What is 4chan?

According to its' homepage, is: "a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images. There are boards dedicated to a variety of topics, from Japanese animation and culture to videogames, music, and photography. Users do not need to register an account before participating in the community." (

According to any casual Internet user who knows of the sites' existence, 4chan is a "site full of weeaboos, trolls, children, and pedophiles that churns out many of the Internet's most popular viral content. 4chan and Anonymous are defenders of the Internets, and offenders of everything else but cats." (a quote from Encyclopedia Dramatica: THE wiki of 4chan users)

To be more specific... is an imageboard created in October 2003 by a 15 year old known for years only under the alias moot. moot originally created the site, which is an imageboard (basically, an Internet forum or bulletin board based around images rather than words) based off of the Japanese site Futaba Channel/2chan, and intended 4chan to be a place for fans to discuss Japanese anime. moot created 2 individual boards within 4chan: /a/, for anime, and /b/, for everything else.

The site quickly grew, and as of 2011, there are 54 separate boards covering tamer topics like Video Games, Animals & Nature, and Travel, to adult-aimed boards like Sexy Beautiful Women, Hentai (a form of Japanese anime style porn), and Hardcore Porn. By far, the most popular and well known board is the original Random, known most commonly as /b/ because of its URL, Today, 4chan averages 39 million daily views and 1.6 million visitors per day. As of 7:17 pm, December 7 2011, there were 834,218,669 posts on the site, and that number is constantly rising (check it out right now on 4chan’s homepage and see how much it has risen!). Alexa, a browsing application that is basically the Internet’s equivalent of a Nielsen box, has ranked 4chan as high as #56. While 4chan is only used by a select few, it is still the birthplace of many of the things that we all love about the Internet, and many of the things that have characterized the Internet in the last 10 years.

Before we get too deep, moot who?

external image christopher-poole.jpg

4chan was created by a 15 year old known online only as moot. It was not until July 2008 that moot publicly identified himself as Christopher Poole. For the sake of my explanation, I will be referring to him as Poole throughout this article. In recent years, Poole has become somewhat prominent in the media because of his distinct and rare ideas regarding privacy on the Internet. He has spoken out against the singular Internet identity ideal perpetrated by social media like Facebook, and has shared his ideals publicly at the Web 2.0 summit in October 2011, and expanded on them in a TED talk.

Despite 4chan’s immense popularity, Poole sees almost none of the profit. Advertisers for 4chan are almost impossible to find because of the site’s content, and Poole’s net worth has been estimated at only around 5 million, relatively insignificant in comparison to his contemporaries, like Mark Zuckerberg.

Back to the site: 4chan's Anonymity & Free Speech

What makes 4chan a completely unique website is its anonymity. No accounts are required for posting, so nothing can be tracked. In addition, posts are deleted after a certain period of time. For us students that have grown up using social media, an Internet medium that stresses identification and universal recognition, we are often warned, or more accurately scared into believing, that anything posted on the Internet is there forever, can never be deleted, and will probably come back to ruin our life when we are adults. But with 4chan, that is not the case. What’s posted on 4chan cannot be traced back to you, and most likely what you post is not going to stick around long enough to affect you. Plus, it would be difficult to shock 4chan users anyway. This anonymity, and complete freedom of expression, is something that Poole values about 4chan above everything else:

“Someone I recently met at the TED conference told me 'part of the magic of youth is that people are able to forgive and forget.' As kids, we say stupid things, and because there’s not a record of it, nobody is going to give you a hard time at 30 years old about something you said or did when you were 8 years old. Online, you have all these social networks that are moving to a state of persistent identity, and in turn, we’re sacrificing the ability to be youthful. In 10 years, everything you say and do will be visible online, and I think it’s really unfortunate.”

One of Christopher Poole’s strongest ideals, seen here in his 2010 New York Times profile, is one that is strongly unique in comparison to the Facebook ideology that is taking over the web, which advocates one singular identity, with everything linked. Someone can see every comment you have ever posted on a blog, every video you have ever liked, and more. But Poole advocates a more open Internet, where users can post what they want without consequences.

Usually, Anonymity = Profanity


Because of the site’s complete anonymity, combined with no moderation or screening of the posts, pretty much anything goes. One rule that does exist is no child pornography, but it still crops up on occasion, and will remain posted until a moderator sees the thread and takes it down. However, because of 4chan’s immense popularity, it is likely the thread will have already been seen by many.

Since literally everything is acceptable, 4chan is extremely profane. Violence, various sexual fetishes, hardcore racism, misogyny, and more are prominent and common topics on the site. A five minute casual browsing of 4chan is likely to result in you seeing things you never wanted to, or never thought you would see.

However, 4chan is not a hate website, and anyone even vaguely familiar with the site can tell you why. For the users, sometimes referred to as “trolls”, because of their practice of “trolling” those they are making fun of (often women, African-Americans, and the mentally retarded), their offensive images and talk are about 99% entertainment and 1% actual dislike. It is more about getting “lulz”, or amusement, than anything else. Evidence of this fact is that 4chan users are not consistent in where they focus their hatred:
“To the troll, the precise nature of this distress is secondary, if not downright inconsequential, to their enjoyment of its effects….[T]rolls are as likely to attack members of the Westboro Baptist Church (aka the ‘God Hates Fags’ church) as they are to torment gay rights activists, and would harass members of the KKK just as quickly as they would post racist messages on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s website. Put very simply, trolls are equal-opportunity offenders, primarily interested in lulz.” (Whitney Phillips)
Because of 4chan's equal opportunity trolling, it would be wrong to look at 4chan as a site based on cyber-bullying or hatred.

So what comes out of this Internet free-for-all?

For one, memes, like these:

external image Deal_with_it_dog_gif.gif?1275684729

Deal With It
800px-Sup_dawg.jpgYo Dawg I Herd You Like...

LOL Cats

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Sad Keanu Reeves

Troll Face

A meme, in Internet terms, is any Internet phenomena, any image that becomes popular and spreads throughout the Internet. There are an infinite number of memes, and I have tried to include the most popular and those that have become the most mainstream. Anyone who has ever used the Internet has probably stumbled across a variation of these memes, or another meme.

Memes are born on 4chan. They gain steam on 4chan, and then usually cross over to Reddit, then to blogs, and eventually start cropping up everywhere. Every meme that you have ever seen that you hate, you can blame 4chan. Any meme you have ever seen that made you laugh, you can thank 4chan. Either way, memes make the Internet more entertaining.

Huge acts of Hive Mind/Trolling

4chan users have often collaborated to wreck havoc on the rest of Internet. Often times these acts of trolling are based on obtaining lulz rather than causing actual harm. I will discuss some of their biggest troll acts in order of severity:

Fuck You Google
In July of 2008, 4chan users collectively decided to Google search the term "fuck you google" until it became the #1 most searched phrase on Google. While humorous, this act did not directly affect anyone, except for probably really pissing off Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Justin Bieber Syphilis


In June of 2010, 4chan users were able to get the phrase "Justin Bieber syphilis" to trend on Google. This eventually led to numerous gossip blogs posting articles about "the Justin Bieber syphilis rumor". The accusations were completely false, and the phrase only trended so that 4chan users could gain some lulz at Bieber's expense. What is most fascinating about this case though is that it is proof that 4chan can infiltrate our media simply through power of suggestion. This example shows the power of creative hive mind thinking on the Internet, a concept that 4chan has exploited for personal lulz.

AT&T's CEO Alleged Death by Cocaine

external image ireport.jpg

In June of 2009, AT&T blocked from its servers, claiming a denial-of-service type spamming had occurred as a result of users visiting the site. However, many 4chan users felt that the site had actually been blocked because of its content. In response, a report was posted on CNN's citizen journalism site, iReport, that alleged that the CEO of AT&T, Randall Stephenson, had died of a cocaine overdose. This case demonstrates how 4chan will retaliate against its opponents, especially when the site's freedom of speech is threatened.

external image marble-cake-also-the-game-27530-1239633082-4.jpg?w=640
In 2008, Time Magazine's online site created a poll for readers to vote for the most influential person in the world. 4chan users, in a show of respect for their site's creator, voted moot (Christopher Poole) to the #1 spot by a huge margin. However, that was not enough. They also somehow were able to vote for a top 21 list that formed an acrostic spelling out the phrase "marblecake, also, the game". Now, like all other cases, there is not necessarily definitive proof that this was done purposely or was just a happy accident. However, "marblecake" and "the game" are both popular memes on 4chan, providing evidence that it was done purposely.



Because of their various acts of trolling, 4chan has often been linked to the Internet hacking group Anonymous. However, in my research I was not able to establish a clear link between 4chan and the group. Specifically, as part of my research I interviewed a friend who has frequented 4chan for the last four years, and he denied ever seeing a connection between the two. He stated that in all the time he was on 4chan, he never saw users organize and hack or "spam" a website, and if anyone ever did post something to try to get users to rally and hack, it was largely ignored by the other users. He also denied a link between Anonymous and 4chan.

In addition, while I was observing 4chan, I saw a user start a post about Occupy Wall Street, with a "call to all members of Anonymous". Only a couple of other users responded to the thread, telling the OP (original poster) to stop posting Occupy Wall Street-related items, and denying the link between Anonymous and 4chan and its users. One user responded to the thread and stated:
"ive been on /b/ since christmas06 and anonymous fags are unrelated to /b/ros" (sic).
("/B/ros" are what regular users of call themselves and referring to someone as a "fag" is a regular occurrence on 4chan and not necessarily a sign of homophobia, or even of negativity. Users refer to themselves as "newfags" or "oldfags" based on how long they have been active members of the board. This corresponds to the argument that 4chan's unfocused hatred distills the prejudices shown on the site overall.)

While it is impossible to be able to link Anonymous and 4chan because of the complete anonymity of both, there has been much speculation in the mass media regarding the connection. However, based on my personal research I would hesitate to make a link between the two.

SOPA & The Future of 4chan

Currently, we are seeing the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, making its rounds through Congress. The consequences of the passage of this bill would deeply affect 4chan, and it will be interesting to see how the site will cope with the law if it goes through. However, based on the previous efforts of the users of 4chan, they surely will not go down easily.

In 2010, Poole launched a new website, Canvas is a similar imageboard based site, but it is more closely moderated, and thus contains somewhat cleaner material. The most fascinating part of is that it requires a Facebook account to make posts. This seemingly goes against Poole's ideals regarding Internet identity and freedom, which surprised and somewhat irritated me.


I did not necessarily have questions I wanted to answer when I began my research on 4chan; what I was interested in is the origin of the site and what the users have done with the complete freedom 4chan allows them. What I found deeply interests me: 4chan is what is great about the Internet. 4chan is people sharing ideas and participating in a fast-moving discussion with users all over the world. And it is not censored. At all. 4chan is freedom of speech at its finest: anything can go, and anything will. More often than not that leads to obscene and offensive material. But despite it being filled with filth, the beauty of 4chan is that it exists, that there is such a place on the Internet for anyone to go and be completely unfiltered without consequence. What has come out of 4chan are the things that, over time, have become staples of the Internet and shaped it to what it is today.

The more the Internet progresses, the more homogenized it becomes, and social media sites like Facebook are forcing us as Internet users to create one singular identity instead of sharing various parts of ourselves in various parts of the Internet. With all this singularity online, 4chan stands out as a site where users can post whatever they please without consequences. It is seemingly the only site of its kind, and its anonymous and freedom of expression ideals have made it drastically different than any other place on the Internet.

"4chan challengers every Internet convention;

it is, alone, the antithesis of Google, social networking sites, and blogs."



The thesis statement of this website is trying to see what motivates 4chan users to work together anonymously. This website relates to our class discussion on protection and empowerment, because everything about this website is completely anonymous, there is no need to protect any of its users because they are unidentifiable. The discussion of SOPA was interesting because 4chan was created as an outlet for people who wanted to say things anonymously and to know that SOPA can put a stop to this is interesting. There are many strengths in this project, you did a great job in emphasizing the popularity of this website and how quickly it can spread information. Informational literacy is important while visiting this website because it is important that while reading many of the posts to keep in mind that they may be fictional, and you did a great job in emphasizing that. The information that stuck out to me was the Justin Beiber scandal, I remember it because when the accusations surfaced I was one of the people who posted o blogs in reference to it, and my opinions of the situation. Credibility was established in your use of examples of the trends that 4chan began online, and the references to different news articles referring to 4chan. I do not think that there was any irrelevant information, although I think the beginning paragraphs describing 4chan were a little to extensive and I would have like to see me information about the effects of 4chan on the internet.

-Ashley Blakeney