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A beginner's guide to 4chan

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Last weekend, the Internet Hate Machine celebrated its 10th birthday. At Anime Weekend Atlanta Sept. 28, hundreds of fans, some dressed up as characters from games like Pokémon and BioShock, waited in line to meet Christopher “moot” Poole, the nerd god who founded 4chan when he was a 15-year-old manga fanatic in Westchester, N.Y. Poole has valiantly refused to monetize his site—not that he’d have an easy time of it, considering its content—even as his traffic skyrocketed to 22 million unique visitors per month. 4chan’s users are the most influential tastemakers and content creators on the Web, and also the most dangerous

If you’re like most casual netizens, you’ve likely heard about 4chan but never ventured in. That’s OK! We put together a comprehensive beginner’s guide. It’s got everything the New York Times won’t tell you about the “darkest corner of the Web.”

Beginner’s guides often become obsolete within months. Online communities change daily. Userbases are fickle; they get bored and vacate to make room for a younger generation. Web designers push for full site overhauls. 

Not on 4chan. It’s as archaic and lawless as ever. It’s also the most popular it’s ever been—the 379th most trafficked site in the U.S. It’s seen a steady rise on Google Trends, an analytics tool that measures search popularity. And the site now collects more than 22 million unique visitors per month.

If you’ve missed out on the last decade of 4chan’s antics, here’s some helpful tips on how you can get started (and avoid having pizzas delivered to your doorstep).

1) The devil is in the FAQ page

The last thing anyone wants to do when visiting a new site is read its FAQ page. But on 4chan it’s not only crucial, it’s extremely helpful. You can find all sorts of information such as an explanation from Poole on what 4chan actually is and why it does not allow users to register accounts. 

“4chan’s collaborative-community format is copied from one of the most popular forums in Japan, Futaba Channel,” the page states. “Different boards are dedicated to different topics, from Japanese anime, manga, and culture to video games, music, and photography. Users do not need to register a username before participating in the community.”

Because 4chan does not have an archive or a user registration system, the FAQ also contains details on how to keep track of your posts.

2) LURK MOAR: Know your boards

Of the more than 60 different communities on 4chan, its random imageboard, /b/, is by far the most popular. (It recently collected its 500 millionth post.)  /b/ was the second board Poole added to 4chan in 2003, right after its anime board, /a/. Since then, /b/ has spawned the Anonymous hacker movement and been behind some of the Internet’s most well known pranks. In just the last year, /b/ helped North Korea’s Kim Jong-un win Time magazine’s Person of the Year poll, tried repeatedly to have a creepy old dude win a contest to meet Taylor Swift, and bombarded a Facebook remembrance page for a dead teenager with despicable messages. And yet while all of this may inspire you to make /b/ your top spot, fight the urge. It’s not as glamorous as you think.

For nearly every thread detailing some prank or raid, there are hundreds of others filled with porn, unintelligible rants, and violent imagery. Broaden your horizons with these boards:

Paranormal (/x/): 4chan’s /x/ is like the summer fireside chat that never ends. A place where mysteries are solved, conspiracy theories debunked, and questions about life’s weird occurrences are addressed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (/lgbt/): Launched only on March 18, is the first devoted to a serious societal issue. Users discuss serious topics like reproductive rights, sexuality, and same-sex marriage. Thanks to 4chan’s anonymity, users can open up about personal issues—hair removal, hormone therapy, coming out—without fear of backlash.

Auto (/o/): Whether you’re looking for buying advice or just want to share pics of your new whip, /o/ takes cars very seriously. 

Fitness (/fit/): /fit/ is the bench press spotter you’ve always wanted. The community often takes a lighthearted approach to fitness (like posting an image of a massive looking cheeseburger) while providing constructive feedback on workout regimens. /fit/  rallied together in July to have one Australian man banned from his local gym chain after he secretly captured photos of people working out and posted them to Facebook to mock them

ROBOT9001 (/r9k/): It was January 2008 and comic artist Randall Munroe was tired of having his chatroom spammed and overrun with reposts. To fix this problem, Munroe and a coding buddy created ROBOT9001. The robot was so successful, Poole created a board using ROBOT9001’s technology “to keep the denizens of 4chan from reposting images, memes, or other text more than once, enforced by a bot that would scan posts for unoriginal content and ’mute’ users for increasing periods of time for each infraction,” Oh Internet reports. In terms of content, the board is filled with philosophical musings and posts on sex.

3) Learn your vocab

sauce: Slang of the word “source,” used to find out where someone found a particular photo or to explain a certain claim.

bump: This is a comment  that forces the thread to rise to the top of a particular board.

sage: By entering the word “sage” into the email field will allow you to comment in a thread without bumping it to the top of the imageboard. It is typically used to comment on terrible threads without giving them more visibility by bumping them to the top of the imageboard.

cancer: Used to identify misused Internet memes or sayings. 

feels: Short for feelings. Used when someone is overcome with emotions.

GET: A GET is a "a randomly generated event on image boards that is noted when a post’s unique ID number consists of rare integer sequences, such as 1,000,000, 123456789 or 55555555," Know Your Meme reports. This numerical phenomenon is heavily celebrated on 4chan. One of the most recent gets happened on /b/ last month when it collected its 500 millionth post

OP: Stands for “original poster,” the person who originally published the thread in question.

an hero: Originated in 2006 after 7th grader Mitchell Henderson committed suicide. To commemorate his life, Henderson's friends started a Myspace page. One of the comments left in the page stated, “He was such an hero.” Since then, the term has been used by trolls to make fun of someone expressing a problem.

roll: A roll is an attempt to have the last two digits of a post match up with a predetermined number. The OP often sets the number and purpose from the start, such as “Roll 27 or 72 to win a free game download.”

/b/tard: A combination of bastard and retard. It is used to refer to a person who posts regularly on /b/. 

newfag: A new 4chan user.

oldfag: A longtime 4chan user.

summerfag: Often used in combination with newfag. Used to describe a young, new, 4chan user who is on summer vacation.

Triforce: The Triforce is a fictional symbol from Nintendo’s Zelda series. It consists of three triangles shaped into one larger triangle. On 4chan, users are able to recreate the symbol using ASCII characters. As described on Know Your Meme, “Those who simply copy & paste the triforce will fail to achieve proper alignment, as shown”:


▲ ▲

These users are often labeled “newfags.”

moot: This is Poole’s pseudonym and Internet handle he has used since 2003. He is the face of 4chan, unknown until 2008. 

4) Grow a thick skin

If you can’t stand being called nearly every obscenity ever created and the sight of deformed genitalia, 4chan may not be for you. Even the most focused imageboards, like technology (/g/), will ultimately feature the passing offense. 4chan is also a staunch supporter of Rule 34, which states that "pornography or sexually related material exists for any conceivable subject." 

5) Fake it till you make it

4chan’s anonymity is its great equalizer. Not only can you be anyone, with the right amount of research and understanding, you can can go from being a newfag to an oldfag in mere moments. 

And hell, even if you make a fool of yourself, chances are the thread will expire in less than a day.

Illustration by Jason Reed