The anonymous imageboard 4chan is under new ownership. Christopher Poole (aka “moot”), its founder and long-term administrator, has announced that the site has been sold to Hiroyuki Nishimura, the Japanese imageboard pioneer who inspired the creation of the site.
4chan has attained legendary status in the history of web culture. Famous for its uninhibited, freewheeling users who say and create what they want, safe from the prying, politically-correct eyes of mainstream society, it has become famous for political incorrectness and depraved humour. If one thing bucks the trend of the “coddling of the American mind” currently taking place on US campuses, it is the hellraising millennial culture that developed on 4chan. Put it this way; you won’t find any “safe spaces” on the site.
The site has also had a considerable impact on politics. The Anonymous movement was founded there, in response to what users saw as the Church of Scientology’s efforts to censor criticism on the internet. The site’s video games board was a major staging ground in the early days of the GamerGate controversy (long-term followers of ours might remember our editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, paying them a visit.) The reassuring safety of anonymity has led its usersbase to develop a cultural libertarian streak – anyone visiting the site today will find users experimenting with the most shocking stereotypes and slurs, usually just for the fun of it.
Its founder and now former owner Christopher Poole is a somewhat tragic figure. Like any well-known figure on 4chan, Poole was frequently the target of playful mockery by its mischievous user base. But until recently, few among his user base really hated him. Indeed, they often involved Poole in their celebrated manipulations of prominent online polls. In 2009, they successfully gamed TIME magazine’s Person of the Year poll, putting Poole at the top of the poll – ahead of Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and the Dalai Lama. In 2013, channers cooked up “Operation AstroMoot,” a plan to “send moot to space” by gaming an online contest to win a trip aboard a commercial space shuttle.
Nevertheless, Poole parted ways with 4chan on bad terms. He ended up making a similar mistake to the Church of Scientology – he attempted to censor discussion of the GamerGate controversy just as interest in the topic was reaching its height. “Moot is dead and Christopher Poole killed him” wrote an aggrieved user on Reddit’s community of 4chan expats. The post received almost 3,000 positive votes from other users. The user, with whom many clearly agreed, believed Poole had sold out on the site’s formerly ferocious free-speech principles. Many emigrated to 8chan, a site whose administrator took a much more forthright position on free expression.
As of today, the site is under the management of Hiroyuki Nishimira, the man whose Japanese-language “2channel” board served as the inspiration for 4chan. Nishimura is something of a rebel, who eschews the complex formalities of Japanese etiquette. A profile on Wired portrayed him as a stereotype-defying iconoclast with a “nonchalant” response to the complaints and libel suits that are levied against 2channel on a regular basis. 2channel’s community is reputed to be just as outrageous as 4chan’s.
It remains to be seen whether Nishimura can restore 4chan’s status as a centre of unrestricted free expression on the web, a crown which it has arguably lost to 8chan. The response from the user base has been mixed. “I for one welcome our new Japanese overlords,” wrote one poster. Others drew attention to 2channel’s recent controversies involving data mining and co-operation with the Japanese government. Some users clearly believe that Nishimura will be a protector of free speech on the imageboard – but they once believed the same about Poole.
Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter.