The Disgusting Side Of 4Chan, The Anonymous, Mysogynist Forum Responsible For Leaked Photos
On Sunday, August 31, the Internet blew up when nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and multiple other celebrities surfaced on the web. This online explosion began on 4chan.
Up until a few days ago, it was unlikely that you had ever heard of 4chan. You may still have no idea what it is, but you've probably at least seen the name in multiple headlines surrounding the leaks.
If you are still unfamiliar with 4chan, you're not alone. In fact, it's apparent that even CNN is having trouble figuring out just what or "who" 4chan is.
Just to be clear, 4chan is not a person. CNN could have spent about five minutes on Google to figure that out.
Likewise, there are good reasons for everyone to know about 4chan, and its connection to the dark side of the Internet.
What is 4chan?
4chan is an online messaging board where all users are anonymous. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, users do not have to submit an email address or any other personal information.
It's basically an online bulletin-board, a series of forums in which people can communicate and share things without revealing their identities.
According to its homepage:
4chan was created in 2003 by Christopher Poole, who was 15 at the time. He modeled the site after an anime website called 2chan. Initially, he ran the site in secret, but eventually felt inspired to come out as the creator.
In 2011, when Poole was 23, he claimed that 4chan had grown so much that it had close to 12 million viewers a month. At this point, the site claims to get nearly 20 million unique visitors and 540 million page views each month.
Poole has capitalized on this success with a career in public speaking.
Despite the controversy surrounding 4chan, Poole has defended the anonymity of his users, claiming that it fosters creativity. During a TED conference in 2010, Poole stated:
After the release of these celebrity photos, the irony of this statement is astronomical. It seems that Poole may be out of touch with the monster he has created. 4chan is the Pandora's Box of the Internet.
The Dark Side Of 4chan: The Message Board Known As /b/
4chan had very innocent beginnings, but it grew into something very sinister over time. In fact, 4chan can be credited with the birth of the infamous online hacking group, Anonymous.
While some affiliates of Anonymous now claim to have no association with 4chan, they do not deny that their movement began on the website.
Thus, the nature of the relationship between 4chan and Anonymous is unclear at present. According to Rob Walker from Slate:
Indeed, 4chan has been the catalyst for a number of troubling events on the Internet. As much as Poole might contend that the website offers a chance for people to communicate without fear, he should also acknowledge the more troublesome side of his creation.
When it first started, 4chan had two message boards. One was designated for discussions surrounding anime, and was called: /a/.
The other message board was for everything other than anime, and was known as: /b/.
While /b/ initially began as something that helped people create memes, it evolved into a medium for trolling, harassment and bullying.
Due to the fact that 4chan allows users to remain anonymous, they are not afraid to post gruesome and disturbing content. Furthermore, instead of archiving conversations, /b/ immediately deletes them when new content arrives. This has led to fast-paced and chaotic interactions, as well as complete and utter anonymity.
Hence, /b/ has played host to everything from violent pornography to photos of dead people and obscenely racist content. In fact, many users seem to actively encourage misogyny, racism and general intolerance.
Simply put, /b/ is a haven for the depraved.
Poole has attempted to ban users who habitually post graphic and offensive content, and often tries to isolate explicitly sexual content. Yet, it is very difficult to prevent long-term abuse on a website that condones anonymity.
The Internet Is Our Responsibility
Thus, what happened to Jennifer Lawrence and the other individuals impacted by the photo leaks was disgusting. Yet it was hardly the first instance in which 4chan was behind abhorrent and harmful acts.
The Internet is an incredibly powerful entity. It literally has the capacity to destroy lives. Yet, it can also be used as a force for good.
Likewise, the Internet is constantly evolving, and we must all strive to understand it. Anyone could fall victim to its perils, but with the proper knowledge and preparation, this does not have to happen.
Eliminating online abuse altogether is likely impossible, but collectively we can work to ensure that it occurs less frequently. The first step in this endeavor is acknowledging that your information and privacy is at risk, and learning how to protect it in this era of online intrusion.