4Chan as an Online Community

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).

Site Usage

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):

Age: 18-34

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 Contribution

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.

Socio-Technical processes

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)


Dash (Dash, n.d.) derives the principle of civility from principles already established through observing physical communities and compares the mechanisms to the likes of urban planning, crowd control and human policing. I believe that online spaces are different as compared to physical ones in several ways. Geo-presence is one of the most prominent features which online communities have broken the barrier for and the techniques Dash mentions would not be completely effective in such cases. Consider the example of zoning practices in the real world. The same practices would not be as effective in the online world because of 2 reasons: Firstly, switching identities online is a very easy task online as compared to the real world. A user could simply change his pseudonym, email address, spoof his IP and enter these as a completely different personality. This is very hard to achieve in the real world. Secondly, the rule enforcement in online communities is not as stringent and effective as that compared to the real world. Often, the enforcers (moderators, janitors in the case of 4chan) are unpaid volunteers and few in number as compared to the total user population and it is simply hard to manage such a user population. 4chan has 22 million unique impressions per month and about 1 million new posts everyday. Managing that huge a chunk of contributions is a task next to impossible. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that all the posts are anonymous and can only be tracked back to an IP which further complicates the tasks of these enforces by having to deal with tracking people. It often happens that the same IP is being used by a pool of users causing further problems. Also, I completely agree that when you provide a medium for people which allows them to act in a certain way, you are partly responsible for any behavior that comes out of it. Although, it gets problematic when we try to pit this against free-speech, moderation and a filter bubble. Doing any of the moderation will always be judged upon by one party or another and “hateful, grisly, vicious” nature of the posts will always be subjective across people and cultures. Shirky (Shirky, n.d.)makes a much more time-tested account of thing when he talks about the roots of inappropriate behavior and group identity – sex talk, identification and vilification of external enemy and religious veneration. All three are often seen as the major source of trolling on 4chan. Be it the Gamergate case, where the members accused the media of corrupt journalism in the field of games, or salacious talk demonstrated on the NSFW boards and bad blood between fans of different communities. Shirky goes on to say that social and technical aspects are intertwined in social communities which can be observed in the case of the terms of use of 4chan. The 4chan administrators have always despised illegal content on the site and have helped law enforcement authorities when the need has arisen. What amuses me the most is the factors of designing online communities that Shirky describes. The 4chan community breaks nearly all the laws that Shirky denoted to be the basis of online communities. There are no handles, no reputation system, has scaled wildly over the year and barriers to participation are minimal and yet 4chan has proved to be a bustling community. There are instances of trolling and flaming on the /b boards but other boards still receive massive participation from the users with considerably less trolling compared to other web boards. It is interesting that even with so many design flaws, the community successfully turned 12 years old a few months back and yet is still growing strong. Shirky agrees though that these are not the only conditions required and that there are many other factors affecting these communities. Speaking of which, the article of SlateStarCodex article on toxoplasma comes into the picture. People are interested in the most controversial things and turn that into a memetic never ending affair that is fixed in a deadlock. Conversations and interactions on community boards are supposed to stir up conversations leading to the formation of groups pitting against each other ultimately giving rise to evil behavior. Taking into consideration all the learnings, it is best to say that moderation should be limited to instances which would count as a felony in the real world as well. People who partake in any such behavior online should be immediately banned/suspended. As for the other social faces which are subjective to criticism, it is best left to the core loyal members of the group who are most impressionable among the rest of the community. This would ensure the community heading in a particular direction as intended without harming the current group dynamics. Any form of identity is anonymous/pseudonymous should be secured in a way that it can be traced to a source but the details should only be revealed in dire circumstances where no other option is available.


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

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