Anonymity on 2channel

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

Click here to 2channel (Japanese)
2channel (2ch or "nichan" in Japanese) is not only Japan's largest, but arguably the biggest online forum in the world today with one million posts a day (Furukawa) on more than 800 active boards (Bovee and Cvitkovic). You can find any kind of topic that you can think of, even vicious and horrific information about murders, weapons, drugs, and poison. What is this site is most known for in Japan is, however, not its enormous size, but the complete freedom of anonymous posting. Because of this anonymity, there is always a flood of libel and slander on the boards, among which some are brought to court for defamation and privacy infringement. Some users post a death threat and are reported to the police. On the other hand, this is also a place where you can find any information you need. All you have to do is to find out which information is most valuable out of thousands of posts with your Internet literacy. There are much information that would never appear on TV or in newspapers. In a word, the site is nothing but a chaos that Japanese society embodies in itself.

Click here to his interview
According to the founder of 2ch Hiroyuki Nishimura, who started this site in 1999, anonymity is the core of 2ch. With anonymity, "All information is treated equally; only an accurate argument will work." Without it, no one would disclose secret information (Wikipedia). To 2ch's credit, I'd also like to let you know that they have about 150 volunteers who delete illegal postings based on their deleting guidelines (Furukawa) and defined under Japanese laws (Wikipedia). Posts which declare intentions to commit a crime are also reported to the police immediately (Wikipedia). Above all, a person cannot post a comment totally anonymously. 2ch holds IP addresses and other related information that can identify the person who posts a comment through his/her Internet service provider so that the Internet service providers can give the log information to the police on request (Matsutani) (Open proxies are banned from posting on 2ch (Wikipedia)). Then here comes the next question - Is anonymity particular only to this site or does it reflect Japanese tendency to be so?

Japanese tendency to become anonymous online has been discussed by many critics and researchers for a long time. For example, Japanese tend to stay safely within the circle of friends and rarely reveal themselves to strangers, whereas Westerners (especially Americans) live in the identity-centric world of facebook and push themselves hard to the public. Contrast between Westerners and Japanese is often put into other frameworks such as those between West and East, independent and interdependent, autonomy and affiliation, and the most common of all, individualism and collectivism. These kinds of dichotomy are easy to understand and widely held by many people, but there are some critics and researchers who are fairly skeptical about these views. According to them, there are so many social and cultural factors involved in this phenomenon of anonymity. To examine it more in detail, one has to change the paradigm of the analyzing framework. To start with, they introduced the Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects (SIDE model) to check how anonymous the person is on the Web. They set three phases: the lowest degree of anonymity is Visual Anonymity, in which the person still retains some connection to the real life. The second phase is called Dissociation of Identity. In this phase, the person adopts a new online identity such as a handle name or graphical avatar. There is no explicit trace that connects the person to the real world any more. The highest anonymity is Lack of Identification, which seems to perfectly fit the person who posts comments on 2ch anonymously. Media researchers Nicholas Bovee and Robert Cvitkovic point out the feature of the Visual Anonymity stage as follows:
... vidual anonymity encourages individuals to perceive the self and others less as individuals and more as representatives of a social group. This, in turn, sensitizes interactants to the social norms embodied by the group, and fosters group-normative behaviors that are consistent with these social norms. (Bvee and Cvitkovic, Anonymity in Computer-Mediated Communication in Japanese and Western Contexts - Comparisons and Critiques - 2010)
If we apply this rule to the recent political movements through the Internet such as  Arab spring or Occupy Wall street, they may match well. Meanwhile, as I examined in my earlier blog post, Japanese people tend to get together with more task-oriented interest and enjoy enhancing a sense of unity with the group. These Japanese tendencies also seem to match this Visual anonymity phase, don't they? Other social networking websites in Japan have different looks from that of 2ch. The vast majority of Mixi, Japan's biggest SNS which has about 15 million users, do not reveal anything about themselves online. They just use their handle names and avatars (Alabaster). On Yahoo Answers (in Japanese, "Yahoo Chiebukuro"), which is a free community-driven knowledge site provided by Yahoo Japan, almost all the participants do not use an avatar whereas almost all the participants on the same site in the U.S. use a cartoon avatar (Bvee and Cvitkovic). As for Match.com (the world's largest matching site), less than half of the paying members in Japan are willing to post their photos, while nearly all members in the U.S. do (Alabaster). There are several phases of identity disclosure for each one in different online circumstances. It may be difficult to judge the Japanese tendency of becoming anonymous just by picking up one typical example of the phenomenon and examining it.

Still, I 'm quite sure why so many Japanese still have a very negative view of the Internet, or more specifically the social networking sites. Most of this impression attributes to the media coverage on TV and newspaper in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They reported the cases such as insurance murders, group suicide, and prostitution that were triggered by the Internet. All the bad news was described as "the dark side of the Internet" and associated with the Internet and social networking sites. In recent years, many people happen to write about their unlawful or unethical conducts on their blogs, Twitter, or facebook by mistake. For example, a college student confessed that he cheated at the exam and a waitress revealed that a celebrity made a hotel reservation as a couple. Soon an outrage arose on the Internet at the people who reported the events. In these cases, the reporters were soon identified by anonymous Internet users and their "misconduct" were immediately reported to their college and workplace blaming the college and company for their lack of responsibility of supervision. The ongoing situations were also posted on websites such as 2ch and many viewers enjoyed watching how the stories went. The careless and poor Internet victims finally had to delete all their accounts of the SNSs and some even had to leave the workplace. Many young people in their twenties and thirties know that this can happen to them any time. That's also a reason why Japanese people rarely reveal themselves to strangers especially online.

Click here to 4chan
There are still many social and cultural factors to be considered that might affect Japanese tendency to become anonymous online. It might be more beneficial to compare the tendency to become anonymous with other Asian countries such as China and Korea. On the other hand, there are many anonymous groups or reports emerged recently on the Internet such as Anonymous from 4chan and WikiLeaks. Their existence might suggest that the online anonymity is not particular only to Japanese. They could be a strong protest against the "showing-off" culture of facebook. Even if the online anonymity is good or bad, anonymity works in Japan as far as I'm concerned. The web researcher such as Satoshi Hamano said that the commenting system on Niconico Douga is a developed version of that on 2ch. It's hard to imagine the future, but I think the situation probably won't change or even become more anonymous and 2ch will continue to grow bigger.

Question for the final exam
Which type can be considered as NOT anonymous online?

1. A person who reveals only his/her handle name and avatar.
2. A person who gives only his/her email address with no face photo.
3. A person who gives a some body's name and face photo.
4. All of above.

The answer can be found in my comment below.


Deciphering Softbank TV Commercial

The following article was written as an assignment for the Introduction to Media Theory class.

Here is a topic that I gave a group presentation in the Media Theory class. It's a bit long, but I hope you enjoy reading it.

1. Background information about the ad
First, I’d like to tell you about the background of the ad since some of you may not know the present mobile-phone business situation in Japan. The ad I'm going to analyze is this.

I put the English translation on it as follows.

This is Softbank's ad for family discount plans. Softbank is one of the three biggest mobile phone companies in Japan. This ad was released on their website, but the same kinds of TV commercials were also made at the same time. It was first shown on TV in June, 2007. Softbank has also used other celebrities such as SMAP, Brad Pitt, and Cameron Diaz for their mobile-phone ads, but the company had to make an ad that related to its new family discount service for Softbank users. The other two competitors also made the same kinds of ads at the same time to attract family users. The family discount campaign started with this ad four years ago and still continues today. So far more than 100 different TV commercials have been made featuring these unique family members.

Let’s watch the first commercial so that you'll get the atmosphere these family members produce (I put the subtitles in English so that you can understand what they say).

2. Breaking down to the elements
Next, let's break this down to the elements.
 ・Medium: it was on their website, but the same kind of ads were also on TV, magazines, newspaper, and posters.
・Targeted audience: Japanese families (parents, children, grandparents, and couples) whose family members may still use a different company's mobile phones.
・Layout: White background with a few sales copies and the portrait of the family. They stand out because of the white background. The color of the background is white probably because the name of the discount plan was called "white plan." The family name “Shirato” or “howaito” also comes from this.
・Mood of the ad: Formal as if the family portrait was shot in a photo studio.
・Commodity being sold: Family discount plans for mobile phone users.
・Elements in the ad: Sales copies and the family members in a formal looking clothes with the company’s logo at the upper right and links to the other web pages on the lower left.
・Locale for the scene: Probably in the photo studio (white background and all the members are posing and staring at the camera in front of them).

3. Analyzing the ad
Now I'm going to analyze this ad and find what it means to the viewers. First, let's see each character in the ad again. Two Japanese women (young and elder) are easily considered as a mother and daughter since the sales copies on the left suggest it. Then why is a black male actor casted as the brother of a family? Does it mean anything to ordinary Japanese viewers? Is there any racial or unconsciously racist perception involved in this ad? In regard to this topic, I happened to read an academic paper that deals with the racial representation in this Softbank ad.
 As the commercials evolved, they continued to challenge viewers' expectations, part of their immense popularity owing to their nonsensical playfulness which presented the character as a straight man in a bizarre fantasy tableau where boundaries of race, ethnicity, and even species no longer apply. - "Race as Ricorso: Blackface(s), Racial Representation, and the Transnational Apologetics of Historical Amnesia in the United States and Japan" (2011) by John G. Russell
It was written by John Russell, who is the professor of Anthropology at Gifu University in Japan and researching the representation of race in the U.S and Japan. In this paper, after examining many racial or sometimes even racist representations in Japan including the examples of foreign talents on TV such as Bob Sapp and Bobby Ologun, Russell says that the black character in this ad is a few notable exceptions from the other stereotyped black male images in Japan such as entertainers, athletes, and criminals. He says, “Aside from his black face, he could be any race” and “what is coded is his non-Japaneseness, and even that is problematized by his Japanese name and un-gaijin-like demeanor.” This analysis coincides with what the actor playing the role in this ad says about his career in his interview.

Click here to his inverview
The African American actor who plays this role “Yoso-Guy,” which means “unexpected” in Japanese,” is Dante Carver who is from New York and now works as an actor and model in Japan. He says he is very careful about which job offers he chooses in order not to get typecast. From my impression, many Japanese like him a lot probably because his character was very new to them, which depends more on his own character rather than on his race. The surveys actually showed that he was voted the most popular male actor in a TV commercial in Japan both in 2008 and 2009. Although there is a possibility that he himself has now become “a new stereotyped black-male figure” in Japan because of the heavy on-airing of the TV commercial series for such a long period, still for many Japanese viewers, he may be recognized as “non-Japanese” rather than “a black male” in the ad.

How about the white dog then? Why is the white dog casted as the father of the family in this ad? According to Softbank, they were looking for a white dog that had a patriarchal figure as the head of the household, but they refused to tell the reason why the father became a dog in the ad. In addition to it, the commercial planner who made this ad said that he wondered if a dog were his father so that it would kindly listen to him and sometimes scold him. However, it doesn’t explain why it should be a dog. Now there is another interpretation of this dog. I have to refer to this idea that widely spreads throughout the Internet today. There are some anti-Korean groups or people who strongly insist that the ad was made to insult Japanese people. According to them, the family setting in this ad such as “children of a dog” is the exact phrase Korean people often use when they insult others just like “a son of a -----” in English. They also say that it is also insulting to cast a black actor as a brother in an average Japanese family due to the reason that many people in Korea still have the negative perception of black people (I’m not sure if it’s true or not). This kind of “conspiracy of Softbank” has been spread throughout the Internet for years partly because the CEO of the company Masayoshi Son is Korean Japanese. It might be true that Son actually did a favor to Koreans in Japan by offering special discount prices only for them and also the fact that he got his Japanese nationality comparatively late in his thirties. Both of them might show that he might have sympathy to Koreans to a certain degree, but these do not mean at all that he was motivated to insult Japanese. The commercial received the prize for the most favorite ad in Japan in 2007 and the series of TV commercial has been aired since then.
Otosan dog dolls
These show that most Japanese do not care or accept the conspiracy and love the character of “otosan” dog (Actually the dog has been used as a mascot character of the ad and its dolls, mug cups, and accessories were made and distributed as the campaign goods). Overall, the dog could be any other animal as far as it is lovely and not a human (actually there are white cat versions of this ad, in which the white cat plays the leader of the local cat society).

Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son
Then what kind of message would this "family image” convey to the viewers? As you look at the ad again, each of them represents the member in a traditional family (parents both father and mother and their children that are a boy and girl) in a family portrait situation. Only the phones they hold represent that the ad is something to do with mobile phones. The sales copies suggest that the family is “unexpected” or unusual from the fact that there are different races and species in there. Even though, they still call themselves “a family.” The message seems pretty clear that there could be a family that consists of different races or even species. If the members call themselves a family, then so be it. This is a very strong statement against the homogeneous Japanese society. Although 98.6% of people in Japan are ethnically Japanese and speak the same language, the forms of traditional family have gradually changed in the recent years. According to the survey in 2010, there are only 28.7% of the households that contain parents and more than one child in the family. The rest have different circumstances at home. In this sense, the ad shows a very conventional family form. On the other hand, the ad also suggests that any one can be a family regardless of race or species. In fact, in the same series of the ad, the director Quentin Tarantino and even a white dolphin were casted as the uncles of the family. It can be interpreted as a suggestion to become more open or tolerant to strangers for the Japanese viewers who still have the stereotyped image of an all-Japanese family (the ads for family discount plans made by the other two mobile giants Docomo and au are very different. In their ads, Docomo depicted mushroom family in cartoon and au an ordinary Japanese family). At this point, it can be said that there could be some kind of intention or message implicitly slipped in the ad from the personal experience of the CEO Son, who has educated in the States and must have experienced hash discrimination in Japan because of his Korean ancestry, that it is the time for many Japanese to become more open to strangers in general.

4. Conclusion
The Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son is well-known as the most successful entrepreneur in Japan for his Internet and mobile phone businesses. He is also known as a very patriotic person who has been trying to reform old Japanese styles in business and culture just like Steve Jobs did. I think it is safe to say that he might have tried to send an implicit and vague, but critical message to the viewers in Japan through this ad that Japanese should be more open to non-Japanese. At least, the conventional family concept that many Japanese viewers still have would, unconsciously or not, force to be shaken by this ad.


Comments on Tim Owens' Lecture "We Are All Artists" (Weekly Blog Post #3)

The following article was written as an assignment for the Cyberspace and Society class.

Here I'd like to tell what I thought about the lecture of Tim Owens.

In this lecture, Owens mainly talks about the central idea of the digital storytelling assignments. He points out that creativity is not inherent and it should be taught at school and the DS106 course gives the environment to be so. According to him, one of the main purposes of the course is to get rid of the perception that "Art can be made only by artists." (You can find the list of the other important points he made at the lecture and also some useful links to inspiring websites on his website.)

One thing that I really thought interesting in his lecture is about the environment that is required to be creative. He starts his lecture by comparing the differences between the photos on facebook and those assigned and posted on the Daily Shoot website (it no longer exists). He quotes the words from Scott Adams (the author of the popular comic Dilbert) saying that "the hungrier one is, the more creative one becomes." Furthermore, he generalizes it and says that uncomfortable situations make the person creative.

For me it is perfectly true. People would not do things unless they are forced to do. Especially if the task is totally new to the person and doesn't know exactly what and how to do it, he/she would not dare to do it immediately besides doing all the other important tasks that should be done as well. This is exactly what happened to me at the beginning of the first DS106 assignment. However, as I finished the tasks one by one, I felt that I was creating something new that had ever been produced in this world before. I wouldn't have done any of the assignments if I hadn't been assigned to do them. As a result, I had spent so much time working on the assignments that it actually affected on my assignments in the other classes. I'm now very satisfied with the art pieces I made for this course and also become a bit more confident of trying a new, unknown task that will be assigned to me in the other classes. 

The other thing that Owens mentions in his lecture is to draw a different meaning from a mundane thing. He says that the creativity is to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary. This is also strongly related to what I've done for the series of the DS106 assignments. In my first assignment, I edited all the photos that I had posted for the Daily Shoot assignments into a video. When got together, each of the photos takes on different meaning in the video. I didn't expect at all that those photos taken with my poor camera on my mobile phone would contribute to my art work. Usually in the other courses, what I submit as an assignment returns with a grade and the instructor's feedback in few lines, but here I recycled my former assignment and put a different value of its own. It was nice experience for me to "think different."

The last thing that I'd like to mention is the point that is not clearly mentioned in Owens' lecture (probably it's too obvious?) while I consider it the most important feature of the ds106 course. That is the public online display of the student's work pieces and the mutual evaluation system by posting comments on each other. Compare to the assignments conventionally assigned to college students at campus, these DS106 assignments put a different kind of pressure on the student that the work is evaluated not only by the instructor but also the other students. It may work good to some and bad to the others, maybe not at all to a certain type of people. To my surprise, I received many comments on my blog posts. Some of them are from outside of the class. For me, all the comments I received had really motivated me a lot to make a better one next time. At the same time, I had also commented on other students' blog posts. (it was a part of the assignments, too.) I enjoyed the feedback a lot. I also found that the other people's comments actually made me re-recognize the creativity from a different perspective that I had felt while I was making the art works. I think the effect of this educational method on motivation should be more focused rather than the other merits.

Online education system can be more cooperative and creative than the conventional classroom education style (because there is no limit of time and space). I hope there are more this kind of online activities in the courses at school that stimulate the student's creativity and change the learning experience.