In Defence of 4chan

Posted by @ 10:00 am on September 29th, 2014

There’s a message being conveyed by mainstream journalists and clickbait sites alike that 4chan hates women. This is true to the extent that 4chan hates everybody. 4chan hates 9GAG and Reddit, which are in many ways its direct descendants. It hates My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic culture, even though it has an entire “containment board” dedicated to it. 4chan will most likely hate me for writing this post. 4chan, as one local Fox News station stated, is “an Internet hate machine.” And you’re just going to have to deal with that.

I started visiting 4chan after reading Parmy Olson’s excellent book We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency. At first I didn’t know what to make of it. User friendliness and design function were not priorities for founder Christopher Poole when he created the site as a 15 year old. Nor are 4channers welcoming of newcomers. When there’s an influx of new users, which happens every summer, or after a big media event like the fappening, the /b/ros get busy posting beheadings, coprophagiac gifs, and all manner of hair-raising content.

While there are many similar Chan sites (7Chan, 420Chan, etc.) 4chan is the grand-daddy of them all. Poole’s English-language answer to an anime image board called 2Chan spawned the hacker group Anonymous, generates many of the memes you (eventually) enjoy on Facebook, and is peerless in its ability to rustle jimmies. From a literary perspective, I’d argue the average greentext story (personal stories told in point form) is more engaging than 90% of what I see from aspiring writers. Tao Lin references it in his work, and is believed to post on the /lit/ board.

In the past, 4chan users have acted as white knights in their fight against Scientology. They arranged a birthday party for a lonely old man. They invented the bikini bridge out of thin air and then laughed when it became a real thing reported on by The Daily Mail. They have cheerily ruined the lives of people who made the mistake of posting their real names or trying to use the /b/ random board as their “personal army.” They have sent a frog tied to balloons into space.

Outside of /b/ and the wildly-offensive /pol/, the rest of 4chan is pretty mundane. The denizens of /co/ like comic books and cartoons. /out/ discusses outdoor activities. /mlp/ is for My Little Pony worship. Okay, that last one is kind of abnormal.

It would be kind to say that media outlets struggle to report on 4chan. A Bill O’Reilly segment once called it a “far left website disseminating child pornography to Internet pedophiles.” A CNN tech analyst recently thought 4chan was one person. I’ve worked in newsrooms, and I can just imagine some poor hack being assigned a story on the Chan, dipping his or her toe into its murky depths, baffled by the interface, trying in vain to make sense of it, and then eventually just regurgitating something vaguely incorrect written about the site five years ago.

In the wake of the fappening, I saw coverage so inaccurate I’d have torn up my journalism degree if I’d ever bothered to collect it. So first let’s clarify 4chan’s role in it. It’s been falsely reported time and again that “4chan hackers,” or worse, “A hacker known as 4chan,” released the nude celebrity photos and videos. A more accurate sentence would be: An individual chose 4chan as his venue for disseminating these photos. He wanted cash. Someone browsing /b/ at the time ponied up. This was the ideal place for the transaction due to poster anonymity and a user base comfortable with crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. 4chan, which is nothing but code written by Christopher Poole, didn’t release a single photo. 4chan is not an autonomous entity. An unknown individual released the photos to 4chan. The same photos were on Reddit moments later, yet that site has received relatively little criticism.

Then the “Emma You Are Next” website popped up, threatening, in the name of 4chan, to release Emma Watson nudes in response to a feminist speech she gave at the UN. This was intriguing on a couple of level. 4chan has fetishized Watson for years, long before it was appropriate to do so. And many self-styled /pol/iticians, bitter enemies of what they consider “Tumblr-tard misandry,” considered Watson’s message a moderate, bridge-building one that that they didn’t take issue with.

It wasn’t long before 4chan users identified EYAN as a false flag. The website’s suspicious use of the 4chan logo left little doubt. The “news” site FoxWeekly was the first to report on the threat to Hermione. Some 4chan sleuths found proof that both FoxWeekly and the EYAN site were operated by Rantic media, and Redditors amplified the message. On Wednesday, the jig was up, and Rantic claimed they were hired by celebrity publicists to censor 4chan, even posting a letter to Obama on their website. Soon after, Rantic Media was itself exposed as a hoax perpetrated by a group of Internet trolls calling themselves Social Vevo. Rantic Media is an anagram for “incite drama.”

It’s sad how many media outlets, respected and otherwise, regurgitated the dubious FoxWeekly story on Tuesday without asking any of the obvious questions. As one 4chan poster put it after the smoke had cleared on Wednesday night, “It’s funny how random browsers on 4chan are better investigators than those whose job it is to do investigative reporting.”

Give credit to Jezebel (whose parent-site Gawker was one of the few to report on the 4chan-Tumblr war of summer 2014) for clearing 4chan of blame once the case against Rantic/Social Vevo became apparent. Do not give credit for the final paragraph of this article however, which is a triumph of clumsy phrasing, and makes a last ditch effort to implicate 4chan on shaky grounds.

So, at the end of the day, it turns out that 4chan was framed by a person pretending to threaten to do what 4chan has in the past followed through on threatening to do. The wolf who cried boy.

But the message was out: 4chan users hate women, and they really hate feminism. If your social media feeds look like mine, you saw #ShutDown4chan statuses calling for hacker castration and what would amount to the suppression of opposing viewpoints. These people feel justified because some 4chan posts are offensive to their sensibilities. Yet 4chan is anything but one unified set of beliefs. The primary characteristic of its every board is internal discord. 4chan is nothing but the diverse group of weirdos who use it, and I am one of those weirdos, so unthinking requests for its censorship offend my sensibilities.

As a writer, 4chan keeps me in touch with zany neologisms, alerts me to weird shit I’d never hear of otherwise, and gives me insight into the dark thought processes of those on the fringes of society. But I won’t use research as a shield. I browse /lit/ and /x/ because they are effective aggregators of the literary and the paranormal. It’s a falsehood that 4chan is made up entirely of hate-filled troglodytes. On any given day you can find informed discussions about Tesla or Proust. I browse ‘feels’ threads in which kissless virgins give each other the virtual equivalent of consolatory hugs. I check /b/ to see what the hive mind will come up with next. And indeed, I’m quite often offended, alarmed or depressed by what I see.

Right now, for example, there’s a popular meme of a cute anime Ebola-Chan goddess that members of /pol/ pretend to worship with the phrase, “Good luck Ebola-Chan!” These fellows have formed an Ebola-centric death cult and root for Ebola. It’s unquestionably vile, and could never gain traction outside of a completely anonymous medium. Sometimes while browsing a thread of innocent, comical pictures I’ll see a gif of a dog being killed. I prefer animals to most people, and this upsets me. If something upsets you, dear Facebook friend, to the extent that you never look at the site again, then that’s good, you’re a healthier person than me, I bet. But that doesn’t mean you can sanctimoniously call for 4chan’s eradication, which is the equivalent of saying, “People shouldn’t be allowed to post anonymously on the Internet because they might say something I don’t like.”

The last time I checked, the right to offend whoever the hell you want (within legal bounds) is one of the basic tenets of living in a free and open society. In the 80s, porn impresario Larry Flynt took this fight all the way to the United States Supreme Court. His opponents were Reverend Jerry Falwell and the religious right. Now, it seems 4chan and its basement-dwelling trolls must wage the same battle to be as gross as they please, except without access to money or lawyers or anything but their “hacking abilities.” They face different enemies: the progressive left and the so-called social justice warrior movement.

In the D.A. Pennebaker film Town Bloody Hall, Norman Mailer, a lion of left-wing rhetoric, said, “A left totalitarianism—I think there’s something in the human spirit that can somehow bare the notion of a fascist or right-wing totalitarianism because it offers us at least the romantic dream that we can all form into underground cadres and have an adventurous life at the end where all of us men and women are equal and comrades. But if we get a left-wing totalitarianism, that means the end of all of us because we’ll have nothing but scrambled minds trying to overcome the incredible shock that the destruction of human liberty came from the left and not the right.”

So Godspeed 4chan. You Mein Kampf-quoters of /pol/, politically incorrect. You neck-bearded masturbators of /b/, random. You paper crane folders of /po/, papercrafts and origami. You I.T. geeks of /g/, technology. You well-armed mercenaries of /k/, weapons. You tulpa conjurers of /x/, paranormal. You literal shit-eaters, of, again, /b/, random. Godspeed.


Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, Variety, and Exclaim! Magazine.  His online fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Monkeybicycle, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and university journals of moderate renown.  Stories have appeared in print in M-Brane, Feathertale, Filling Station, and elsewhere.