The following Report provides analysis and insight into the social media website 4chan.
By examining the sites history and growth, as well as the way in which it operates, the report is able to explore a number of aspects regarding the way groups are formed within this subculture, the reputation of 4chan and its users, the way sharing content is encouraged, the way conversation is encouraged and the way anonymous relationships form between users.
By analysing these features it of 4chan, a better understanding of the sites culture and identity can be established, leading to the finding that unlike most social media platforms, 4chan is purely based on content and the creativity of its members rather than interpersonal connection.
Christopher Poole, from New York, first created 4Chan in 2003 at the age of 15. His idea of creating an image board was influenced by Something Awful Forums. Poole created 4Chan so that people would post Anime and Japanese Comics which complemented to the popular Japanese Futuba Channel 2Chan. He liked their concept as people shared images anonymously, and decided to make an equivalent image board but in English (Moot, 2003).
Poole not only wanted image boards, but also a message board to allow discussions about a variety of things with people across the world (Douglas, 2008).
He initially had a separate domain for discussion boards called World4Ch but were later moved to 4Chan.org. 4Chan definitely had a programmer as his employee, whom had met Poole through online Tetris. The remaining of the people who mediated the website were volunteers. The mediators’ responsibility was to mediate both the images and the discussions and be aware if there are any inappropriate posting, so that if there was any, it is their responsibility to delete it. (Brophy-Warren 2008).
In 2004, 4Chan went offline for a few months then returned online with some developments made. Non-anime related boards such as video games and automobile boards were introduced (Jibaku, 2004). 4 years later, in 2008, Poole added a board for topics that did not fit under the anime and manga categories but related to Japan in general called Otaku Culture.
Los Angeles Times reported that 4chan is one of the most used image boards on the internet. 4Chan’s Alexa Internet rank, a California-based minor company of Amazon.com, had 4chan ranked usually 700, though there were times that it has been as high as number 56 (Sarno, 2008).
4Chan’s server was first in Texas running at 100 Mbit/s then was moved in 2008 to a server in California running ten times faster at 1Gbit/s (Moot, 2012).
Because 4Chan is free of charge and there is a large amount of users, this caused financing issues for Poole. He knew and admitted that donations given to 4chan will not keep the website alive and online so he took on advertising on 4Chan to keep succeeding with the website being alive and online (Moot, 2008).
Poole signed a new deal with an advertising company in January 2009, and was in debt to $20,000 in February that same year. He continued to increase his debt as he was not only not making any money but also losing more money (Hesse, 2009).
Poole split his website into six categories:
- Japanese Culture
- Adult (18+)
- Miscellaneous (18+)
The above categories are aimed to provide users for related board topics to discuss things like anime, manga, technology, sport, photography, music, torrents, travel, physical fitness and every other things that had no board; random (Moot, 2003).
Joining groups and focusing on certain genres is a natural way for the site to operate, as it allows users to follow their specific interests and in doing so creates many groups and sub groups within each category.
4Chan has the reputation to being ‘The Meme Factory’ as most of the memes come out from there and are shared on other websites, sadly without giving any credits to the website it first appeared on (Jeffries, 2011).
4Chan requires no name or email address, only a character recognition box with a few letters and numbers just to make sure that the user is a human and not just a computer. This keeps the person posting anonymous unlike before the developments were made, one had to log in using their Facebook username and password (Jeffries, 2011).
The reason anonymity was implemented in this website is because Poole believes in the value of multiple identities including anonymity (Dibbell, 2010).
Sharing of content is not only encouraged but it is the entire basis of how 4chan fundamentally operates as a social network. In many ways 4chan embodies the Web 2.0, participatory culture and the term ‘Produsing’, meaning-
“The production of ideas takes place in a collaborative, participatory mode which breaks down the boundaries between producers and consumers and instead enables all participants to be users as much as producers of information and knowledge” (Bruns, p.1).
One of the most recognized and humorous forms of photo sharing amongst web users in today’s digital world are Internet Memes. Memes are something almost anyone with a social media account, regardless of whichever platform the user is on (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc) would have either encountered, or “shared” themselves.
The memes are believed to have originated from the anonymous-based platform, 4chan. The most recognized and widely shared of Internet Memes are known as LOLcats. Beginning around June 2006, 4chan began a theme called Caturdays. Each Saturday, users would create and upload bizarre images of cats accompanied by text which would poke fun at common social media-based posts, how the cat may be feeling on the day, or would very obviously encapsulate a human’s feeling, based on ‘common’ posts or social media status’s.
The term garnered national media attention when it was covered by Time Magazine, in the U.S when it was written that LOLcats non-commercialized phenomena of this sort were extremely rare, stating that LOLcats have “a distinctly old-school, early 1990s, Usenet feel to them”.
Amongst LoLcats, other popular Internet Memes include: Rickrolling: the meme known as the ‘duckroll’ – the replacement of the ‘egg’ in egg roll. “Chocolate Rain”: the increased promotion of Tay Zonday’s ‘Chocolate Rain’ song and video clip on YouTube, which inspired covers of the song by John Mayor and Green Day. Boxy: based on the internet celebrity, the lively Catherine ‘Catie’ Wayne. And, Pedobear: the anthropomorphic child predator, which was used to show mocking of users that had a sexual interest in juveniles.
The conversation that takes place on 4chan is in the form of ‘comments’. Once a photo has been uploaded into a category, it begins a thread, or follows an existing thread, to which other users can comment on the photo and post feedback. Though there are rules and site regulations in which a user must adhere by, the uniquely distinguishing point of the social media platform is that users have the ability to comment anonymously. To encourage absolute freedom of speech, the site doesn’t require, or allow, users to register with a username, or handle. Users have the option to not be anonymous, but most choose that option, as it is available and encouraged.
Users of 4chan adopt the presence of being ‘anonymous’ or ‘anons’. This concept was originally associated with being a part of a network of activists and ‘hacktivists’. Many trivial internet pranksters who wish to create Internet Memes join 4chan to maintain or create anonymity so they’re memes can express what users are wanting to represent and cannot be traced so as to not receive negative credit for the meme, but mostly just for fun.
4chan ultimately represents a globally unidentified network of anarchists which, in 2003, began a series of pranks, and hacks and protests against The Church of Scientology. This expanded to include protests in retaliation against US government agencies, child pornography websites, copyright protection agencies, the Westboro Baptist Church, and corporations including PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and Sony. Anons have also publicly supported Wikileaks and The Occupy Movement, and when appearing in public, they wear masks on their faces stylized as Guy Fawkes and in 2012, Time Magazine named Anonymous hackers as being one of the “100 most influential people”.
The power of social media and a site like 4chan cannot be underestimated when it comes to politics and the influence it has on public opinion because-
“The ability to coordinate individual actions can also make each one more powerful” (Kessler, p.2).
The relationship 4chan has with other social media platforms are largely based on sharing content amongst users. Images created on 4chan are shared through Facebook pages and users, Instagram, Flickr and Tumblr, and this garners much success.
As 4chan promotes anonymity, the relationships between many of the platform’s users are mostly only on 4chan, though as previously mentioned, the anonymity factor plays a crucial role in 4chan being a known ‘meeting place’. Meetings take place through threads, and have been known to expand to include physical meet-ups based upon mutual interest of protesting for and against societal issues, throughout the world.
4chan has an infinite reach when it comes to accessing and engaging with cultures around the world. It has a truly global spectrum of users from various backgrounds, races, nations and religions, but amongst this expanse of different cultures there are a number of customs, beliefs and similarities 4chan users seem to share.
These beliefs revolve around internet rights and the freedom to share digital content. The creative commons debate (Garcelon, 2009) brings to light the questions raised around ‘remix culture’ and whether or not it should be acceptable to share copyrighted content in order to rework it. 4chan strongly believes it should be acceptable and given this very post-modern notion of analysing and satirising popular culture, it creates a social network that is extremely unified because no matter who you are or what you do, everyone is a part of popular culture in some way.
It is also important to consider that users of 4chan are ‘produsing’ all the sites content and shifting the pendulum of “the dictatorship of expertise” (Keen, p.35), when it comes to creativity and expression. 4chan thrives by giving a creative platform to all people, not just those that are exceptionally talented or simply lucky enough to work professionally.
4chan is fairly unique in the sense that it allows its users to either post images and messages anonymously without signing up or creating a user name, or its users can choose create a profile name. There is also now a third option whereby users can simply sign in through their Facebook account if they wish to reveal their full identity.
But overall the majority of 4chan’s users post anonymously. Creator of the Site Christopher Pool details his rational for why this is the case.
“I think anonymity is authenticity. It allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way. I think that’s something that’s extremely valuable. In the case of content creation, it just allows you to play in ways that you may not have otherwise. We believe in content over creator” (Poole, ZdNet).
The story of 4chan and the things that the website represents really cannot be underestimated when it comes to its importance to popular culture and the digital age we live in today.
Its success in naming recognition is still fairly limited in terms of being a household name in social media like Facebook and YouTube. However all though the name 4chan may not be the most well-known social media websites, the things the website has created certainly are.
4chans legacy will include the creation of Internet Meme’s and the humour of reflecting on the modern world and popular culture. It will also include Anonymous, the infamous ‘hacktivist’ group well known for its cyber-attacks on corperations, and governments.
And with this in mind it seems that the success of 4chan isn’t really about 4chan itself, it’s about its content. The platform itself is not important, but what is important is what’s being created.
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