4chan Disrupts the Internet

This is one of those articles I am writing not so much because I think you will do a story on the subject, but just because you need to know about this.

4chan is an increasingly powerful and disruptive force online. It is a large collection of message boards that operate under limited control or editing. It began seven years ago as a Japanese anime fan website. 4chan started at the hands of then-15-year old Chris Poole.

4chan apparently now has the power to clear JFK airport with a bomb threat or take Apple's stock down by spreading a rumor that Steve Jobs has health problems. It has been blamed for both.

It was a 4chan user who was investigated for hacking the personal e-mail account of Sarah Palin, after her password was posted on a message board there.

4chan has enough users that they can seize on a topic and spread it globally through bulletin boards. It has also disrupted Google by salting Google Trends with bogus words and phrases. When I clicked on 4chan Tuesday afternoon, I was one of 57,000 users on the site.

PC Magazine warns that malware is circulating through 4chan boards.

The Washington Post describes 4chan this way:


"At a time when more and more of the Internet seems walled off into communities such as Facebook or MySpace, which operate with pages of rules and proper protocol, 4chan is the exception.

"You don't need to register to post on the site and you can delete your posts at any time with no record. You can curse and insult all you want. While there are some thoughtful, wonky conversations, many of the posts range from juvenile to risque to just plain gross.

"Its critics describe 4chan -- and especially Anonymous, a loosely affiliated group that is credited for some of the pranks -- as the dark side of the Internet. 'Hackers on steroids,' 'domestic terrorists' and 'Internet hate machine' are among the insults that have been hurled at it online. It has been blocked, albeit temporarily, by both AT&T and Verizon."

The Atlantic explains:

"Many of 4chan's users, especially those in its random section known as '/b/,' are pranksters whose actions range from playful to obscene to downright hateful. They have rigged a Time magazine online poll, securing 4chan's founder the spot as the most influential person of 2009 and popularized the practice of Rickrolling -- a bait-and-swtich in which a person is tricked into watching the music video to Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up.' Most recently, 4chan's users helped to launch a campaign to harass an eleven-year-old girl and then another against Gawker for writing about it."

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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