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Doxa in the Digital Forum

Any successful rhetor will captivate an audience with a clear knowledge of the

audience’s beliefs. Doxas are the common belief people share about a certain topic, whether it be

political, social, academic, artful, or anything else that pertains to the human experience. Before

the age of the internet and our vast number of technologies readily available, doxas have

historically been formed through physical meetings or in observing the creative work of others.

Doxas help people find meaning and significance in their life in their pursuit to belong. People

tend to “look for verisimilitude rather than for Truth and build on doxa (common opinion) rather

than on episteme (scientific knowledge)” (Amossy pg. 467). The crucial role of doxa is to

establish a relationship between one’s personal collection of thoughts and opinions and how that

meshes with the thoughts and opinions of others, or with the rhetor in question, to form

collaborative ideas about the world around us; it is an indicator of one’s relationship with society

and willingness to belong.

The internet is an extremely powerful communication tool that brings people from many

different backgrounds together. Through one genre on the internet known as image boards, a

combination of forum-type discussion and picture-related content, people have begun to form

doxas in a similar way people would communicate in real forums in a live setting. However, the

distinct communication channels and the expectations of other internet users account for a large

shift in the way people form doxas.

One particular image board site known as 4chan provides a unique platform in which

controversial and taboo topics, such as racism and sexism, are discussed. There is no explicit
reason given by 4chan to discuss such controversial topics, but the causes for this phenomenon

are also what set it apart from other popular image board sites like Reddit: such causes include

4chan’s exclusivity and its opinion on free speech. Reddit is much more popular via its status as

a commercial website, meaning it must provide advertisements to make money, and it promotes

itself through social plugins and word-of-mouth in order to sustain its place in the public eye.

4chan on the other hand is an organization website, meaning it has no incentive to promote itself

in that way. Reddit is more inviting, allowing any user to create their own subreddit (a thematic

group for people to discuss a topic of their choice), whereas 4chan has a static number of

categories. Furthermore, Reddit has a tighter policy on the topics people discuss: this is reflected

in what mainstream culture deems inappropriate. 4chan has a firm belief on the freedom of

speech, meaning any discussion of any topic is allowed.

One board found on 4chan named “/pol/” or “Politically Incorrect” is worth noting. The

purpose of this board is to discuss news, world events, and political issues, and the primary

political stances expressed are alt-right and white nationalism, or neo-Nazism. In a way, the

name of the board encapsulates this: it is a tongue-in-cheek response to growing political

correctness in society today, and these values are rooted in leftist political stances. Controversial

topics find their way to this board, and consequently, 4chan users form an identity amidst the

controversy. This new identity consists of both curious observers and frequent visitors, and

through this identity people form a complex community in which doxas are formed. The

assumption of facts and common beliefs are reflected in the way 4chan users post topics and

respond to threads, and the structure of 4chan threads are what reinforce this behavior.
Anonymity is an important factor to consider in most forms of internet communication.

Removing face-to-face interaction places many boundaries on human connection due to a lack of

regulating feedback. However, 4chan embraces anonymity and takes its impacts to greater

heights. On each topic posted and each reply, “Anonymous” is plastered on top as a title. There

is an option to replace this title with a personal code which can identify the user, but in 4chan

culture this is looked upon poorly. In 4chan circles, being anonymous is personified through an

abbreviated title “anon.” Users are all referred to as “anon,” and thus they have created an

anthropomorphic identity to which all users belong. By being anonymous, a user can be

everybody and nobody at the same time, reflecting the stereotypes associated with all 4chan

users while also giving their own opinion, no strings attached.

The reason anonymity is regarded so highly in 4chan culture is because of its role as an

outlet for people to speak their mind without consequences. In person, one might be reluctant to

share with others their opinion about preserving the white race or how the Holocaust was a

Jewish conspiracy. Even in other places online, it might create unease to post an excessively

vulgar picture that portrays African Americans in a negative way. In the 4chan forums, all of

these sensitive opinions can be unveiled, and thus it is the norm. When 4chan users act as rhetors

in the thread discussions, they have no boundaries on what doxas they can employ to convince

others of their beliefs. They can state with certainty that women are psychologically more

attracted to aggressive and “barbaric” men and how that explains why women welcome refugees

and are more reluctant to reproduce with white men. Albeit very disturbing, these types of

commonly held opinions are no longer considered taboo since 4chan is kept securely outside the

public eye.
The demographic of 4chan consists mainly of those in the counterculture. Since

mainstream culture tends to avoid the extreme, fringe political views that /pol/ users have, they

seek refuge in a place where their opinions are not condemned. To not belong is to belong. This

crucial mantra for most 4chan users is what shapes the doxas they cling to; anything that

represents a publicly held opinion of the mainstream is typically shrugged aside, and these values

are replaced with publicly held opinions of the counterculture. Within the forum posts and thread

replies, people do not have to consider proper discourse and can instead hinge on insults and the

absurd conclusions they have already formed. This crude form of argumentation is further

reinforced by the anonymity mantra; there is no consequence for rude behavior toward someone

with different beliefs.

A large consequence of this biased ingroup/outgroup form of identification and

argumentation is that the 4chan forums become an echo chamber. Politically Incorrect is

considered a red pill community because the users act under the assumption that their doxas and

ways of thinking represent the cold hard truth, while the rest of people make up the blue pill

society, representing ignorance. This has given 4chan a false sense of superiority, and this is

reflected in the forum posts. For example, they make claims about having “memed Trump into

office.” Their illusions over the power and influence they hold impact the way they argue

amongst themselves and to outsiders. Anyone not in their community is shunned; most /pol/

users express their disdain for Reddit users, most likely since they belong to a heavily

mainstream community. Thus, 4chan users attempt to separate themselves from society, and as a

result the controversial opinions they share bounce back and forth within. Thread replies are
mainly devices for the users to restate and reinforce their deeply-rooted beliefs and not outlets to

consider other viewpoints.

Doxas have always been both an indicator of people’s true feelings as well as a tool for

people to navigate how they think and feel in relation to society. The internet and subsequent

evolution of the public forum (and image board) has not replaced this phenomenon, but it has

instead created a less personal platform in which attempts to truly understand each other can be

hindered. The frighteningly inhumane opinions encountered on image boards like 4chan give

more insight into the psychology of belonging and discourse. Rhetors should observe the way

doxas can persist cyclically inside sections of the internet too exclusive to have much connection

anywhere else. Online anonymity, especially in controversial scenarios, is a limitation that can

cause rhetoric to devolve into petty arguments and name calling. One should listen carefully to

the doxas they encounter online, for much is revealed about the individuals who only seek to

belong and our impersonal internet society as a whole.

Amossy, R. (2002). ​How to Do Things with Doxa: Toward an Analysis of Argumentation in

Discourse​. Poetics Today. Retrieved 13 February 2018 from