I wasn’t sure if I wanted to talk about this, but blogging is as much about your audience as yourself, and I think this is something you all would like to hear about.
The day I pissed off 4chan appears to be the thing I am currently most infamous for on the Internet. I had forgotten about the whole experience until I read an article on Geekosystem that alluded to my mistake. So here’s the whole story!
When I started my internship at Kotaku, my boyfriend John was especially worried about me. He made me change all my passwords online and make sure my domain information was secure. He was concerned that as an intern on one of the big geek sites, I’d be a public figure and therefore a target. I took his advice, but I didn’t believe him. I was going to be an intern, not an editor. I’ve lived my online life conservatively enough that strangers haven’t cared about this smalltime journalism graduate student in D.C.
However, I made a pretty bad decision. I wrote about something that mattered a lot to 4chan, especially /v/: the nicknames of the new starter Pokémon. When I was interning at Kotaku, I rarely got to write my own stories — that’s just not what interns do, anywhere really — so I did my best to pitch original story ideas. My Nobuo Uematsu scoop was an example of this; none of the editors had met him so it made sense for me to write that story. And when I heard my friends on twitter talking about their invented nicknames for the new starting Pokémon for Black and White — news to the editors — I was allowed to write that story, too.
On Kotaku, it’s policy to ask permission before reposting stories, but not images. When reposting images, Kotaku instead takes care to link back to the image producer so they can share in the traffic. So when writing the Smugleaf story, I reposted photos from Deviant Art authors with credit… except for one photo. I couldn’t find the artist, so I posted it creditless with a note to please help me find the artist. That artist turned out to be a 4chan poster. And it turned out the meme itself originated on 4chan. As one Kotaku commenter warned me, “/v/ is pissed.”
The ire of 4chan was suddenly upon me, complete with ad hominem attacks on the article and here, my personal site. Overnight, the top Google search for my website was “Lauren Orsini nude.” (Some 4chan posters had the idea to find naked photos of me and get me “fired” from Kotaku. Luckily, those don’t exist!) I followed the advice I’d heard about getting 4chan to move on, mainly not “feeding the trolls” or responding to any of it. Arguably, writing an article on the subject isn’t doing that at all, but I think it’s been long enough.
The hubbub died down in a few days. I was expecting my editors to yell at me for it, but on the flip side, they were psyched! Since my article was 1) original and 2) controversial, it got 70K hits in just a few days, making them a lot of money. They told me not to worry about what people said. I knew this already; in today’s online age, journalists become part of each story they write. I like to think that it’s helping me develop an even thicker skin.
In summary, I’ve learned that any subject can be controversial. I thought that since I don’t write about politics, I don’t touch on anything abrasive, but now I know better. We geeks are extremely passionate about our hobbies. Bobby Kotick at Activision realized this too late — treating video game fans flippantly earned the otherwise mild mannered man the title of the most hated person in the video game industry.
Also, I need to be careful about the word “meme.” People don’t like to hear that something is or isn’t a meme. They just like things to be left alone where they can grow on their own. (That’s just one buzzword I’ve gotten in trouble for using in my time at Kotaku — my most recent article involves the term “reverse sexism” which I never considered to be a point of debate before!)
Anonymity online has become the best and worst thing about the internet. People can say things without being persecuted for their beliefs, but on the other hand, they can also reveal the cruelest intentions of their humanity since they never have to stand behind their comments. 4chan is an incredible site, spotlighting and forwarding Internet trends faster than anyone else. I wouldn’t have even had a story without 4chan! However, it can also be a spiteful community, suspicious of anyone who purports to post their content elsewhere. I view the boards with awe and not a little trepidation.
I’m not going to ignore a topic from now on just because I think it’s controversial, but I’m certainly going to pick my battles wisely. As for another article about fan art and memes, it’s just not worth it.