Anonymity on Internet Is Critical to Creativity, Says 4chan Founder

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-03-15 Print this article Print

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has long been an advocatedfor users to have one identity online, and to tie all interactions to that identity. It encourages users to be "more authentic," according to Zuckerberg.

Someone on the Internet disagrees.

In fact, the person voicing his objections to the way online anonymity is being eroded was none other than Christopher "moot" Poole, founder of the online image board 4chan. Poole spoke in a keynote at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin on March 13.

"I think that's totally wrong," Poole said.

Poole has plenty of opportunity to observe anonymity in action, since 4chan's army of members stridently supports anonymous interactions. The message board was started in 2003 as a place online for people interested in Japanese culture, anime and cartoons, and approximately 12 million users visit the site every month.

4Chan's chaotic messageboard is a fertile breeding ground for creativity as anyone can post something that might take off, according to Poole.

"It's riffing on a massive scale," Poole said.

Zuckerberg has equated anonymity with a "lack of authenticity, almost a cowardice," Poole said. Anonymity actually is authenticity, because it allows users to reveal themselves in a "completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way," he said. Anonymous users can play with content and be creative in ways that may not have been possible otherwise or just reinvent themselves, he said.

"We believe in content over creator," Poole said. "Anyone can come in to contribute [on 4chan], there are no structural barriers," he said.

Sites that require some kind of login, such as using Facebook's authentication tools, drive up the price of failure because mistakes are attributed to who you are, Poole said. I am sure we all know of at least one person embarrassed by something they put online years ago and wouldn't mind wiping the online slate clean.

In light of Poole's rant against Zuckerberg, it's ironic that his latest venture, Canvas, requires Facebook Connect to sign up. Posts to Canvas are anonymous by default, just like 4chan, but users have the option to attach their name to whatever they create on the site.

Poole is not completely against Facebook, as it is useful for "weeding out your more casual trolls, he said.

The entirety of Poole's speech is available on YouTube in three parts, linked below. He talks about fluid identity in the first video, starting at the 9 minutes and 15 seconds mark:

video 1

Video 2

Video 3 |

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