" 4chan.org, a heavily trafficked “image board,” which is a regular bulletin board, like one you might use to argue about politics or trade tips on yoga retreats, but with a few key differences. 4chan does not have archives or searchability. It’s one of the last places on the Internet where you really can say anything you want and it won’t come back to haunt you. Anything posted on 4chan has generally disappeared by the end of the day, and there’s no chance of Google finding it again. There’s also no requirement to register under your real name, as on Facebook, or even a fake one, as on MyHemorrhoids.com (actually, you can still buy that domain name for $1,995). Most everyone posts under the same name: Anonymous.
Anonymity is part of the culture of 4chan, a complex network of millions of trolls—(mostly) young men who are entranced with the notion of acting as one, as a “hive mind,” and at the same time desperate to assert their individuality apart from whatever pressures they feel in society, or “I.R.L.” (in real life). It’s one of the largest active forums in the world, with 10 million unique visitors and 705 million page views a month. 4chan was founded by a kid who grew up in New York City and Westchester, using the online handle “moot,” in 2003, when he was 15. He’d become a fan of 2chan, a Japanese bulletin board about anime and porn, but since he couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying—not that you really need to, when you’re looking at anime and porn—he decided to copy the underlying code and translate the site into English over his summer break. He borrowed his mom’s credit card to buy server space. He didn’t tell anyone his real name online, and he didn’t tell anyone I.R.L. that he ran 4chan—not his parents, not his friends, nor anyone at school.
The quintessential troll board, /b/ is a bizarre mix of topics such as hacking, porn (including really messed-up porn like furry porn and “lolis,” which is a Japanese portmanteau for kiddie-porn anime), odd stuff like horse penises painted tie-dye colors, and everything else that can be found buried deep inside a certain type of fragile adolescent male ego: pain over unrequited love, abusive parents, racism, sexism, and the searing sensation of isolation that comes with never fitting in. One member described his involvement in the site this way: “I was a lonely teenage hate machine, with a new computer and an old routine.”
There are almost 800,000 posts a day on 4chan, more than 550 per minute, and few rules on the site, other than “1. You do not talk about /b/. 2. You do not talk about /b/. 3. If it exists, there is porn about it. No exceptions.” The posts are often posed in the form of questions, soliciting responses, like “Can someone please post hot girls biting their lips”; “Can we do a DDoS attack on the conservative government in the UK over student tuition fee increases, hate those bastards”; “I messed up with my girlfriend, well I’ve only IM-ed with her because she lives in Canada, but I didn’t write her back last night and now she won’t talk to me, please help”; “My dog is dying, I put her down tomorrow, I put a steak on the grill but what else should I do to make her life good tonight?”; “Guys please post pictures of sexy men dressed as cute girls, but I am straight, ok?” Also, lots of cats. Trolls, as it turns out, love cats.
If 4chan sounds trivial, that’s because it is. The site certainly doesn’t make much money—the only advertisers that want to be on it are adult companies that direct you to “your ex-girlfriend’s hacked profile from Facebook,” or demand, “Click here and find out which of your Facebook friends has the biggest titties!” In fact, you could say that 4chan has cornered the market on the trivial on the Internet, which is no small feat (the trivial usually spreads by accident on the Web, according to no logic). Through the sheer force of its numbers, 4chan has somehow managed to establish the Internet’s top memes—some of which are as important to the American consciousness at this point as Hollywood movies, and they’ve done it over and over.
Here’s a short list of what 4chan has been blamed or lauded for, depending on your perspective: they started a version of Lolcats, probably the Internet’s top meme—the hundreds of thousands of pictures of cats that float around every corner of the Net, with cat-speak captions: “om nom nom goes the hungry cat.” They started the “Rickroll,” a trick where you click on a link you want to see, but instead you’re brought to a YouTube video of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” (more than 44 million people had watched the video at press time). They’ve put a swastika on the top of Google’s “hot trends” list. They gamed an online poll that Justin Bieber fans had set up to decide which country he should visit first on his world tour, and voted to send him to North Korea. In 2008 they spread a rumor that Steve Jobs had a heart attack, and the shares of Apple dropped $10. A /b/ board member, a student at the University of Tennessee and the son of a state assemblyman, hacked into Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account during the 2008 presidential campaign. (He’s now serving one year in prison.)" (http://www.vanityfair.com/business/features/2011/04/4chan-201104)
"Created the site 4chan in his New York City bedroom at the age of 15 in 2003, subsequently posting on the site using the pseudonym "moot". He intended the site to be a place to discuss Japanese comics and anime, but it soon morphed into something far bigger. The Wall Street Journal revealed moot's real-world identity in 2008.
What is 4chan?
4chan is an image-centric bulletin board. It's based on a Japanese site called Futaba. Their code was publicly available so I downloaded a copy of their source code and translated the text from Japanese to English from an online resource. It's me, a handful of volunteer moderators and a part-time developer. For a site that has more than 10 million users and 700 million page impressions, most people are shocked to discover that it's not a company, it's not an operation, it's our hobby.
How has it evolved?
All of its growth has been organic. We've never advertised the site; it's been word-of-mouth. Now our traffic is about 12 million unique visitors per month. Part of the way it spread is because the images that are posted lend themselves naturally to be shared via IM [instant messaging], chat or email. People see a funny or provocative image, send it to their friends, and their friends come to 4chan. The community has a very distinct culture and language, and it's responsible for creating and propagating internet memes like lolcats [amusing pictures of cats] and Rickrolling [a prank involving the video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up"]. As that started to trickle out into the mainstream… all of a sudden, it's not just something spread as word-of-mouth by 18- to 25-year-old video game nerds; it's hit mainstream consciousness.
The site is distinctive because users can post material anonymously, and some users have also organised themselves as a collective, using the name "Anonymous". What does that actually mean? As recently as six years ago, people were used to forums where you could lurk, you could view, but in order to post and participate, you had to register. Because you didn't need to register on 4chan, people started to appreciate it, and realise how radically different it was. We began to see anonymity not just as an aspect or feature, but as a thing, as a principle, as an idea that we are one, we are a collective, we are Anonymous. People then came to the site who not only saw Anonymous as a principle, but started to exploit anonymity as a new platform where they could be rebellious and no one knew who they were.
"Anonymous" started a protest movement against the practices of the Church of Scientology two years ago. Were you complicit in their activities?
I didn't start 4chan as an outlet for dissenting voices and freedom of speech. At first the community was so tame. But as it became less tame, I felt there was something there worth protecting. The rise of social networking is an assault on the free, the open, the anonymous web. I started to appreciate that 4chan is one of the last bastions of freedom online. Anonymity – including anonymous posting – is something to be protected. 4chan is very privileged to be one of the last places for this type of discourse, for this type of interaction. That's important. That's why I've decided to be hands-off and to protect it as a place, and to deliver a platform.
Anonymity allows you to express and view opinions, images you wouldn't necessarily be comfortable with elsewhere. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be negative. It's not about, "You can't say fuck on Facebook but you can on 4chan." Services where you have a persistent, registered identity such as Twitter and Facebook – in many cases it's your real identity – limit what users want to say and read. But you can on 4chan. It is an outlet. I was invited to speak at Facebook to provide an alternative and opposite perspective to theirs. Mark Zuckerberg's point of view is that anonymity and monikers and pseudo-identity represents cowardice. He said that if you have nothing to hide, what's the big deal? Why would you be concerned about putting all this stuff on your profile? Well, I'm not a zealot and people like what Facebook is doing. But there is a place for both. They both offer powerful utilities for different needs. The world still needs a Google, and Facebook. But it also needs the anonymous, ephemeral, open 4chan.
Are there any rules?
There is a set of codified rules and we do enforce them: don't break the law or post anything illegal. Past that, the users are left to their own devices." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/nov/28/internet-radicals-world-wide-web)