As of recent, image board forums especially 8chan have been under media spotlight due to the current trend of users sharing hate-filled manifestos, prior to mass shootings. However, image board forums is not a new concept, and have been around with other Chan board series. Consequently, the creation of public boards that mediate discussions with anonymous users on a platform encourages the formation of extremist groups, and commends individuals that conduct acts for a joke or commitment to hateful ideas. Although, if we already are aware of its influential effect on the online realm, why haven’t we banned it? This hyper textual paper will discuss 4chan.org, the image board’s historical overview, clients of the site, and 4chan’s influence on social, cultural and political aspects of internet transformations.
4chan: what exactly is it?
According to AAAI, 4chan.org is described as an influential platform with 7 million users and has been known for its inherent influential role in Internet culture. The currently active platform was created by Christian Poole in October 2003 designed as an image board, online message platform that encourages sharing ideas with users of similar interests.
4chan is the English counterpart of 2chan, a Japanese image board created by Hiroyuki Nishimura in 2001. The platform is described as an “anonymous, and ephemeral community” (Bernstein, Hernandez Harry, Andre, Panovich & Vargas, 2011). This is probably due to 4chan mediating the 22 million viewers monthly to post ideas on forums, whilst remaining anonymous (Dibbell, 2010). According to the website, it offers a variation of topics including Japanese Anime, video games and NSFW (not safe for work) online culture. It allows “original posters” (OP) to anonymously create a public thread with an image on any discussion focus (Hine, Onaolapo, Cristofaro, Kourtellis, Leontiadis, Samara, Stringhini, & Blackburn, 2017). In addition, the platform allows users to continue the conversation with or without images and references that will eventually be deleted (ibid).
Although the website may have ingenuous discussions, it also leads to conversations encouraging hateful ideas. For example, when an group of female teenagers entered a NASA competition and looked online for people to support their solution to filtering lead-contaminated water at high schools (Mezzofiore, 2018). However, according to CNN, 4chan users manipulated the voting contest because it was discussed conspired that the high school team were only getting votes since the members were black.
The 4chan business model essentially was made to act as the western version of 2chan; a forum for English speakers with the exact structure of 2chan. The core aspects that encouraged its success was the anonymity of users, the ability to create new threads on any topics, and its service to mediate conversations with people around the world.
Essentially, 4Chan’s design relates to Christopher Kelty’s association with freedom and information technologies. Specifically 4chan functioning as a tool that encourages “individual capacities to think, create, and manipulate the world, and transform collective relations” (Kelty, pg. 198, 2014). Tight-knit online communities like 4chan and Reddit are popularly used because their content serves as an alternative to mainstream online news.
In reference to Adrienne Massanari, website like Reddit and 4chan, having similarities of encouraging toxic techno cultures based on the image board website’s infrastructure. In particular, ease of creating anonymous profiles, and the commendation of users (i.e Reddit uses karma points, while popular 4chan threads are moved to popular threads) (Massanari 2015). Consequently, it encourages misogynist culture of users that encourage marginalization of others, and other toxic technocultures from the websites governance structure and moderators lack of involvement (ibid).
According to the FAQ section of 4chan.org, the discussions forum’s main administrator is Hiroyuki, however selected volunteers and moderators are used to scan through the sites’ threads for anything that counters 4chan’s regulations, as well as removing discussions involving illicit activities against US criminal legislation. In regard to site’s revenue, Hiroyuki wrote on 4chan.org that “our goal to provide the site free of charge to all users”, and supported through advertising revenue, 4chan Passes, and normal or alternative donations.
In this context, it could be assumed that these aspects of anonymity for users, and the ability to connect to anyone around the world by starting a new thread wouldn’t mean just innocent discussions of Japanese culture among the male dominated, college-educated users. Alternatively, create forums such as /pol/ also known as the politically incorrect forum that started trends including “bikini bridge“, a trend that encouraged women to lose weight enough to have a gap between their hip and pelvis. Consequently, becoming a popular trend among online eating disorder communities (ibid).
Does anyone moderate 4chan’s ephemeral forum?
When a user goes to 4chan.org, the website greets the viewer with a welcome and a link to global rules and FAQ section. Not a lot of information is given about 4chan’s moderation, another characteristic of 4chan’s anonymity ethos, except according to the websites FAQ, it states their referees include moderators and “janitors” that are not publicly listed with the responsibility to delete threads and ban users that break the rules. Furthermore, as a ephemeral messaging platform, it would be difficult for moderators to view threads since the system is programmed to prune all threads after it reaches.
Prior to 4chan.org, 4chan was hosted by the service provider GoDaddy until it suspended the domain in 2013 because of the website’s involvement with the shooter involved in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
4chan: A Historical overview
The Chan series
Before 4chan was launched, other image boards existed with “2channel” and 2chan as the earliest of imageboard forums. According to Poole, also known as “Moot” by 4chan users, that he considered Hiroyuki Nishimura as a pioneer that caused the era of anonymous-centric web culture. In this context, it eventually influenced the creation of 4chan, and possibly the popularity of anonymous online forums.
After 4chan.org was published, the emergence of new threads were created including 420chan, a thread that discusses topics related to recreational drugs, and 8chan (also known as 8kun), a recently re-branded image board notoriously known for white supremacist content and users connections to the New Zealand Christchurch attacks, and two other massacres. As well as 4chan’s competitor “Ylilauta“, a finnish imageboard that boasts a higher rank on Alexa in online traffic than 4chan, promises to not sell data to third-parties, and encourages of freedom of speech under anonymity.
A significantly popular 4chan thread called “4ChanSearch“that serves as a vertical search engine for other 4chan threads if a user does not know the specific image board thread name. As a community site, it also allows the benefits of vertical search for other specific threads while subtly promoting topics based on search behavior of users
Who uses websites like 4chan?
The Anonymous are a group of user hacktivists that originated from 4chan.org site and is names after the anonymity characteristic of the website (Gonzalez, 2019). The hacktivists had built an international following from hacking senators emails, and scouring the internet’s information and link it with current events (Peterson, 2014). For example, their first hacking operation called “Project Chanology” happened at the Church of Scientology in 2008. Another hacking activism was by a University student, David Kernell, who hacked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s email and posted screenshots on 4chan.
According to a Czech Journal of Political science, 4chan
In this context, it seems that the organisation revolves around John Barlow’s Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace values in particular their unity as a group that express their ideas “without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity” (Barlow, 1996).
How has 4chan transformed modern internet culture?
Socially Anonymous Presence
As a tight-knit community, user’s that reshare news or hacked information would encourage the reciculation of news quickly, resulting in a phenomen by Yochai Benkler (2014) that describes sites like 4chan to act as a “decentralised, autonomous, [and] efficient information-sharing market” (Dwyer & Martin, 2017). Furthermore, as a site, it would encourage the spread of information and ideas to disseminate beyond borders and multi-level transactions (ibid). This emphasizes its importance within the community for every user would form a cognitive understanding and appreciation that would form into a collective identity (ibid). However, this arises concerns among political scientists on the influence of misinformation on such communities or individuals (ibid).
As previously stated, 4chan allows anonymous users to converse on an ephemeral platform resulting to the formation of the Anonymous, and the Alt-right extremists, that has evidently influence political relations. However, this arises the question of why 4chan users resort to extreme measures. In reference to Carl Chan, Haberaan’s public sphere theory illustrates the way the public sphere develops from the organization of anonymous individuals that collectively persuade public opinion and challenge public authorities for the collective’s shared a political or communicative agenda (Chen, pg. 9).
As an anonymous and ephemeral website, it encourages user’s to feel the sentimental values of Barlow’s online independence speech to discuss with other users without prejudice, privilege, race, or economic power influenced conversation (Barlow, 1996). The website, similarly with Reddit and Ylilauta, act as alternative news sources to mainstream media (Womack, 2017)
Controversial Cultural Influence
A significantly popular 4chan thread called “4ChanSearch” that serves as a vertical search engine for other 4chan threads if a user does not know the specific image board thread name (Halvais, 2013). As a community site, it also allows the benefits of vertical search for other specific threads while subtly promoting topics based on search behavior of users (ibid). Thus, it could be assumed that to appeal to users, the website would encourage popular boards that share hateful ideas may be promoted unintentionally due to the websites’ design.
Besides functioning as a search engine, as formerly stated, websites like 4chan are sought after as an alternative news source to mainstream media. Community website users may share news or a perspective to an event that are not commonly portrayed on mainstream media, such as Hong Kong Police brutality news articles shared on Reddit’s r/HongKong thread that are not shown in China’s mainstream media (refer to fig.X).
Although churnalism may be beneficial in political participation and engagement of online communities, it arguably promotes favored news narratives that can influence user’s political understanding due to the 4chan’s limited news exposure and confirmation for legitimate news sources (Dwyer & Martin, 2017). Furthermore, it may encourage inherent values since at a micro level online news sharing on social media sites indicates the user’s values and confrontation with others of similar or differing opinions (ibid). This may encourage discussions on video games or sports, however also discussions on controversial threads such as /pol, also called politically incorrect, that involves discussions of hateful ideas and controversial memes like Ebola-chan (refer to fig. 8).
4Chan Ecological Map
All in all, image boards encourage discussions of varying topics with users around the world anonymously on Japanese anime shows, to the Hong Kong Anti-extradition protests. Although image boards, such as 4Chan, encourages niche topic discussions and as an alternative news source to main stream media sites like Twitter. Online communities like 4chan provides anonymity to users, ease to create threads of any topic of interest, and designed to be ephemeral making previous conversations impossible to acquire back. The site’s provides the social influence of anonymity and its functions as an alternative source to mainstream media. Consequently, the websites infrastructure unintentionally encourages the dissemination of hateful ideas without the consequence of exposure. For example, the bikini bridge trend and the Ebola-chan meme, that encourages misogynistic and racial undertones. In addition, it encourages the establishments of communities like the alt-right extremists and the Anonymous collectives that caused political and social influence on the online and offline realm.