Whitney Philips’ article “The House That Fox Built: Anonymous, Spectacle, and Cycles of Amplification” makes reference to the website 4chan’s defining characteristic; namely, that users post under a shield of anonymity. While the vast majority of 4chan users do indeed post anonymously, the concept of anonymity on 4chan possesses a considerable amount of depth.
The picture to the right is a screencap of a thread on 4chan’s /tg/ board, dedicated to the playing of tabletop games and similar pursuits. The name field of most posts displays the default “Anonymous”, which masks the identity of the poster. However, as you may have noticed, “Anonymous” does not appear on one post. The poster’s name instead appears as “The British”. During the creation of a post, 4chan allows users to choose the name attached to their post rather than defaulting to “Anonymous”. Users can thus create, and more importantly maintain a unique and recognizable name much like a profile name or username for a normal message board. Posters who differentiate themselves with a name from the larger body of anonymous users are known as “namefags”, per the naming conventions Philips describes (Philips).
However, any user could very easily steal the identity of the namefag by inputting the same name while creating a post. 4chan thus allows for a user to generate a unique verification code displayed with that user’s posts. Known as a “tripcode” and often paired with a name, but not always, such codes are generally secure from theft by other users. A “tripfag” or “trip”, as such a user is known, can thus safely denote themselves as unique among the sea of anonymous users.
While “tripping” represents a long-running aspect of 4chan’s culture, user views toward the practice remain very mixed. This image, likely created on 4chan’s video games board, /v/, somewhat crudely sums up a common perspective toward users who employ “trips”. Many anonymous users take exception to the idea of cultivating a persistent identity on 4chan.
Some “trips” are notorious trolls who employ their identity as a means of eliciting anger from 4chan users. As Philips discusses, members of Anonymous traded on the public perception of the group as ruthless, amoral peddlers of child pornography in order to incite a furor among hapless television personalities (Philips). Trips widely regarded as trolls can achieve a similar result, but within 4chan itself. Inflammatory posts by an identifiable user who possesses a reputation for trolling will often be targeted by other users, or “anons”, far more vehemently than an anonymous post with the same content; users associate the posts of that tripfag with a traceable history of trolling.
The tripcode user thus stands as a magnetic beacon in a swirling sea of anonymous posters. Other users are drawn to the trip based on their identity as well as the content of their posts, and the recognition factor allows for posters to form enduring connections with other users which would otherwise be impossible due to the ephemeral, anonymous nature of 4chan.
Tripcodes transform 4chan from an anonymous imageboard into an imageboard populated by a vast anonymous majority and a unique, identifiable minority who must interact with one another. The existence of users possessed of history within a truly anonymous community fosters a type of culture very difficult to find elsewhere on the Web. Most websites encourage users to craft a distinct and persistent online identity, but on 4chan a unique identity is both power and liability.