‘4chan is kill’. How An Internet Dinosaur Was Brought Down
A rift has appeared among the ranks of 4chan, with large quantities of users bidding the website farewell in favour of alternatives like 8chan.co. How could it be that the most infamous community found on the internet has started to break up? Over a decade has ruled the darker sides of the internet. What does this mean?
During the last few weeks, a lot of big and important things happened on the internet. GamerGate, The Fappening, and the death of 4chan. Is 4chan really dead? No, it isn’t, but it might as well be to most of their decennium-long users. Somehow, these three things are all interconnected. “But how?” you’d ask. Well, that is what I’m setting out to explain in this new post on internet culture. For reference on The Fappening, read my previous article on it. I will write an elaborate post on ‘GamerGate’ soon(-ish), so I will only glance over the topic in this post. I will not use extensive references in this post, but rest assured that most claims are based on truth as most (certainly on the nature of 4chan) are taken from my academic thesis. Disclaimer, sentences and words between quotes mean I’m taking either quotes, or are paraphrasing 4chan slang.
4chan started as an image based message board in 2003 by a young boy called Christopher Poole, a.k.a. ‘Moot’ (Mootykins to some). Its anonymous nature became home to some of the more reclusive and creative people on the internet. Many things we now love or loathe on the internet, started there. Ragecomics? Originated on 4chan. Image macros (sometimes wrongly called memes)? Also 4chan. Even the Anonymous-movement started on 4chan, when users got fed up with the censoring ways of Scientology-lawyers after they tried ripping down any mention of Tom Cruise’s Scientology-recruitement video. Anonymous aided websites like Gawker (remember that name) by overflowing Scientology centers world-wide with phone calls, DDoS’s, and eventually a real life protest march. This movement, and later similar ‘projects’ like Lulzsec, were so interesting and new to political movements, that I wrote my Bachelors thesis about the influence of such movements on the political participation of young people.
‘Anonymous’ rise to infamy became such a mainstream event, that most reclusive ‘Channers’ turned their back to the ‘white knights’ of Anonymous before they even made headlines. Because that’s what 4chan is like: once something becomes popular and spreads to other sites like Reddit, they start to hate it. The same thing happened with ragecomics and image macro’s, and will happen probably to the next big thing (if 4chan is resurrected). Now don’t equate 4chan users with hipster, because if there’s anything they hate the most, it’s hipsters.
You probably understand the loaded sentence “I liked X before it was cool”. If I stretch this metaphor, 4chan would be the one to invent this sentence, to use it mockingly for people who think they ‘invented’ a hype. This sentence then gets spread around the boards of 4chan, and gets picked up by a casual visitor. He then takes it to another website, and prances around with this ‘new’ joke he found. The users on this other website quickly make it popular, but lack understanding of the original meaning of the sentence. 4chan users see this, and quickly start to loathe what their once original joke has become: a bleak representation of its intended target.
Let me use an even more abstract metaphor. Person A invents a new way to make pasta. He cooks this pasta to some of his friends. One of his friends, person B, thinks he knows the recipe, and cooks it for his parents, without telling it is Person A’s invention. Person B’s parents think it lacks a bit of X and Y, or perhaps subtract Z, and add it to the recipe. They talk about this amazing new way to make pasta invented by their son at their workplace, book club, or hell, even church. Then, when Person A goes home to his own parents for christmas dinner, and gets served his own pasta recipe. Only, it doesn’t even resemble his recipe, and neither did he receive credit for his work. Instead, Person A starts a crusade against this pasta. This is what 4chan regularly does.
Cesspool of Anonimity
One of the prime unique features is that 4chan users don’t have an identity on the board. It used to be one disorganized mess. Used to be, because a few years ago users reluctantly welcomed ID’s to the website. An ID is given to anyone writing in a certain thread, but resets when a user comments in another thread. Because of this, discussion became easier while the anonymous nature of the board was preserved. Before the introduction of ID’s, you would have to trust the one replying to your reply was indeed the guy you originally replied to. Before ID’s were introduced, users would identify themselves through images, but not in the way most people do on facebook. They’d post images from for instance a set of porn of the same girl. Or, alternatively, they’d draw a comic in their own style.
Another feature of 4chan is that threads that don’t enjoy active posts will get deleted. For instance, the /b/ (random) board on 4chan counts 10 pages, each giving room to 15 threads. If you add a comment to a thread, it gets ‘bumped’ to the top. Once there are 150 threads with newer comments than your thread, it gets deleted to preserve server bandwidth and storage. Most threads get little to no attention, and die a quick death struggling to even achieve more than three comments. In order to gain popularity, a thread has to be eye-catching. This urges people to be creative, both with their writing and their choice of picture. Captivating your audience has been taken to a whole new, and sometimes perverted, level. Greentext stories/copypasta sometimes take surprising plot-twists, and are more often than not completely fabricated, with surprise appearances of Loch Ness monsters, dancing dinosaurs, or pocket-escaping mom’s spaghetti.
The anonimity and level of competitiveness have also given way to some of men’s more candid political incorrectness. If the opening post (OP) is poorly written by the original poster (the OP), this most often results in a reply saying ‘OP is a fag’. The whitest of kids can be repeatedly called a ‘nigger’, or be encouraged to ‘an hero’ (kill yourself). Some media call 4chan a racist, hate-filled forum. I’m convinced they are just saying things they otherwise can’t say, trying to shed of the daily slurs of political correctness by using offensive words. Among some there might be a certain disdain for these minorities, though others might just try to adhere to 4chan’s unwritten etiquette.
Tits or GTFO
Another form of this etiquette is the rule ‘Tits or GTFO’. If a user on 4chan identifies his/herself as a girl, he or she has to post proof. There are multiple reasons for this, mainly stemming from the ‘Veil of Ignorance’ as coined by John Rawls. 4chan users are mainly males, ranging from age 15 to 30. This has become something of an archetype: every anon is a 20-something male. ‘Newfags’ are new users, while ‘Oldfags’ have been on the site for years. Newfags might be younger, while oldfags tend to be older than the archetype, since their continued activity on the board. The absense of (identified) girls or women has led to this archetype becoming genderless, since there isn’t a dichotomous gender divide.
When a woman identifies herself as such, she is thus asking for attention to the fact ‘she has tits’ from ‘basement-dwelling neckbeards’. The competitive nature of 4chan’s attention grabbing therefore means she has an unfair advantage, and has to either show those tits (both as proof and to humiliate) to her audience, or ‘get the fuck out’. It can be seen as 4chan’s way of slut-shaming. It can also be seen as a way of preserving the veil of ignorance, by keeping attention-whoring at bay.
The Rise of the Social Justice Warrior
So far, I’ve given you an extensive 1000-word essay on what 4chan really is (or at the very least, to an outside observer), setting the groundwork for an answer to the question posed in the title. Now, we’ll shortly shift our attention to another website, called Tumblr. This social media website entered service in 2007. It is a place where people post ‘microblogs’, short opinionated pieces aimed at certain topics. Early adopters found it a useful place to spread their fandom of certain things, ranging from Doctor Who to My Little Pony. Fan fiction and fan art were the main objects that were spread amongst users.
After a few years however, a new kind of user entered the fray. These people were mainly concerned with ‘unfairness’. Their main topic was social inequality of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), people of color (‘PoC’) and most of all, females. Instead of starting a constructive discussion on how to improve equality, these ‘modern feminists’ started a crusade against everything they deemed ‘oppressive’ – mainly white, straight men. These people were behind the Twitter fad ‘#KillAllMen‘, in which they called for the eradication of the male gender altogether as a final solution to all of their problems. To my Dutch readers: these so-called SJW’s are also largely responsible for the current uproar at our local ‘Sinterklaas’ festivities.
These people were dubbed ‘RadFem’ (Radical Feminists) or SJW’s (Social Justice Warriors), and are often ridiculed internet-wide, on 4chan, and also on Reddit where a whole subreddit is dedicated to the laughable actions of these Tumblrista’s. Due to their nature, 4chan and tumblr-users became mortal enemies. When, a few months ago, a group of SJW’s tried to raid 4chan, 4chan responded with the flooding of gore and porn on the most viewed topics of tumblr. The two communities have a very unhealthy relationship, much to the internet’s amusement.
Christopher Poole, a.k.a Moot
Another factor that has to be taken into account, is the founder of 4chan. When he founded 4chan almost 11 years ago, he was only a 16-year-old kid. He had no way of controlling the popularity of his creation, or the level of discourse. Many users of 4chan took his inability to act as a capable moderator as an endorsement of their behaviour. Or maybe he did endorse them. The fact remains that Moot had no way of controlling what was posted, nor had he a way of monetizing the huge popularity of 4chan. To address the first issue, he enlisted the help of ‘janitors’ chosen from active 4chan users, mods that would regulate activity in his stead. To address the latter, he initiated a few things such as the now infamous ‘4chan pass’, giving users a way to bypass captcha when posting comments.
Instead of trying to reform 4chan into something more marketable and profitable, he built a new website. This project, named ‘Canvas’, was aimed at creative internet-users much like early Tumblr and 4chan adopters. The project never really took off, and earlier this year, Poole shut the website down.
Poole, now 26, is the owner and administrator of one of the largest and most infamous web forums of the world, but has virtually nothing to show for it. He has the name recognition, but not the money. He’s come at a point in life when he want’s to pick the fruits of his labor, but is unable to do so. His name is inexplicably bound to a website demonized by mainstream media: it is extremely hard to find an article published on 4chan that is of a positive nature. On top of that, like most teenagers do, he grew up. He found other interests in life, which seemingly clashed with 4chan’s anti-establishment nature.
How are these three factors connected? It’s time to connect the dots based on two events, namely GamerGate and The Fappening.
About a month ago, in late August, some youtube videos started making rounds on 4chans /v/ (video games related) board and some Reddit pages, namely /r/videos, /r/gaming, /r/games, and /r/pcgaming. The subject of these video’s started out with an indie game developer called Zoë Quinn, who slept with multiple game ‘journalists’ and important people in the scene to get favourable mentions and reviews for her game, and improving her position in the scene. This initial video opened the floodgates as more and more information about the corruption in video games ‘journalism’. This did not only affect websites and indie developers, but also large publishers, game festivals, marketing agencies, and until then established and respected award shows. They all had friendly connections with each other, leading to conclusions that most consumers were being lied to by the media that was supposed to represent them.
Strangely enough, mentions of GamerGate on /v/ led to threads being deleted, and users who kept posting them being banned. Much the same happened on subreddits /r/gaming and /r/games. On /v/, the main argument against posting these videos revolved around inciting hate and promoting ‘doxxing’ (posting of personal information of individuals on the internet). A mod of /r/gaming openly reached out to Zoë Quinn on Twitter, offering to delete any mention of her from the subreddit, while an /r/games mod was allegedly booted for supporting the mob. This was especially strange behaviour of /v/ janitors, who, on other occasions, didn’t step in as much as they did.
The second event that happened was the Fappening (for more info on that, here’s my exposé). The media largely attacked 4chan for providing us with these leaked pictures. Reportedly, under pressure from lawyers, Moot changed policy on pictures from ‘The Fappening’, banning anyone who posted a picture from the collection. This mainly affected the /b/ board, which up until then was an ‘anything goes’ board (except child pornography). This signals another break with how 4chan used to operate. Why? Was it pressure from lawyers?
No, the truth is much more dark. At least, when you are a devout visitor of 4chan. And this is why I, and many 4chan regulars, declared 4chan dead.
New Janitors, New Image
The above picture is not a joke. It is part of the large-scale rebranding of 4chan. An explanation of what has happened can be found here. I’ll give a short summary: as a result of 4chan’s raid of tumblr, a girl related to one of the owners of Gawker media tried to commit suicide. Moot wanted to stop the animosity between tumblr and 4chan, while most mods objected. Those that did object were booted from their duties and replaced by outsiders, aimed at ‘cleaning up’ 4chan. Among those new janitors are the same group of people implicated by #GamerGate, whose revelations also involved Gawker media-owned website Kotaku. Other new janitors are appointed from his new group of friends.
Moot is finally making moves to try to clean up 4chan, but 4chan doesn’t want to get clean. They love the way things are now, and openly oppose any changes to the way 4chan operates. The below picture accurately describes how most regulars feel right now.
People feel betrayed, and rightly so. The people they tried fighting for over a decade now have the power to delete their words from their beloved website. When this became public knowledge, people immediately started making posts planning to leave 4chan. Another website, resembling 4chan, has already been embraced by a large portion of the active user base: 8chan.co. In response, 4chan banned every mention of 8chan from their boards.
Users haven’t given up the fight. The old 4chan is dead. Will it continue to exist? Probably. Would it be as revered and creative as it was? Probably not. Moot is finally trying to cash in on 4chan. He’s trying to rebrand it as an edgy forum, but safe. To answer to how the biggest forum was brought down is answered. From the inside. 4chan became too mainstream to survive in its current form.