You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Obscurity, Miscellaneous and the Internet’s Testosterone

December 6th, 2011 by andresmh

Recently, the influential, yet obscure,‘s forums were a bit on the spotlight after some of its members discovered a security hole in Facebook.

Influence through Obscurity.

I find it interesting that, despite their influential role, a number of online communities, such as 4chan and the bodybuilding forums, remain somewhat obscure. I believe 4chan did not gain a lot of mainstream media attention until the whole Anonymous-Wikileaks scandal, and even then, the number of even tech-savvy people who confuse 4chan with FORTRAN is not negligible. Perhaps, as someone during ROFLCON mentioned, these communities are insular and newbie-adverse on purpose as  a way to maintain their underground status.  They rely heavily on in-jokes and secret handshakes that take a lot of lurking to decode.

All  Forums Tend to Miscellaneous 

The bodybuilding forums, like 4chan and others, grew a large and active sub-community out of their “Miscellaneous” section. Even on the Scratch Online Community, a wholesome website primarily for kids to share their own video games and animations, the  “Miscellaneous” discussion’s forum has been the most active and rowdy social space of the website. But has also served as some sort  of public square for the community that I think is something that most online communities need to maintain authenticity at the expense of rowdiness.

Internet’s Testosterone

Some people have noted the similarities between 4chan and the bodybuilding forums. In particular, between /b/ and the bodybuilding’s Misc forum. The platforms are significantly different, uses pseudonyms and has archives while 4chan  is completely anonymous and ephemeral. Despite those differences, different events have shed light at the possibility that both communities have a  decent amount of overlap.

I think part of it is the population they attract. The population of a website focused on bodybuilding is somewhat easy to stereotype: young males with a lot of testosterone. /b/ is a bit harder, but based on the content, it seems like testosterone is a common denominator as well. It is interesting, and perhaps obvious, that when you bring a bunch of young males together, similar kind of content tends to emerge.


Despite the wide adoption of  the Internet by a large percentage population, it seems like gender-based clustering continues to exist. I wonder then, what would be the opposite of 4chan and the bodybuilding forums? Is Internet culture disproportionately influenced by male-centric online spaces?  What female online spaces have the most influence? Is the Internet always going to be about Justin Bieber vs “bros“?

4 Responses to “Obscurity, Miscellaneous and the Internet’s Testosterone”

  1. Shauna Says:

    Is Internet culture disproportionately influenced by male-centric online spaces? What female online spaces have the most influence?

    How would you define “influence” here?

  2. andresmh Says:

    I struggle with that question, but here is one take on it. I think the influence of those websites could be assessed by the presence or absence of cultural references derived from them onto mainstream websites and traditional media. Here are a few examples:

    * Rickrolling went from being an in-joke on 4chan to a “thing” you see on TV and even the Macy’s parade did a rendition of it.
    * The Anonymous movement and its presence on the Wikileaks scandal and more recently on the Occupy Wall Street movement (i.e. explicit references to Anonymous or the use of Guy Fawkes masks).
    * Harassment case of Jessi Slaughter that led to a segment in Good Morning America and shows like that.
    * YouTube skinning their Flash player to show a mini Nyan Cat on the status bar and many other similar subtle references to cultural practices derived from 4chan and other sites onto mainstream websites (i.e. Google, Flickr, etc).


  3. Shauna Says:

    My thoughts are not very coherent, but here they are:

    It’s an interesting question to me, because I tend to hang out in very female-centric areas online. As a teen, I spent a lot of time in fandom, and now pretty much every day I take the time to participate in the feminist blogosphere. And so when I see those groups having an influence offline (to choose some random examples, Jezebel’s fight with the Daily Show or bloggers getting a sexist t-shirt pulled from JC Penney or a writer famous for fanfic becoming an original bestseller, which to be fair are not really the scale or kind of influence you’re talking about) I wonder, is this actually something a large portion of people know/care about it, or do I only see it because I’m paying attention?

    Despite the wide adoption of the Internet by a large percentage population, it seems like gender-based clustering continues to exist.

    I don’t know why we’d lose our biases and privileges just by hopping online.

    It’s interesting to me that the communities you’re highlighting are not just male dominated (like, say, Wikipedia or the open source communities) but very explicitly masculine in culture.

  4. andresmh Says:

    I think that even things like rickrolling and anonymous are not necessarily mainstream. I had heard of two of three of the stories you mentioned, but I am not sure how big they were compared to, say, celebrity news. It’s hard to know what an average person would know. Perhaps an proxy to measure influence could be amount of coverage on mainstream media. Now, there’s also this thing where some events might be influential among influentials but not among the general population. Those might not get a lot of coverage on the mainstream news but they might have important implications for policy and business decisions.