Posts Tagged ‘2-ch’

Two-Tiered Japanese Blogs

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Last November, I wrote in the essay “Koizora: Empathy and Anonymous Creation”:

The more net culture in Japan progresses, the more it becomes clearer that anonymity is its underlying principle.

A year later, this seems to still be true. Most Japanese blogs (and even social network services!) operate anonymously. Compared to American success stories such as Perez Hilton and Markos Moulitsas, amateur bloggers have not been likely to parlay site success into wider influence.

Japan’s most popular message board 2-Ch is so anonymous that most users do not even use fixed handles. The Japanese internet’s two greatest success stories — the famed protagonist of Densha Otoko and keitai novel author Mika — have never come forward to take credit for their writing in public. Maybe they are intentionally hiding, but regardless, the media accepts their anonymity as part of the phenomena.

While anonymity remains a good starting point for understanding Japanese net sociology, the rule ignores a vital exception. If anonymity were a prerequisite for all Japanese net participation, all blogs would be anonymous. Yet, there is a certain class of blogs in Japan claimed by named, traceable individuals: blogs from celebrities or otherwise already-established professionals.

So while the masses are quietly and discretely blogging and participating on the internet, top designers/creators write on honeyee.com and models/actors consolidate their fan base on ameblo.jp. These “professionals” use their real names and faces, under which they openly state ideas and opinions. Content-wise these are sometimes no different from everyday diary blogs: pictures of food, reports from events, discussion about recent work, etc. The major lesson seems to be, if you are an individual with authority and legitimacy established through traditional channels, you are free to use a name and face on the internet. Everyone else, too bad.

Most likely, non-famous Japanese individuals unconsciously fear some form of punishment for establishing a public identity through a non-legitimized blog or stating opinions without proper self-legitimacy. Of course, Western blogs also are an affront to the social order, but that is exactly why ambitious individuals embrace blogs — to jump around professional barriers and bottlenecks. In other words, the West’s excitement about blogs is that you can create a name for yourself by stating opinions publicly. In Japan, the excitement appears to be that you can state opinions without having a name attached.

The end result is that anonymity blunts the net’s possibility of changing the current social order. The two-tier system of blogs reinforces the fundamental principles of Japanese social organization. Only individuals at the top of the hierarchy are allowed to embrace a public identity, just as it was before Web 2.0.

In terms of taking power from the media, nothing has changed. Net users still perceive too much social punishment for name-linked net activity, so they elect to hide behind untraceable usernames. While diarists may not want a public audience, anonymity even marks popular, intelligent, and professional blogs written by promising young talent. Research has shown that Japanese blog readers exhibit a high level of trust in the medium, and yet there are few “amateur” bloggers willing to take public credit for their work. Stars, celebrities, older professors, and top-level members of top organizations, on the other hand, are blessed with a freedom of identity equal to the standards of the West. The lesson: if you want to be a famous blogger, first be famous.

Of course, the internet has given more voice to the Japanese public. Message boards like 2-Ch have allowed micromasses to better air their grievances. In the case of Mainichi Daily News’ WaiWai column controversy and other incidents, the anonymous “flame” mobs demonstrated a real power to impact corporate behavior. Sure, this is social change, but the mass anonymity only allows for a “negative” policing action — a check against the system’s excesses. But without identifiable individuals challenging and winning new roles within the system, there will be no change to the social structure. At best, 2-Ch can only chip away at the paint of society’s façade, but it won’t crack the structure.

Technology is only a catalyst: It can extend preexisting social principles into new directions, but not give birth to new philosophical values. The “liberating” social changes we expect from the internet in the West are preconditioned on Western values. The Japanese blogosphere will simply replicate Japanese social values online, not change them. So if public identity is two-tiered in wider Japanese society, we should expect blogs to follow.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.