Next up in this plenary at AoIR 2013 is Lisa Nakamura, whose interest is in racism online - an issue which is often downplayed as a minor problem or an irrelevant distraction. But what drives online racism - is it a product of the greater levels of anonymity online (and thus an inevitable, natural, normal effect of the Net)? Does this mean that humans are fundamentally, inherently driven to racism, which the Net enables us to live out? Does the Net enable us to indulge in glitchy behaviour, in other words?
But the machine of the Internet is not a separate, animate entity with its own agency, but is co-created with or by us. The idea that the Net has its own, separate nature is merely a convenient excuse - as in Ian Bogost's statement that it's not gamer culture that's racist, but the Internet itself. If online racism is seen as a glitch in the system, this places it alongside other (e.g. hacker) exploits of glitches - it legitimises and excuses racism as merely off-topic and a failure of protective mechanisms.
But perhaps racism is part of the signal rather than part of the noise. Perhaps it is a discursive act in itself, rather than a distraction from the discourse. This is the case, obviously, for inherently racist online communities (say, white supremacist sites), but also for many other spaces whose primary raison d'être isn't racist speech as such - for example, music, popular culture, and political discussion fora.
These are real-time environments, whose exchanges are often characterised by incoherence; speech here is usually performative rather than targetting specific individuals. This isn't trolling, as such, but about attention-seeking posing as a kind of healthy irreverence towards the politically correct forms of expression. Anonymity is seen as a major enabler of this, but that argument is ultimately a techno-determinist one which claims that such racism would go away if we all used our 'real' names.
The network is shouting at us through such racist speech - to simply dismiss it as filter failure would be to overlook its more important meanings.