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.

4 件のコメント:

  1. Great post!!
    It was totally nicely organized, and very worthful reading in an academic way!

    Whenever I see records of posted comments done in 2ch website, I cannot help thinking about how Japanese could be emotional and violent in anonymity ... and also, I feel like that is how Japanese people are coping with their "unknown" emotions and feelings for everyday life.
    That is a very scary thing to me, because it can cause all evil things to be gathered up in one place.
    ...I hate how Japanese call their quietness virtue without questioning about why they started to act that way.

    ...Well, that anonymity actually is one of the essences those make stories like Densha Otoko wonderful, though...

  2. Thank you for your comments! I understand the point you made about the negative side of anonymity, which often turns out to be a tragedy. Still, I'd like to find the positive side of it somehow - maybe because I'm pretty comfortable being anonymous rather than being active on facebook.

  3. This blog post is awesome in many ways. Here a few of the reasons why I'd like to hold this one up as an example:

    1. Citations: You're referencing of sources is excellent - both in terms of the variety and quality of sources as well as the way you work the citations in to your text.

    2. Content: You provide a rich discussion of the current state of anonymity in Japan as related to social networking and you provide possible explanations as well as your own take.

    3. Layout: Though most bloggers prefer shorter paragraphs than you use here, the spacing between paragraphs and use of images lets the read flow smoothly and easily through your post.

    Just one point/ request: could you amend your post to include a possible question for the final exam? Thanks.

  4. Thank you for your comment! I totally forgot to make a question for the final. I added it to my blog. I'm not sure if it's good enough, though.

    The answer is 3 because it is categorized as identity fraud, not anonymity. 1 and 2 is considered as anonymous because neither of them cannot be connected to a particular person in the real world with the evidence.