4Chan is an English-language image board website. For those of you that are unsure what an image board website is, it is a type of Internet forum that operates primarily for posting images.
When 4Chan was launched in 2003, it was originally used for posting images and initiating discussions related to Japanese “Manga” comics and “Anime”, a Japanese-style of animation. (1)
4Chan users generally post anonymously, and the site has been linked to Internet activism and various subcultures, most notably Project Chanology, a protest movement that fights against the practices of the Church of Scientology. (2)
According to the L.A. Times, 4Chan is one of the Internet’s most heavily trafficked image boards. It is the popularity and anonymity of 4Chan and its ‘underground’ culture that has resulted in the website earning significant media attention, with the British broadsheet newspaper once describing 4Chan as “lunatic, juvenile… brilliant, ridiculous and alarming.” (3)
The Anonymous Hackers 4Chan – Juvenile?
The same Guardian report speaks of how 4Chan was responsible for starting the “rick-roll” trend, stating, “As with so many stupid Internet fads, the rick-roll trend had its start at 4chan.”
The concept “rick-roll” basically refers to when an Internet user is innocently browsing a website and clicks on a link they are interested in, but instead of ending up at their desired destination, they are confronted by a picture of Rick Astley dancing in 1987! – an annoying yet amusing (the first time) Internet ‘hack’ – but hardly time to call the FBI, right?
Underground battles against 4Chan surfaced in 2010 when the American multinational telecommunications corporation, AT&T blocked 4Chan when, according to Gizmodo, a massive DDoS attack was launched that allegedly emanated from the 4chan IP address (4).
AT&T’s actions rocked the online tech world, with TechCrunch warming up for an Internet war with the headline “AT&T Reportedly Blocks 4Chan. This is Going to Get Ugly”, and Gawker being as equally as provocative, with the headline, “AT&T Has Managed To Piss Off the Wrong Bunch of Web-Nerds.”
Whilst some may view the 4Chan community as a bunch of juvenile, remorseless geeks with nothing better to do than disrupt websites, giving site owners and users alike an unnecessary headache, others see 4Chan and its antics as more serious and sinister, whose members are essentially viewed as ‘vigilantes’.
According to a 2010 report on Mediaite, titled ‘Illuminati Anonymous: How 4Chan Controls the Internet’, 4Chan users hacked the Time 100’s online poll to make ‘Moot’, the code name of Christopher Poole, 4Chan’s founder and owner, the ‘most influential person in the world’.
FBI Takes Notice of Anonymous Hackers 4Chan
4chan’s juvenile ‘pranks’ have attracted more than just the attention of the media.
In 2010, with the launch of ‘denial-of-service’ (DDoS) attacks against websites, including that of the U.S. Copyright Office, the group caught the attention of the FBI.
The FBI launched an investigation into an online protest in which 4chan members allegedly took down a website belonging to anti-piracy and entertainment groups, by hitting the site with enough traffic that the site’s servers became overwhelmed and crashed. (5)
Such DDoS attacks come with hefty punishments. Not long after the FBI launched its investigation into 4Chan’s alleged DDoS attacks, 23-year-old Mitchell L Frost, according to CNET, was sentenced to 30 months in prison after launching DDoS attacks in 2006 and 2007 against the websites of former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani and political commentators Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter.
4chan and its anonymous hacker community has certainly been successful in rocking the status-quo of the Internet with pranks like the “rick-roll” and allegedly bringing down antipiracy and entertainment sites, with its owner even being referred to as the ‘most influential person in the world’ – albeit through a web page hack – but how does 4chan differ from Anonymous?
In all honesty, what anonymous hacker group holds a greater degree of notoriety than those freedom-defending hackers around the world?
What is interesting is that Anonymous, as an Internet meme that started in 2003, actually originated on 4chan. (6)
According to Wikipedia, Anonymous membership is “conditional but easily achieved, being as simple as concealing oneself while performing online activities” – similar to 4chan.
Conducting similar protests as 4chan, in 2009 for example, it emerged that Anonymous had launched a coordinated DDoS attack against the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), an organisation responsible for safeguarding recording artists’ rights.
Anonymous labelled the IFPI as “parasites”, and in a statement on zeropaid.com, stated:
“We will continue to attack those who embrace censorship. You will not be able to hide your ludicrous ways to control us.” (7)
“Anonymous” is Far More Vocal
Members of Anonymous seem to be more ‘vocal’ and less frightened to publicise their goals.
For example, in the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011, Anonymous members took to the streets of New York, handing out Anonymous fliers and actively showing their support to the protests.
While these rebellious Internet communities share common characteristics and goals – namely to remain anonymous and create mayhem on the Internet – they have not been without their own internal battles.
A report in the L.A. Times referred to hackers attacking one another, when last year, LulzSec, an online group which is much more vocal about its hacking escapades, “went to war” with members of 4chan.
According to the report, a poster calling for people to identify the members of LulzSec and to alert the FBI if they know who they are, circulated around the web, apparently the creation of Anonymous or members of 4chan. (8) LulzSec accepted the challenge by tweeting, “Challenge accepted, losers!”
As one reader of Mediaite.com posted, these Internet hacking groups are a “complex bunch to understand”. (9)
Although, what is perhaps most important to remember is that the majority of the members of 4chan and even Anonymous are not actually hackers themselves, but posters – resentful youth – who, tired of having their opinion stifled, can finally make their voice known to the world.