CYBERSPACE—The mainstream commentary on the extramural skirmishes that erupted this weekend between macro 4chan and micro Tumblr are almost as entertaining as the attacks themselves, especially in the way they reveal how the grownups think about the keyboard kids whose skills sometimes dwarf their maturity.
The roots of the issue that begat 4chan’s plan to launch porn-laden DDoS attacks against Tumblr Sunday are somewhat murky—something to do with Tumblr pranking chat site Omegle, a 4chan favorite, according to ValleyWag—but the promised assault was no less formidable for it. When 4chan sets its sites on you, denial is not advised. In Tumblr’s case, an equally aggressive response was seen as the best defense, and it may have been the right call. Both sites were reportedly down Monday but by approximately 5 p.m. PST, both were up and running like purring kittens.
In fact, it was kittens that Tumblr threw at 4chan, while it was porn that 4chan flung at Tumblr. Symbolically, the choice of weapons was ideal; each went with their strengths. But beneath the ribaldry and silliness there lurked a cautionary tale that seems to remind some of a Lord of the Flies scenario on steroids; Kids Gone Wild, only now with the ability to take multimillion-dollar, if not billion-dollar, networks offline; kind of like Billy Mumy in the infamous Twilight Zone episode where he sends everyone to the corn field.
Only Rod Serling never had the FBI on his tail, or at least we don’t think he did. 4chan does, though. CNet reported last week that the feds are investigating recent attacks on entertainment companies and others perpetrated by 4chan’s Anonymous group. Hustler, a recent target, is listed as one of the sites, which is more than a little ironic considering founder Larry Flynt’s problematic relationship with the government over the years, but in a sense, the fact that the FBI will back Hustler against 4chan tells you all you need to know about the fear—or is it irritation—the growing crop of cyber-miscreants generate in older folk.
Some grownups seem torn, however. Greg Sandoval from CNet quoted several sources from groups that have been hit hard by 4chan—such as the RIAA and the MPAA—complaining that free speech groups like the ACLU and the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) have not stepped up to denounce the DDoS attacks perpetrated against them.
Rebecca Jeschke, an EFF spokeswoman, responded strongly, likening the attacks to something a child does for attention while spanking the complainers.
"We generally don't comment on DDoS attacks, even when they happen to us. DDoS attacks get in the way of people seeing content they want to see on the Internet, and of course that's not something we support,” she said. “But we don't comment on them in part because it gives these folks what they want—attention for their stunts. As for the entertainment industry calling on us to criticize it, this is just silly PR gamesmanship, used in place of talking about the real issues of copyright at play here."
Others take it more seriously and see an apocalyptic warning of sorts in behavior with real-world consequences by people that will soon be running the world.
“Humans are now feeling an allegiance to websites. Photos, marketplace, chat, email, events, all in one place—think about it,” wrote Joe Coscarelli for The Village Voice. “It's neo-brand loyalty, but it's not what sort of sneakers you're going to buy, it's how you're going to communicate with the rest of the world. This is more than pictures of cats. Even if you don't care, just be ready.”
Ready for what, though; cyber punks run amok or a government crackdown on free expression in cyberspace?