Anonymous, 4chan, and how Cut for Bieber pushes trolling to the limit of lulz (whatever that means)

There is no such thing as an amoral force on the internet, despite what pranksters say

Share

Part of me finds Operation Cut for Bieber pretty droll. At least the concept of it - encouraging ‘Beliebers’ to cut themselves and post the results on social media in protest against their hero’s alleged weed-smoking - is so disproportionate, it makes the stomach drop a bit like something out of Fight Club, or any other black satire on human nature (people fat in your soap, anyone?).

Plus, as a target for an internet prank, the ‘Belieber phenomenon’ seems fair game, striking as it does a high point in the commercialisation of teenage desire. The problem here – and the point at which this whole farce becomes just flat and depressing and really not funny at all – is the target isn’t the “Belieber phenomenon” (whatever 4chan’s users may claim). It’s teenage kids. Gullible ones. But ones who, if they were your Karaoke-mad little sibling, you’d be mightily mightily angry were being prompted to slice through their skin for the amusement of some internet neckbeards.

4chan is a weird place. Its /b/ forum gave birth to the hacking group known as Anonymous, and is gleefully known as the “asshole of the internet”. Though largely off-radar, it has reached a top 50 position on the most visited sites on the web. User experience runs on a rhythm like this: gross, gross, racist, funny, racist, depressing, funny, illegal. A typical and much parroted line from its Rules of the Internet specifies “if it exists, there is porn of it” (and proof abounds. Anybody who digs a sub-section of pterodactyl pornography will find their nirvana here). In sum any prolonged exposure to the forum will make newbies (or “newfags”) want to pour a cup of Cif through their eyeballs and decamp to where Wifi can never, ever reach.

But, pranks. Sometimes Anonymous or /b/ or whoever it is gets them right. An earlier incarnation of Operation Cut for Bieber spread the rumour, through fake Twitter accounts like ‘Entertainment Tonight’, that Justin had contracted cancer, and encouraged his fans to go #BaldforBieber - cue some dubious images of bald teenage girls. Run this through the sibling test and it’s still funny: if a lesson learned painfully, via the medium of beanie hats.

Stunts like this, and other recent headliners, such as spamming TIME magazine’s online poll for “Person of the Year” to leave Kim Jong Un top, are useful in so far as they remind internet users that the web is more vulnerable, more open to manipulation, and with a darker underside than most of us realise as we trundle from Facebook to Google and back. Others – like attacking Mastercard and Paypal over Wikileaks – could even be considered admirable.

People who take a forgiving attitude to /b/ and Anonymous note that, in the past, the site’s hive-mind has appeared conscious of the line between online attacks and real-life pain (at least in the physical sense). Part of 4chan folklore is the story of a user who posted a photo of someone wearing stilettos and stomping on a cat’s head, an image that raised such fury users tracked down the culprit simply through details visible in the photo, before alerting police.

In the case of Operation Cut for Bieber, however, it seems that the prospect of hurting teenage girls hasn’t raised such a pushback as hurting cats. The site’s hard core will claim that everything Anonymous does is for the “lulz”- humour comes unencumbered by moral considerations. They will claim to be an ectoplasmic body, free from the typical constraints of morality. But the truth is this isn’t the truth. At its roots, /b/ is just a bunch of people, not some impersonal online force. And so long as human beings are involved, morality is too. When it comes down to it, encouraging teenagers to cut themselves is wrong, no matter the context, and a shame on the site that supposedly has none.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen for a Customer ...

Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

Recruitment Genius: Fundraising Manager / Income Generation Coach

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A smart software company locate...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children who fled the violence in the Syrian city of Aleppo play at a refugee camp in Jabaa, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley  

A population bigger than London's has been displaced in Syria, so why has the Government only accepted 90 refugees?

David Hanson
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project