Started by Christopher “moot” Poole in his parents’ New York apartment, 4chan has grown to be an Internet force to reckoned with. The site has about 107,000 users who publish more than one million posts a day to more than 50 different boards covering topics like video games, anime and science.
On Aug. 3, the site collected its landmark billionth post.
Over the years the 4chan community has done a lot of good. It has helped cheer up a WWII veteran on his birthday, helped a school for the deaf compete for a Taylor Swift performance and helped police track down a girl who threw puppies into a river.
Yet despite these good deeds, the site has also become notorious for the random imageboard known as /b/, a place where users exchange foul language, violent images and sexual content freely, under the cover of anonymity.
This section of the site has also been at the center of some of the biggest controversies of the last decade. Here are the /b/ posts that have made the largest impact outside of 4chan’s own boards.
1) Sarah Palin’s email account "hacked", August 2008
The former Alaska governor had her email account broken into by a 4chan user during the 2008 election. The man behind the "hack" was David Kernell, a college student and son of state representative Mike Kernell of Memphis. Kernell was able to access Palin’s email account by using Yahoo’s password recovery feature. He posted screenshots of the emails to 4chan’s /b/ imageboard where they ultimately captured the world’s attention. Kernell was ultimately arrested and charged with four felonies. He served one year and a day in prison and is currently on probation.
Following the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, discussions of race, gun control and how laws are interpreted dominated the news cycle. The issue of race, in particular, became contentious, with people claiming that Zimmerman shot Martin the night of Feb. 26 because he was black. These claims angered one hacker named Klanklannon, who hacked Martin’s Facebook and email. Klanklannon posted screengrabs of emails Facebook messages to 4chan’s politics board to show that Martin “somehow deserved to be killed,” Gawker reported.
3) Steve Jobs death hoax causes stock plunge, Fall 2008
Following almost every public appearance Apple CEO Steve Jobs made in 2008, a death or illness rumor followed. On Oct. 3, 2008, just two weeks before Jobs presented one of his famous keynotes, a rumor appeared on CNN’s user generated news tip site iReport that Jobs had died from a heart attack. The rumor proved to be false and was ultimately tracked down to 4chan. But the damage was already done. The rumor of Jobs’ death spread to sites like Digg and ultimately helped cause Apple’s stock price to fall “about 10 percent before rebounding later in the day,” CNET reported.
While 4chan may not have an archival system, large-scale threats made on the site don’t often slip by unnoticed. Between September and October of 2006, 22-year-old Jake Brahm posted at least 40 different threats on 4chan. One of them included a detailed plan to detonate 7 bombs at NFL stadiums in cities including New York, Atlanta and Miami.
““[T]he death toll will approach 100,000 from the initial blasts and countless other fatalities will later occur as result from radioactive fallout,” Brahm wrote, according to Tom’s Guide.
Brahm was arrested and pled guilty to posting a bomb threat on the Internet. He ended up serving six months in prison.
5) Swastika tops Google searches, July 2008
It was a mystery Google could not figure out. On July 12, 2008, the symbol of the Nazi regime hit the top of Google’s Hot Trends, a popular list that tracks the most searched terms or phrases at the moment.
“The swastika is a traditional Chinese good-luck character, the Olympics are coming up, and good luck is on the Chinese mind,” suggested one blogger named Dan, in an attempt to explain why the symbol was trending, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A tip sent to Google revealed that the real reason a swastika was trending was a simple post on 4chan telling users to search for 卐, a shortcode built into most operating systems. 4chan users played along, and a controversial symbol shot to the top of Google’s trending list and forced the company to issue a statement apologizing to anyone who may have been offended.
6) Massacre threat shuts down Washington high school, September 2012
Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., was closed on Sept. 20 after a threat was posted to /b/ by an anonymous user who promised to take his fathers submachine gun to school and “open fire on the people in the commons until I am taken down by our schools police officer, or until I run out of mags.” 4chan administrators told authorities that the threat originated on a server in Sweden. The school was reopened the next day.
If you’ve been accused of distributing 25 images of child pornography and threatening to massacre a college, which one would you rather be charged with? For 19-year-old Ali Saad, the choice was pretty simple, considering that a child pornography offender can get up to 5 years in prison. Saad took a plea deal in February for threatening on 4chan to shoot up a Michigan community college with an AK-47 he got at a gun show. He faces between 6 months and a year in custody, the Smoking Gun reported.
8) Popular rap music forum defaced, June 2008
“Some Ni**** ft Some Nappy Headed Ho” and “Ni****and pals” were just two of the video titles 4chan hackers changed on hip-hop forum SOHH (Support Online Hip Hop) in a messageboard battle that got out of hand. The battle started after members of SOHH’s Just Buggin’ Out community taunted 4chan users. The discussion quickly escalated and resulted in 4chan users from the notorious /b/ board taking down SOHH for about a half hour and plastering swastikas around its homepage, streetknowledge reported.
Jarrad Willis was hunted by more than 100 counterterrorism officers after posting a threat to “kill as many people as I can” at a Los Angeles shopping mall. Willis’ 4chan post included an image of a man holding a shotgun. Police confiscated Willis’ computer and believed that the 20-year-old “was a possible serial perpetrator of Internet hoax threats,” the Herald Sun reported. It is unclear what Willis was charged with, but police intended to collect more than $100,000 for the extensive search it took to capture him.
Photo by Mac/4chan