The following is a critique and commentary on the MIT and University of Southampton paper entitled “4chan and /b/: An Analysis on Anonymity and Ephemerality in a Large Online Community.” This critique and commentary is unique because this is not only coming from a member of the public who is attending a university in the United States, it’s coming from an actual channer (A person who go to imageboards) who has prior channing experience of three years before the publishing of the paper. The paper that is being critiqued and commented contains two separate studies on online ephemerality and anonymity on 4chan, more particularly 4chan’s /b/. The paper itself is decent on an academic standpoint, but when it comes to the accuracy of the report on the chan culture, more specifically the culture of /b/, it’s not so much. /b/ despite being a “ocean of piss” and a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” has a rich history of traditions, culture, memes, and history itself.4chan in general has the same things as well. And it’s clear that the researchers do not know much about actual chan culture.
However, I must give credit to the paper, as it coined a term that Yotsuba Society will be using in the future: Chanthroplogy. The Western Imageboard Culture, or specifically the Imageboard/*chan culture has been either misdocumented or underdocumented by the mainstream press or internet for so long. Even Encylopedia Dramatica, which has plenty of information and content of the imageboard culture, is more focused on satire and black comedy instead of accurate knowledge of the culture or history. While this paper may have started using the term “Chanthroplogy” Yotsuba Society want publicize our efforts as such.
The paper itself is basically two studies in one. The first is a study on ephemerality and one on anonymity. While the paper is focused on 4chan’s /b/, because it’s the well-known board of all of 4chan boards and serves as the “prolific meme factory”, this study also applies to any board on an imageboard site that has a relatively high activity rate. Imageboards has a focus on anonymity and ephemerality because of the different cultures than Western Static forums. Even on imageboards that do not have a high activity rate, there is be still have a basic aspect of anonymity and ephemerality.
The best part of the entire paper is the breakdown of the content of threads posted on /b/ by category. Subjects such as theme, sharing content, question, advice, sharing personal information, discussion, request for item, request for action, meta and other threads that can’t be categorized. In each board of 4chan it’s usually a mix of these same categories, but they differ depending on each board. Some boards focus more on discussion, some focus on sharing content, some focus on questions, and focus on themes. It’s the unique culture of the other 4chan boards, the unique community, and discussion of 4chan that has been discounted by the mainstream for so long.
What is apparent on the paper is the researchers lack of limited understanding and knowledge of not only how an anonymous and ephemeral community design might actually playout, its actual knowledge of the imageboard culture and history. We already have two communities that have anonymous and ephemeral community designs before 4chan was created. The first is 2channel, which is the largest bulletin board system on the planet, and the second is 2chan which is the world’s first imageboard.
Origins of 4chan and /b/ According to the paper 4chan was founded in 2004 by Christopher “moot” Poole. But in reality it was actually launched around October 3rd 2003 with one board. That board was Anime/Random or /ab/, the original form of /b/ when 4chan was originally an anime board. Early threads can tell that the board, even though renamed Random, it was clear that it was about Japanese culture or anime content. As time passed, and more people came to 4chan the content slowly changed from anime/Japanese content to real life culture.
Originally both tripfags (channers who primarily post with a username and a tripcode) and anonymous channers coexisted on /b/. The reason why most /b/tards are anonymous channers stems from the forced anonymity era in 2005. The forced anonymity era in 2005 is where shii (a former 4chan moderator) made an influential essay at the time on the benefits of anonymity in posting, which shii later now disowns. Moot the administrator of 4chan, read it, and got shii modded. Forced anonymous was then implemented by one of 4chan’s coders and it was activated and deactivated at moots whim.
It eventually culminated in the tripfag/anonymous wars. 4Chan moderators deliberately made threads in support of anonymity or the use of tripcodes. However In the end, the culture of anonymous /b/tards won and their culture was in place. This same culture was then reflected to some various degrees on the other boards of 4chan such as /a/, /c/, /g/, and /v/. Despite this, not every 4channer completely eschews tripcodes and usernames. There are a sizeable number of 4channers who chose to be tripfags for various reasons. Some to troll, some to contribute content or some become resident channers of a board.
4chan’s culture of anonymity came not only from 4chan, It can be traced to Ayashii World, or “Strange World”. Ayashii World was the first anonymous forum in the history in the world, and it was established in Japan. When Ayashii world died, Amezou world was created. While both sites was restricted to Technology and Electronic topics, it introduced many concepts of imageboards that many channers take for granted, such as saging, bumping, floating type threads where the original post and their replies are seen linear where replies to the original posts are seen in a line like setting.
While the paper also said that there are 60 boards on the site, in actuality there are 50 boards in total that are active on 4chan. In addition there is a set of 19 anonymous textboards similar to 2channel’s.
The Culture of /b/ Content posted on /b/ is unique due to two reasons. The primary reason is the general no-rules policy in terms of content. With the exceptions of illegal content, disrespecting the mods (which has a Standard Operating Procedure to post as a regular user than have a presence in the boards), spam, or advertising. They can post whatever they want and the 4chan mods do whatever they like, if they feel like it. This no rules policy is similar to Fubata’s /b/ and Something Awful’s FYAD. Fubata’s /b/ or it’s Ninjura boards have a general no rules policy allowing not safe for work material as long as it’s on topic to either animated content or real life content as there are about six Ninjura boards. 4chan’s /b/ was also influenced by Something Awful’s FYAD board /b/ is more focused black comedy, trolling, and parody of real life events. In addition anyone on /b/ can be randomly banned (a direct import from Something Awful’s FYAD idiot kings), but it’s more focused cancerous material deemed “cancerous” by the mods. In addition, the homophobic language is actually in context in reference to groups of people and it came from the Something Awful forums goons use of them at one point.
On Raids In the context of raids and invasions, /b/ had many raids involving the harassment of people and invasion forums, but generally don’t accept raids unless they can be mined for lulz (comedy/drama at the expense of the victim). This was apparent in the earlier invasions as it was exclusively online. 4Chan’s /b/ still do raids, large and small but many of them are rejected due to a lack of lulz.
Sexism The Tits or GTFO catchphrase comes from two things, first the general rule that there are no women on the internet. Basically that means that people don’t state their gender while using online forums. In addition there is generally a dominance of males using the internet, despite the fact that many females do use websites. It’s generally that many females don’t make it point when they post because when you’re an anonymous channer no one cares about your gender, race, or any difference.
Self-Archiving The mention of a /b/ folder gives rise to another great concept. The fact that instead of the server making the archives of the content, the person makes the archives by archiving the content they like on to their hard drive. Many people who go to image boards usually make a folder to save their favorite pictures, threads, screencaptures of threads. Some folders are small, while others are large depending on the person. It is through self-archiving is how memes, culture, and traditions on the imageboards spread on 4chan (and to a huge extent the entire internet)
Hopefully this critique and commentary will encourage many people to start not only research more into *chan culture, but to actively participate in it as part of chantropology. Not only to document the culture but to preserve it for future generations.
Ndee “Jkid” Okeh (YSJkid@gmail.com) Co-Founder, Co-Owner, and Head Chanthropologist for The Society for the Study and Preservation of Yotsuba Channel.