4chan is fully anonymous and ephemeral image board site founded in October 2003, by Christopher Poole who goes by the nickname “moot”. The site was an English adaptation of Futaba boards (2chan) which were a Japanese board dedicated to discussions about manga and anime. Although the original intent of the website were discussions on otaku, anime and other Japanese cultural influences, the site has since grown to over 60+ boards currently seventeen of which are directly influenced by Japanese culture, though most pages of 4chan will contain an image with Japanese origins. While there are many boards you can peruse and post to, the site’s real claim to fame is one particular message board, “Random”. Random, also known as “/b/”, is 4chan’s random posting board, where people may post anything that crosses their mind. This can range from interesting, to inane, to viscerally inappropriate content and yet everything is accepted unless and until it is illegal. Poole sold this site to Hiroyuki Nishimura, one of the founders of 2chan, in September 2015(“4chan founder Christopher ‘Moot’ Poole sells his anarchic imageboard,” 2015).
4chan receives about 680 million page views every month with over 22 million unique visitors. About 1 million posts are made everyday by its anonymous users(“Advertise – 4chan,” n.d.-a). The demographic of the website is as follows(“Advertise – 4chan,” n.d.-b):
Gender: ~70% male, ~30% female
Location: United States (47%), United Kingdom (8%), Canada (6%), Australia (5%), Germany (4%), France (2%), Sweden (2%), Netherlands (2%), Poland (1.5%), Brazil (1.5%)
Interests: Japanese culture, anime, manga, video games, comics, technology, music, movies Education: Majority attended or currently enrolled in college
User can contribute to the site only in the form of posts or replies to these posts. When starting a new thread, it’s mandatory for the users to upload an image. The users can then provide a subject and description for the post they are making. They can either be anonymous by leaving the name field blank or provide a name. The system blocks the user from uploading duplicate images which reduce redundancy and repetition of posts. Other users can post replies to threads like this which do not have to have an image attached to them. A user could post a reply to any of the posts explained above which allows for nested commenting. The posts are deleted after a certain period of time by the system automatically. This time varies across boards and hence the system can be said to be ephemeral.
The two major mechanisms responsible for the huge following and contributions to the /b board is the anonymous and ephemeral nature of the posts. As the threads can be posted anonymously with no way to trace back to the opening poster except for the IP address (which is also secured by the administrator), the users are open to posting anything and everything they want without any accountability. It also means you can’t message other users or establish any kind of social relationship with them, unless they reveal their identity in some way. Also, the threads are deleted after a certain period of time by the servers which the creators refer to as “pruning”. This provides impermanence to the site yet reducing any long lasting threads which can be traced back to a person giving the users a full right to post whatever they want.
Disagreements & Civil Discourse
4chan/b is a breeding ground for discussions which often go sour and have lead to severe incidents in the past. People may use foul language at each other, ad hominem, create memes, photoshop pictures inappropriately, go on full scale spamming the threads and so on. Worse occurrences would be giving death threats to other users, using dumpster diving techniques to obtain information about other users and calling/emailing and blackmailing them. The community is also known to have rigged surveys, made bomb hoaxes, leaked nude celebrity pictures on the web and so on(Dewey, n.d.). The primary reason for this can be the low accountability of the posts users make due to the anonymous and ephemeral nature of the website. As to relate it with social norms, it’s very hard to get banned from the 4chan. Most of the items go away without any enforcement or action. This is also partly because of the very few rules that the boards have. Most of the posts are deleted in the period of 24 hours which is also a reason why people can act recklessly without leaving any evidence of activity the next day. This level of freedom is rarely seen on any of the other large bulletin board systems and this sets 4chan apart from them. Thus the norm of uploading any sort of content, good or evil is acceptable (or rather tolerated).
As explained in “Building Successful Online Communities” (Kraut et al., 2012), 4chan could use a lot of help from having a pre moderated content which is assessed by the system in terms of illegal content. The basis of this moderation should be an autonomous mechanism (design claim 1) which detects such issues as they get posted on the/b board. Also, if these types of posts are not filtered due to limitations and slip into the system, they should not be tolerated (Design claim 13 & 14). Also the participation of the community in the formulation of a set of rules in 4chan would be a positive step towards the notoriety it has gained. The site completely depends upon user contributions for the content it has. So what is better than having the users help to create their own rules. Even though they are provided such freedom, it should be taken care that all of these fall into the legal activities which has always been “moot”’s philosophy. The influence of community on rulemaking will increase its compliance as well (Design claim 22)
4chan founder Christopher “Moot” Poole sells his anarchic image board. (2015, September 21). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/christopher-mootpoole-sells-anarchic-imageboard-4chan-to-2channel-owner-hiroyuki-nishimura-105 11765.html
Advertise – 4chan. (n.d.-a). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from https://www.4chan.org/advertise
Advertise – 4chan. (n.d.-b). Retrieved March 17, 2016, from https://www.4chan.org/advertise
Dash, A. (n.d.). If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://anildash.com/2011/07/if-your-websites-full-of-assholes-its-your-fault.html
Dewey, B. C. (n.d.). Absolutely everything you need to know to understand 4chan, the Internet’s own bogeyman. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/09/25/absolutely-e verything-you-need-to-know-to-understand-4chan-the-internets-own-bogeyman/
Kraut, R. E., Resnick, P., Kiesler, S., Burke, M., Chen, Y., Kittur, N., … Riedl, J. (2012). Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design. MIT Press.
Shirky, C. (n.d.). Viagra Cialis, Order Cialis Online – Drug Store, Great Deals. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html