The rules of the internet are said to have originated in 4chan’s /b/ board–a section of the website infamous for crude and often cruel content. Yet 4chan’s /b/ is also the birthplace of Anonymous, a hacktivist collective known for its democratic organization and goals. Indeed, the internet is often heralded by scholars, critics, and users alike for its democratic potentials, yet the internet rules espoused by /b/ are anything but democratic–in fact they tend to trounce the ideals of liberal democratic societies.
While the mythology of 4chan offers one interesting interpretation, the rules of the internet arguably have deeper historical roots in the western philosophical tradition. By ‘translating’ the rules of the internet into the words of well-known authors and texts from the western canon, the clandestine alliance between the advocates of liberalism and their illiberal opponents is revealed.
Each post illustrates, through hyperlinks, an episode in a long-running series about the limits of free speech in liberal democratic societies as these issues have played out in Internet culture. The genre shifts between lighthearted drama, low-budget horror, and dark comedy, but the characters are always the same (though the actors change frequently depending on context): the liberal lion who fights for freedom of expression in the spirit of the Enlightenment, the transgressive trickster who challenges the sanctity of liberal values and forces the limits of free speech to its brink, and the outraged absolutist who demands limits to freedom of speech in defense of a moral good. The translator’s notes, where applicable, attempt to interpret the social drama according to these tropes and schemes of the liberal program, and especially to point out how exceptions to the rules work to reinforce the rules.