ownership or responsibility in participation?

4chan likened by art historian friend of Finn to the workers on Cologne Cathedral, all unnamed and happy to be so for the glory of God...

Connecting to the question of health. Reading history of crowd theory in c19/c20: large collectivities in prior orders. Are there commonalities, ways to see what's distinctively different? The open crowd vs the closed crowd: bringing people in (accumulation of mob) and in danger of dispersing; or sacrificing permeability for permanence. Harder for someone to leave when they have earned their way into a system. Friction between desire to bring people in and the desire for coherency, to establish in and out groups. 4chan seems like it should be the ultimate open crowd experience but it's the ultimate closed crowd...

Mimi: comparing to earlier panel with Wikipedia, Mozilla, Creative Commons and "community entitlement"; the friction invilved in maintaining open systems. That rules of engagement are not written into the system does not mean that it is not there. Horizontal policing. [me: Foucault!]

Pros and cons of a more structured-from-above form?

Jonathan: structure doesn't have to be formalized to be oppressive, and formal structures don't dictate practice. In YT there's often community mentorship for new makers, even though the structures of the space are draconian in terms of copyright violation (3 strikes and you're out, losing all your history and friends etc). Users share what to do if you get taken down.

Compares to women's movement in 60s critiquing formal leftist structures; feminist "structureless" spaces & the tyranny of structurelessness, informal hierarchies based on unrecognized social structures of patriarchy, racism, homohobia  etc. Need to build a conscious structure to keep oneself horizontal. Cites 1970s Jo Freeman essay: 

Andres: designing for youth, the question always is how much control do you want to give to kids? Miscellaneous forums on Scratch developed their own cultures, which the team eventually gave their own space with moderators from the group ('you will have this space as long as you keep in under control')

Finn: rich history of anarchism and libertarianism lies in the background of the ways the internet is culturally conceived. We assume the best forms will develop by themselves -- which might not be the case, but forms can still emerge bottom up from communities rather than being dropped in from elsewhere.

Terrible offense on 4chan: scolding. But perceived as sometimes necessary--call goes out for moral fags, the boring souls required to determine that something is bad, when something considered truly egregious happens. Standards from within community rather than arbitrated by outsiders.

Mimi: who speaks and who is silenced? Must pay attention to the culture of the internet and to what goes unnoticed in it. Gender: one of the most resilient stratums of internet participation, becomes even more apparent in the seemingly lawless communities.

Jonathan: this isn't just an issue on the internet. Hiding behind anonymity can let people bring up things they wouldn't under their real name, but it shows what was there anyway; can't solve the problem online without also solving it in the real world. The constant threats that feminist bloggers and bloggers calling attention to racism, any social justice issues, face.

Andres: animations made often by girls are derogated by makers of games-- 'no coding involved'. 35% female site; projects that are voted to front page by popularity are less likely to be animations. 

Finn: is filled with despair when thinking about managing the gender equity problems on 4chan. Off the scale misogyny and homophobia. There are female and queer users who band together and post as themselves, but atmosphere overwhelmingly toxic. Can't think about how to deal with that without addressing the long histories of oppressions and violence.

Q: lots of energy directed at getting rid of anonymity online at the moment; identity that will follow you online. What will the results of that be--inc for people who have RL reasons to look for anonymity or to have more than one identity. 

Andres: Google statement: 3 degrees of web interaction: anonymous, persistent pseudonymity, real name. (your full name now showing up when you're logged in to Google).

Q: anonymity used to discredit online activism (not putting your name on the line therefore not important?)

Finn: involved in a long ongoing argument with journalists and lawyers about Wikileaks. Leaks won't be centralized for much longer... Many argue that better leaks come out when the leaker knows they are putting themself in danger. My David Cameron project ( ); hacked Conservative posters, selected for media consumption, caused lots of arguments in the community of producers. 

Jonathan: it depnds where your point of intervention is; civil disobedience different than cultural activism, if you're trying to change a story as one of lots of people doing the same thing, connection to an individual identity not necessarily so important. Not either/or.

Finn: NYU dissertation on 'improper names' adopted as cover for collective actions--eg Wu Ming, King Ludd. Speaking on behalf of a collectivity while enjoying a certain aspect of personal defense.

Q from feminist blogger: spends a lot of time tightening security, the boys club of Anonymous doesn't like to be challenged, feminists' names and images often end up in gross positions. 

Finn: online activism at stage similar to many US movements in 60s, where end goals might be admirable but internal movement politics are deeply misogynist. Not sure what shape a non-hate-laden Anonymous would take... but this could be the moment for its arrival?

Andres: 4chan's use of fag, diluting the meaning & using language to be oppositional to mainstream perception of political correctness, to front as antisocial and tough. Finn: fag has become frequent term of self identification on 4chan. Jonathan: word also used on YouTube; it doesn't necessarily mean gay (but always used to emasculate/attack). Buffy vs Edward partly in response to Edward being called a sparklefag -- JM articulating that the problem is not that Edward is weak or not violent enough. It's that he's a stalker.

Q: works with schoolchildren in MMO, creating positive environment by relentless moderation. Can only work to a certain scale. What features work well at preventing negativity?

Andres: rely on community to flag offensive content & on crowd--a certain number of flags = automatic deletion. And featuring users who curate etc: aspirational for others.

Jonathan: some of the places he lives online, like his website, are completely moderated (he has many enemies including Glenn Beck); works as a deterrant when comments don't show up. On YT, different moderation depending on the content of the video. Strategies for people who disrupt your space: try to bring them into your value set or kick them out. Need to use both at different times.

Andres: some users set up a separate website to troll against Scratch, which Scratch can't do anything about; one of the most challenging elements of moderation. Individual websites are part of wider ecology.

Finn: before Bittorrent, filesharing happened via hard drives in the mail. Linking between new people and sponsors, so people will bring in trusted friends and make sure they stick to norms. MMOs building kill worlds for players who wanted a hideous bloodbath--spaces in which to be an asshole. Metafilter: costs $5 and has two full time moderators. Flickr: modeling good behaviour. In early days, new users would be welcomed with comments etc that modeled good behaviour.

Mimi; Theresa Neilsen Haydn has demonstrated best moderation practices: disemvowelling, IP techniques where posters see their own posts but no one else does, others.

Audience: ideas for YT moderation: replace cusswords with flowers and sunshine.


No comments