The Rebranding of 4chan Founder Moot
Digital native Chris Poole rebranded himself. Can he rebrand online anonymity?
Chris Poole is moot's IRL identity. moot is Chris Poole's online identity. Together, these coexisting identities created 4chan, a message board where you can talk about literally anything no matter how taboo. But that 'anything' has made it widely known as an incubator of hatred. The internet's most undesirable behavior like bodyshaming, cyberbullying, Fappening, doxing, swatting, and anything else made easier under the cover of anonymity. Last week, Poole announced on his personal blog that he was joining Google. He will be working under the Google Plus team, which has turned into Streams, Photos, and Sharing.
One of the public faces associated with internet trolling, rightfully or not, has 'gone corporate' and joined one of the most desirable employers in the world. moot, who was born in 1988, has begun the final phase of rebranding, separating himself from the connotations of an online identity, and making his true human personal brand worthy of Silicon Valley acceptance. So much for media curated backlashes against human pillars of internet evil.
Part of #rebranding yourself to be part of the tech elite requires that you truly buy into the idea that technology makes the world a better place. In his announcement, he wrote, "When meeting with current and former Googlers, I continually find myself drawn to their intelligence, passion, and enthusiasm — as well as a universal desire to share it with others. I'm also impressed by Google's commitment to enabling these same talented people to tackle some of the world's most interesting and important problems."
This type of earnest post is a great strategy for a personal brand as interpreted by content farms and internet users who trust content providers. To be part of the tech elite, you must continue to support the vague community of 'the internet' as a medium for the world's brightest and driven people to alter the direction of the planet. The problems that are presented in the real world can be solved by people in the digital realm.
moot's brand pivot is interesting because the largest conversation that his own online identity seemed to drive was the importance of anonymity on the internet. It can't be seen as hiding behind a false identity, but instead a projected image that you'd like the world to see. The community is still real, even if you are using a different 'self' to participate in the online discussion. A man who seems to transcend his own existence, both online and IRL, has for some reason found purpose in helping Google build out a meaningful social platform.
Personal branding experts would say that your online brand must reflect your personal brand. You need to play by the rules of the current media paradigm to propagate an image that can be digested by today's non-anonymous internet user. Don't look to disrupt or challenge the constraints of widely accepted mediums—that's not what an IRL personal brand does. Your personal brand only exists online because that's what people are doing right now—tweeting and sharing platitudes that are 'where the conversation' is happening.
The online community zeitgeist whisperer formerly known as moot seems to be part of a school of thought that thinks anonymizing your online identity actually helps to generate a more genuine internet experience. We all have multiple identities, which are brought about based on our social and physical context, and this is perfectly human. As someone who ran a moderately successful blog under a pseudonym, I can tell you firsthand that anonymity can be creatively liberating. You free yourself from the checks and balances of direct social accountability, and instead immerse yourself in an online reality that was of your own creation.
At the 2011 Web 2.0 Conference, Poole said, "Identity is prismatic. There are many lenses through which people view you and we're all multifaceted people. Google and Facebook would have you believe that you are a mirror. There is one reflection that you have—one idea of self. What you see in that mirror is what everyone else sees."
He goes on to compare our actual online selves' to diamonds, where multiple people can interpret the content we share from their own perspective, resulting in multiple reflections of any person's online self. His strong belief in anonymity as a force in community building might indicate that Google's social network hopes won't come from a sharing or content creation feature, but from allowing users to create a comfortable self in the mask of anonymity. Perhaps there is a verified-anonymous self that can be tied to a person behind the screen.
It's interesting to think that the next socially disruptive step in the features that are built in to your Google account might be branded as 'moot's ideas.' Though the media has reported Chris Poole's hiring without kicking off a backlash cycle on the 4chan founder or his new employer, the successful rebranding could fail. He will either be a social network savior or fall on the sword of the new 'product.'
Anonymity makes it difficult to decipher between the human or the bot. If you aren't acting as yourself, human actions on content, pages, or within apps can't be tracked. Anonymity is a human brain's adblocking software, which makes it harder for the people monetizing the internet to do their job. Most social networks have built their framework around deanonymizing their user bases, compromising ideas and the voice of content for the sake of safety. They don't want fake accounts or even just inactive squatters--they need real people behind the content. An anonymous user base might be as damaging as an inactive user base, thereby making a social product worthless.
Google is betting on Chris Poole to be able to whisper the desires of the disenfranchised Facebook and Twitter user to create a social platform that authentically invigorates a true online community. Perhaps this is the necessary hire to end the unrealistic expectation of a social network to be an actual community of real people, which it clearly isn't anyways.
moot has shook himself from his notorious past, and rebranded as community builder Chris Poole. A big part of this process was de-anonymizing himself and allowing the weight of a verified human to stand behind his words, thoughts, and actions. Connecting your true self to a personal brand can be confusing and feel contrived. But if you are going to build an online community, you have to give people infinite chances to create a new self online. It will give every hope that it might spill over into real life.
Life on the Content Farm is a weekly column about internet media written by the last relevant blogger.