On the power of crowds OR how I learned to fear 4chan
If we agree on the fact that individuals are pretty competent when they have a goal in mind, it would logically follow that large groups of individuals are more competent at achieving this goal. The difficulty is that crowds/mobs are not simply more competent, they are competent, but in very different ways. Furthermore crowds are also radically different in person and on the internet. Both suffer from "mob mentality" and both enjoy the freedom offered by increased anonymity, but I actually think that crowds online can be routinely more scary.
What I really wanted to focus on was 4chan. If you've never heard of this particular message/image board you've probably been living under the internet equivalent of a rock. 4chan is essentially a forum, but there is no registration so people can post anonymously and there are no rules. Well one rule, no child pornography (the other kinds are considered more then OK in certain sections of the site). 4chan is essentially a meme breeding ground and are responsible for rickrolling, icanhascheeseburger and chocolate rain just to name a few. Now these may seem innocuous, but 4chan is also responsible for the actions against the church of scientology
In order to fully understand the power of 4chan let us consider what it really is. Imagine even a small fraction of the bored people on the internet. This is still alot of people, but lets just imagine one of them. They go to 4chan because they're bored and they want something to do. Someone has posted a link to some site that they want to spam, so this one person spends 3 minutes making fake posts or voting or something and then they leave. One person isn't so bad, but imagine thousands of people? Bored people with a means to organize their efforts are scary!
Here's another really funny example. Time magazine holds an online poll of the most influential person of the year. Users rate and vote different people in order to determine the most influential. Someones on 4chan decided it would be fun to hack the poll. Full details are here but here's the summary. These people figured out how to break the CAPTCHA which was time's way of ensuring that only people could vote. This meant that these people could make programs to cast thousands of votes automatically. Time was not impressed, so they switched to another system calle reCAPTCHA, which wasn't so easily broken. They responded by creating a program for random users to run that would allow them to simply enter the characters in the pictures they saw (that's how captcha works) and click vote, while the program took care of casting the votes for the right people. After one vote, the program reloaded and you entered more words and casts more votes! Needless to say they succeeded in hacking moot (4chan's creator) into 1st place. But that wasn't all, they also arranged for the first letters of the next 21 people to spell MARBLECAKEALSOTHEGAME. This was done by BORED PEOPLE USING THE INTERNET.