As we wrote in our previous blog post on the Something Awful Forums, most of the Internets’ largest discussion boards are offshoots of the forums or users moving from there to create their own communities. 4Chan is one such community.
A user on the Somethingawful Forums named “Moot”, was one of the users that frequented a board that discussed anime. However, the board came under fire from the rest of the community when users started to post questionable images of anime characters that were children or looked like it. The argument reached the point where forums owner Lowtax was forced to close the board. It was at this point Moot decided he wanted to create his own community that was generally lacking any rules whatsoever.
The inspiration for 4chan specifically came from another Japan based board that he frequented named 2chan. This was primarily an image based website, where images were organised by category into different boards and users could then comment on those photos anonymously. he downloaded the software used to create 2chan (Futabally), translated it into English, hosted it on a webserver and invited some friends he had made on the Something Awful forums to start posting there instead. This was successful and eventually, everyone on the board was invited and started to participate in 4chan.
The boards were originally used mainly for the posting of photos, mainly manga and anime, and discussing these images/topics. Howveer, as the board grew, 4chan started to develop new subset boards. While there are now many boards on 4chan, just as there are on Reddit or Something Awful, one in particular is responsible for 4chan’s infamy. That is the /b/ board. this board is one in which users attempt to create meta-humour through use of satire and irony, often causing the humour to become impenetrable to those not regular users of the board.
This board is responsible for raids (planned and executed attacks) on various places on the internet. Most famously, Mastercard, PayPal, Scientology and the Australian government. 4chan will DDoS these sites which brings them offline while the webhosts ban all the incoming IPs attacking the site and bring the server back online.
It is also strongly thought that Anonymous, the group known for trolling much of the internet, as well as organisations, businesses and governments was created by various members of /b/, or spawned from some of /b/’s raids and has strong connections to it. In fact, in 2011, when Sabu, one of the chief members of Anonymous gave names of his fellow Anonymous members to the FBI, it was soon found that many of the top members of the collective were frequent posters in 4chan and specifically /b/.
While in the beginnings of Anonymous, it was used primarily as a trolling vehicle, after the events of 2011, Anonymous was greatly weakened and started to only target what it thought were immoral causes. It is increasingly thought that those original members of anonymous that were pushed out during this time, went on to form the alt-right, which was one of the largest campaigning bodies for Donald Trump’s election to US President.
As for 4chans’ responsibility in the formation of memes, most of them begin in Something awful, make their way to 4chan and from there spread out throughout enough of the internet, (through Twitter and Facebook groups) that these memes come into the public consciousness. The most famous of these are lolcats, Chocolate Rain, Pedobear and Rickrolling.
Probably the definition of 4chan was made by the Guardian in 2008: “[The 4chan community is] lunatic, juvenile […] brilliant, ridiculous and alarming”.