The Yin and Yang of 4chan's Nature

The Yin and Yang of 4chan's Nature

William Stanley Pendergrass (American Public University System, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch670
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On October 1, 2003, Christopher “moot” Poole started the website (it would later become He modeled it as a Japanese anime cartoon image sharing website, not unlike its Japanese counterpart 2chan. Like 2chan, 4chan allowed users to post all content without forcing them to self-identify through the use of user names and profiles; all users’ posts would automatically be labeled as “Anonymous” unless the user deliberately typed in an identity or tripcode. That distinction allowed users to default to the Anonymous moniker and create content, post opinion and reactions without having to reveal personal identity. Users were free to be as rude or as comforting as they deemed the situation demanded.

In addition to anonymity, there is no online archive of posted content. People may, if they wish, link themselves to a post or a comment using identifiers known as tripcodes, but in actuality, few do. A 2011 MIT study of 4chan use over a two week period discovered that for the majority of users, tripcodes were almost non-existent. “Tripcodes are the only way a 4chan user can guarantee that they are the same author of a previous post; however, they are very rarely used. Only 0.05% (281,367) of posts – one twentieth of one percent of [the study’s] sample – contained a tripcode” (Bernstein et al., 2011, p. 55).

4chan is currently a set of 63 themed discussion or image posting boards. Each board is commonly referenced to its lettered code(s) bracketed by forward slashes. One of the most popular and certainly most notorious boards is the random board, /b/. /b/’s traffic makes up more of the activity on 4chan than all the other boards combined (Stryker, 2011). “The /b/ board[‘s name] stems from the original organization of the [2chan] site: [two channels,] /a/ for animation and /b/ for everything else” (Knuttila, 2011, p. 1). While almost all of the other boards have specific rules about what can be posted so that the overall theme is maintained, /b/ does not. Pretty much anything goes on any subject on /b/ (Stryker, 2011).

4chan/b/ has fostered its own sense of individuality. Those who post on /b/ do not want to feel like they are being pushed into an operation or action which is not self-generated. One of the more popular phrases is “/b/ is not your personal Army.” (Chebet-Bouchard, 2010, p. 96). Personal army in the sense that just because “you” might want to go after a target, that doesn’t mean that you get to order /b/ to do your bidding. There has to be a shared and agreed to sense of purpose for a group action; usually either “lulzy” foolishness or shared and recognized indignation over righting a wrong.

In the end, the personality and convictions 4chan/b/ participants bring to the board is a sense of invincibility through their anonymity, a lack of attribution with the lack of an online repository of long-term posts, a group think of “all are in it or none are in it” for shared actions and cleverness and sense of the trickster going hand in hand with a moral compass which is defined by the group think.

Key Terms in this Chapter

LOL: Acronym for “Laugh Out Loud.”

Meme: an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Yin and Yang: From Chinese philosophy, where two principles, one negative dark and feminine (yin) and one positive bright and masculine (yang) interact to influence the universe.

Anonymous: A loose collective of like-minded individuals with a common symbology and code who advocate a common cause.

Troll: To pull a prank on someone in order to get a reaction, usually angry or violent, from them.

Lulz: Plural of LOL; also a reason for doing something, for the Lulz (laughs).

Exif: Acronym for Exchangeable Image File, a format which often includes GPS location information obtained from the device.

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