The face that launched an online war


From Friday's Globe and Mail

This is a bi-weekly column about microcelebrities - the often accidental stars of the viral videos and jpegs crowding our inboxes.

What kind of a teenager so divides the fifth-largest Web community that the entire mechanism grinds to a halt? Probably not the kind you expect. She holds no strong opinions, does not deal in sex or violence, and wasn't even looking for fame when she sparked a civil war on a popular website called 4chan.

Boxxy's videos, originally posted to a gaming site, aren't actually about anything. What captivates is her demeanour. She's a mass of twitches, wildly gesturing hands, shifty eyes rimmed by thick eyeliner, and sudden, hyper-animated facial expressions.

"I don't normally talk like this," she says breathlessly in one of her videos.

"I'm normally all over the place like I am right now, but it's a calmer voice most of the time, unless I'm really hyped-up, 'cause then it's like different even still from this, but let me try to get my calmer voice," she says, then stops to makes some incoherent squirrelly sound before beaming at the camera and saying, "Yeah, I'm really like ... it's fun. It's cool."

Strange to say, I actually enjoy Boxxy. She is so completely herself, in all of her manically odd glory, without pretense or malice. My only discomfort stems from the fact that I'm not entirely sure I'm not watching outsider art. On 4chan, opinion was divided: Was it Tourette's? Attention-deficit disorder? Or was she on drugs? (Boxxy just says no.)

Which is one reason it's kind of sad that there is a massive faction of people who claim to hate Boxxy. Injunctions to destroy Boxxy's life were posted on 4chan (considered one of the Internet's most notorious and prolific sites, mainly for its often-vile, anything-goes forum called /b/ board), along with what was purportedly her real name and address, for those who wished to take immediate action.

Posters to the site, driven by a pointless sense of tribalism, were so divided on the topic that - for reasons too technical and boring to get into here - the warring factions, Boxxy-lovers and Boxxy-haters, managed to "break" 4chan, causing it to freeze and collapse, by holding an appointed civil war online.

The level of engagement was unprecedented: Neither a presidential election nor troubles in the Middle East provoked people as much in the 4chan community. On Jan. 10, "Boxxy" appeared as the fifth-most-searched term on Google's Trends page.

The posted addresses, as far as anyone could tell, were fakes.

Boxxy herself has vanished from the cybersphere, which is - sadly - as it should be, for her own good. But somewhere out there in the world is a girl whose face is her mark, and will be as long as her meme prevails.

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