BBC REPORTERS DISCOVER 4CHAN
Panic Ensues, London in Flames
British Broadcasting Corporation BBCHome <http://www.bbc.co.uk/>
31 August 2010 Last updated at 06:46 ET
The strange virtual world of 4chan
By Jon Kelly and Jude Sheerin BBC News
Coventry cat tormentor Mary Bale has become the latest victim of 4chan -
a website credited with creating some of the web's biggest phenomena,
whose users wreak havoc across cyberspace. Just what is it all about?
When CCTV footage emerged of a middle-aged lady stroking a cat before
dumping it in a wheelie bin, millions were outraged.
But in one murky corner of the internet, the scent of blood was detected.
En masse, an army of cyber-pranksters swung into action and culprit Mary
Bale was initially outed not by the forces of Fleet Street but by users
of an online community.
According to reports, they quickly established her identity, her
workplace and her employer's phone number. Death threats and prank calls
It was the latest headline-grabbing prank from 4chan, an iconoclastic US
site that has given the world such web staples as lolcats and
Rickrolling. It claims 22 million page impressions every day and 9.5
million unique users every month.
Other sites, such as eBaum and Something Awful, may thrive on similar
viral material or "memes", but none have become as notorious as 4chan.
The anarchic messageboard, which was originally set up to discuss
Japanese anime and manga, has also become distinguished by its
lawlessness, obscene content and vindictive campaigns - and is
definitely not safe for reading at work.
Less savoury campaigns staged by users have included flooding YouTube
with pornography under the guise of teen-pop videos, googling Canadian
pop star Justin Bieber's name en masse alongside the word "syphilis" to
push the combination up the search engine's rankings, and inserting a
virtual giant swastika constructed from avatars into a children's online
Rob Manuel of B3ta.com, a British website founded on similar, albeit
more whimsical lines, says 4chan's success has been founded on turning
"trolling" - essentially, annoying other internet users - into an art form.
"It's the equivalent of all the kids at the back of the classroom
passing each other notes and being sarcastic," he adds.
"Essentially, it's about taking trolling to the nth degree and saying:
'Let's put all the trolls in one place and see what happens.'"
Browsers who are easily offended are best advised to steer clear of the
site, which has virtually no rules other than a ban on images of child
abuse. Racist, homophobic and pornographic content are all regular
themes on its "random" or "/b/" messageboard.
Anonymous anti-Scientology protester Anti-Scientology protesters have
adopted the Anonymous guise
Users can post without having to register or provide a name, and the
"Anonymous" tag has become a blanket term for online users acting
collectively. The tag has also become synonymous with online mischief
makers engaging in stunts like targeting other websites by flooding
Nonetheless, 4chan's most popular behests to the broader online
community have been relatively innocent.
Lolcats - images of anthropomorphic felines captioned with mis-spelt
web-speak ("im in ur bed zleepin" and so on) - made their first
appearance on the site, during its regular "Caturday" slot, but went on
to dominate blogs and sites the length and breadth of the internet.
And Rickrolling - tricking other web users into following a link, which
turns out to be the video to Rick Astley's 1987 hit Never Gonna Give You
Up - became a massively popular prank, with the song's YouTube video
having generated more than 36 million views.
But not all stunts originating from the site's users have been so
harmless. In 2009 YouTube was forced to remove hundreds of pornographic
videos apparently uploaded by 4chan users. The footage was uploaded
under the names of teenage pop favourites such as Hannah Montana and
Jonas Brothers, and clips typically began with footage of their videos
before groups of adults performing graphic sex acts filled the screen.
Another 4chan favourite is Pedobear, a harmless-looking ursoid cartoon
character who, despite his loveable appearance... you get the idea.
Other 4chan stunts have been loosely political in character, including
Project Chanology, a movement that protests against the practices of the
Church of Scientology.
Using the "Anonymous" persona, its tactics have included urging users to
google the phrase "Scientology is a cult", pushing it to the top of
Google Hot Trends, as well as staging real-world protests.
In response, the Church of Scientology has labelled them "terrorists"
guilty of "hate crimes".
Despite its anarchic, Wild West nature, 4chan does have a leader, of
sorts - a poster called moot. He is New Yorker Christopher Poole, who
set up the site while a 15-year-old living at home with his mum.
"Newspapers and the BBC are fair game. But re-routing Justin Bieber fans to porn just isn't acceptable”
End Quote Jack Schofield Computer journalist
At first, he says, he was simply offering fans of anime and manga
somewhere to post pictures, but the anonymity, the lack of an archive
and the very basic board design created a "breeding pit" for memes and
Wisely, Poole does not defend every excess perpetuated by members of the
community, and admits that his 55-year-old mother "wouldn't necessarily
understand" something like Pedobear.
He says the trolls have been called "an internet hate machine", but
insists that "for the most part it's a lot more bark than bite".
Poole adds: "They like to get a reaction but they like to do it from the
comfort of their chair at home in the basement. For the most part
4channers are more or less decent people, they're not going to go too
"The conversation that takes place on the site is raw and unfiltered,
when people contribute anonymously you get their innermost self they
express things they would otherwise be shy to do in a forum where they
could be identified, I'm a fan of the conversation that results, for
better for worse."
Of course, not everyone believes the worst of 4chan is excused by its best.
Technology journalist Jack Schofield says the community can fulfil a
useful function, outwitting the mainstream media when it fails to
understand technology - but the anonymity and lack of restraint means
members frequently cross the line.
"I regard it as something of a court jester, able to get away with
things that normally people can't get away with," he says.
"The problem with it is that it can easily go too far. But re-routing
Justin Bieber fans to porn just isn't acceptable."
What seems certain is that 4chan will continue to shape digital culture
for some time yet.
But if you are tempted to visit the site, don't say you haven't been
 thousands of "NO U!", "Tits or GTFO", & "4chan et mah bayBEE !!" comments ommitted.[/edit]
In today's Magazine <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine>
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