Created by Christopher Poole at the age of 15, and still owned and managed by the programmer almost single-handedly, 4chan remains essentially a sprawling underground messageboard.
It was originally preoccupied with Japanese animation, but became quickly the wellspring of all sorts of weird online culture. The site, which Poole this year described as “like an asylum on the internet”, attracts more than 20 million different visitors a month.
“The community he built holds immense power,” writes Fernando Alfonso III in a long essay at the Daily Dot online magazine. “It’s capable of bringing animal abusers to justice and giving the world its most beloved inside jokes and despicable online traditions. The site’s memes have spawned multimillion-dollar companies and resurrected entertainment careers.”
At the same time, however, it has attracted the label the “internet hate machine”, or the “darkest corner of the web”.
Alfonso writes: “For all the good 4chan has done, it’s the pornography, obscene language, and ethically bankrupt pranks that have made it infamous.”
Those pranks include death hoaxes and encouraging Justin Bieber fans to self-harm.
At the Verge, Adrianne Jeffries sighs: “It was the best of the internet, it was the worst of the internet, and it’s turning 10 years old.”
She writes, beneath a headline saluting “the cesspool of the internet”:
The influence of the ephemeral image-based message board 4chan has only grown since Chris “Moot” Poole established it as a place to talk completely anonymously about anime, cats, boobs, and more. The lack of censorship inspired an outpouring of creativity from the site’s 22.5 million readers that is both brilliant and brutal, as users unite to prosecute animal abusers or astroturf a wrist-slitting movement among Justin Bieber fans.
Its content, meanwhile, has become subsumed in a wider online ecosystem, notes Alfonso, in which images and ideas are “organised by Reddit and culled by sites like BuzzFeed and Gawker, where it’s given a catchy headline and dropped onto your Facebook news feed”.